McIntosh is America's most famous apple. New York State produces the largest number of Macs in the United States. One of the earliest apples of the season, McIntosh apples will start to appear in the middle of September if the temperature drops below 60¼F. But wait until the end of September or early October to buy and eat Macs; then you'll get an apple that has matured on the tree and has a wonderful flavor - any earlier and it will taste green.
Early Macs are excellent eaten out of hand and very good for pies; they're slightly tart and crisp. As the season goes on, they get redder and sweeter. By late winter Macs are mostly red; they're sweet, but the crunch and juice have left them. A fresh McIntosh is very juicy and has a tender flesh. The best Macs are produced in the Midwest and Northeast. They're not very good bakers because they turn to mush in the oven, but mix them with other apples in pie, make applesauce from them, or eat them raw.
When choosing a Mac, don't worry if its color is more green than red, so long as it has a little red blush on it. As with any apple, make sure the stem is still attached - a reliable indication that it's not overripe. Macs keep very well - up to three or four weeks - in a cool place (like a rot cellar or a porch that is protected from freezing). If your only option is to keep them in a heated house, refrigerate them.
In most cases look for very firm, bright-colored fruit with no bruises and with the stem still on - a good indication that you've got an apple that's not overripe. The apple should feel heavy in the hand for its size and have a good shine on it. A dull look usually means the fruit has been in storage too long.
The vast majority of apples are picked from September through November and other sold immediately or put into cold storage, where some keep well and some don't. The peak of the season for domestic varieties - when most stored apples still retain their snap - is generally over by December.
I love apple season. There are few things better than a good apple eaten out of hand. Whether the flesh is mild and sweet or tart and winey, when you bite into it, a fresh-picked apple will make a crisp cracking sound and you'll get a spurt of juice.
There's a season for everything, and the main season for American apples starts the last half of October. I've probably said this a thousand times, but our problem in the United States is that we try to buy produce out of season. Many varieties will keep well late into winter, but by summer most apples have been stored for seven or eight months. No wonder they are soft, mealy, and without juice. When peaches and melons come in, stay away from apples. Come back when there's a snap in the air, and you'll remember what makes apples so good.
Apples are one of the most esteemed fruits in the Northern Hemisphere, in part because they're so versatile. They're delicious raw, baked, dried, or made into applesauce. They make great pies, apple butter, apple jelly, chutney, cider, and cider vinegar, and they're a welcome addition to dozens of other dishes. A member of the rose family, apples have been known since ancient times and were cultivated by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, many places grow wonderful apples now, but overall, the United States produces the finest apple crops in the world. The Northwest, the East Coast, and parts of the Midwest - regions where the seasons change - grow the best apples. They're not a fruit for hot climates.
How are Apple Varieties Developed
Meet the Parents
New apple varieties are developed using traditional hybridization techniques. Sometimes, new apple hybrids are created deliberately through breeding programs; sometimes new apples appear by chance.
Breeding programs can take 20 years or more to develop new varieties. Plant breeders have more than 7,500 apple varieties to choose from as parents for new apples. Parents are selected for superior flavor, crunch, appearance and other characteristics.
After parents have been chosen, they are hybridized, or crossed. The pollen of the male parent is placed on the stigma of the flower of the female parent. An apple is pollinated and grows. Seeds from this new apple are harvested and germinated in a greenhouse. Seedlings are then transferred to a nursery. They bear fruit in three to 10 years. If the fruit meets growers' high standards, grafts may be taken from the seedling to grow new trees. Only one in 10,000 new apples makes it through the screening process.
Amazingly, this same hybridization can occur by chance in apple orchards. Seeds from an apple tree, that was randomly cross-pollinated, drop to the orchard floor and produce a new tree. It's rare, but these chance seedlings can bear tasty new apples.
As for Americans' favorite apples, Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady and Jonagold were selected in breeding programs. Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Cameo and Rome are the products of chance.
Bette's Apple Crumb Pie
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Lib's Apple Crisp
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