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Gearing up for Apple Season

Gearing up for Apple Season
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It’s always exciting to see the first local apples in the markets. I saw some this past weekend at a farm stand on the New York/Vermont border. They were labeled “Early Macs,” which means they were probably just McIntosh apples that ripened early.

A McIntosh-style tree ripening in late August on South Hero Island in Vermont.

Photo/Art by Amy Traverso
A McIntosh-style tree ripening in late August on South Hero Island in Vermont.

Here’s a roundup of the early season apples you’ll most commonly find at farm stands and farmers’ markets this time of year:

McIntosh: This apple cooks down quickly, which makes it a perfect choice for applesauce or for eating fresh. It was discovered as a chance seedling in Ontario and introduced commercially in 1870. It thrives in colder climates and ripens as early as late August, but it is not typically an apple that holds up well in long storage. The flavor is tart and even spicy, with slightly “green” undertones and the flesh is snow white, juicy, and a bit grainy.

Gravenstein: This apple is great for pie because it holds its shape well during baking. It originated in Europe and first came to the U.S. in the 1700s. It  thrives in the warmer climate of California, where it remains the signature apple of Sonoma County, but you’ll find it at apple orchards all over New England. Here, the Gravenstein doesn’t always achieve the same red and gold tones and rich sweetness of its western siblings, but it is pleasingly tart-sweet with citrus notes and dense, juicy flesh.

Paula Red: This apple sprang up as a chance seedling in a Michigan McIntosh orchard in the 1960s and it shares many of the qualities of its parent variety. Like McIntosh, the Paula Red breaks down quickly in heat, making it a good choice for sauce or for eating fresh. Tart when just picked, it does grow sweeter in storage, and it has a lovely flavor that brings to mind wine and strawberries.

Paula Reds are related to McIntosh and become soft when cooked.

Photo/Art by Amy Traverso
Paula Reds are related to McIntosh and become soft when cooked.

Zestar: Like the popular Honeycrisp, Zestar is a hybrid from the University of Minnesota’s ambitious apple breeding program. I’m seeing it at more and more orchards as UM continues to expand its licensing program. This apple has many of the great characteristics of the new breeds: lots of juice and crunch, a good sweet-tart balance, an cold hardiness. It’s great for eating fresh, but also holds its shape when cooked, so if you’re in the mood for apple pie or crisp, this is a great choice. Zestar is also an excellent keeper.

Zestar apples are great for both baking and eating fresh.

Photo/Art by Amy Traverso
Zestar apples at the Brookline, MA farmers’ market

Seeing as there are still blueberries and nectarines in most markets, you may not be ready to embrace these early arrivals, but at some point, you’ll find your appetite shifting toward autumn flavors. And if that happens in the next few weeks, these apples are a great place to start.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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Amy Traverso

Author:

Amy Traverso

Biography:

Senior lifestyle editor Amy Traverso oversees Yankee's Food and Home & Garden departments and contributes articles to the magazine. Amy book, The Apple Lover's Cookbook (W.W. Norton), won an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) cookbook award for the category American. Follow !
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One Response to Gearing up for Apple Season

  1. Linda August 26, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    I LOVE apples in the fall…..the beauty, the smells, the crisp air. The apple cider and apple cider doughnuts…..just everything! I’m living in the South now, but I would love to go apple picking in New England. I’m originally from Central New Jersey, and we used to go apple picking there (yes, it is the Garden State!). We also used to pick corn, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins, zucchini, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and it was great to have fresh veggies. I just love all of it!

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