Sept. 22 marked the beginning of autumn, and if there is one food most associated with the changing of the leaves, it’s the apple.
Apples are a very versatile ingredient, but if you ask any American what it’s used for, they’re going to say eating it raw, caramel apples or apple pie. This is a shame because, historically, apples have been used in a variety of savory dishes, its role solely as a sweet ingredient being relatively recent.
The other problem with cooking apples is the fact that there is so much variety. Agri Benchmark estimated there are approximately 30,000 different varieties of apples grown, albeit only 30 are found in most supermarkets. Furthering this complexity, each apple variety has its own intended use. Some are grown to be eaten raw, some hold their shape when baked, others dissolve when baked and some are meant to be turned into a soft or hard apple cider.
So, where does one begin? Chances are, you’re not starting your own cider factory anytime soon, so that leaves two routes: which apples to eat raw and which to eat cooked:
When purchasing apples, the best solution is to go to your local farmers market and look for a seller from an orchard. Tell them your needs, and they will recommend an apple that suits them.
The best time of year to purchase apples depends on the apple.
“We start in June and go clear to November,” Tom Anderson, an employee of Gillogly Orchard in Albany, said.
Apples from the supermarket are guaranteed to be fresh, but bruising is quite common during the shipping process. While the quality dips, the price does, too.
1: Fresh apples
Fresh apple varieties are generally sweeter than cooked apple varieties. This is because they do not have the option of sugar being added during the cooking process. Furthermore, raw apples will generally have a tougher flesh that doesn't yellow when exposed to oxygen.
In stores, you should find these varieties: Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp. The first three are quite common, and you'll find them year-round. Honeycrisp is probably the best of these but is also seasonal and sometimes more expensive.
Raw apples can be used for cooking, however.
“We have some people who will use only the sweet, more eating apples to make stuff out of,” Anderson said.
While they are best eaten raw, that doesn't mean you can’t spice them up a little bit or add flavoring:
Flavoring 1: Sprinkled sugar (or honey) and salt
One of the simplest things you can do to add some flavor to raw apples is adding a pinch of salt and a lot of sugar. These two simple seasonings, when sprinkled on top of chopped apples, bring out a lot of flavor inside.
Replacing sugar with honey is also a viable option. Before refrigeration, honey was the primary way of preserving apples during the winter months.
If you let these ingredients sit on the apples for a long time, the apples will soften, and a sweet syrup will form beneath them. This makes something similar to a relish, and it tastes great when put on top of grilled or salted meats. It’s a great topping for bratwurst.
Flavoring 2: Melted butter, brown sugar (nutmeg and cinnamon optional)
Melted, salted butter adds some nice fattiness to an otherwise light dish. The brown sugar adds a sweet, bitter flavoring. Mixing them together at the same time also causes the butter to melt the brown sugar, creating a delicious slurry.
Nutmeg and cinnamon can be added, too, but I only recommend adding fresh varieties of these species. Dried, long-term storage spices have a bad taste when eaten raw.
Recipe: Caramel sauce
This needs no introduction. Most of the time, it’s recommended to buy this at the store. Making caramel is simple, but it’s hell on pans. Sugar melts at 366 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, most meats are cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, so this process is at a temperature hot enough to melt your skin off with a slight touch.
1 cup of sugar (white for a sweeter taste, brown for a more bitter, nutty taste)
6 tablespoons of salted butter (melted)
1/2 a cup of heavy whipping cream (use low-fat dairy products for a thinner caramel)
Salt to taste
- Pour sugar directly into the pan, and turn to a low heat. Slowly increase heat until sugar is dissolved.
- Once sugar is dissolved, increase the heat by a few levels, and add in butter, stirring constantly. This increase in heat is so the butter doesn't cool the sugar and clump together. If this does happen, let the mixture sit for a few minutes, and it should dissolve. However, the butter or sugar may burn and make the caramel bitter.
- Slowly add in heavy cream, and whisk constantly. This will cause the mixture to bubble, but the cream should incorporate nicely, creating an amber colored liquid. Some may splash back on you, so make sure to wear an apron and gloves if you’re worried about getting burnt.
- At this point, you’ll have caramel. Let it cool at room temperature before sticking in the refrigerator. It will thicken with time.
Cooked apple varieties are generally more sour than fresh apple varieties. Sugar is generally added during the cooking process, making the need for sweetness less important. Cooked apples are also more mealy than fresh apples, as the intent is to have the apples break down during the cooking process.
Your common supermarket cooked apple varieties are: Granny Smith, Gala, Cortland and McIntosh. The first two apples hold shape well when cooked, making them great for pie, while the latter two quickly turn mushy, making them great for sauce or apple crisp.
“A tart apple is typically going to be better for your baking and your pies and your apple crisp,” Anderson said.
It’s best to adjust your apple choice depending on the texture of what you’re cooking. Sometimes, you might want to mix different variations together. For instance, mixing Gala and McIntosh will create a mixture with cooked apple slices and a sauce surrounding them.
Recipe 1: Stewed apples
Stewed apples are the easiest way to cook apples. Understanding the basics of stewing apples lets you transform the base dish into a wide variety of recipes. Stewed apples can be made into a side dish or dessert, depending on how much sugar you add.
Stirring in protein, such as ground hamburger or pork, will also make a filling entree, similar to an apple sloppy joe. Again, it’s important to keep in mind which apple you use when stewing because a more mealy apple will create apple sauce.
4 to 5 apples of choice (cored, peeled and sliced)
1/2 a cup of water
4 tablespoons of salted butter
2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar (to taste)
Salt to taste
Optional ingredients: onion, garlic, chili peppers, raisins/craisins
Optional seasonings: nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper
- Melt butter in a pan on low heat, and add in apples and optional ingredients. Saute until the apples begin to soften.
- Add in water and seasonings, and simmer until apples have reached the desired consistency.
- Add in brown sugar, and heat until sugar melts into the mixture.
Recipe 2: Basic apple crisp
This recipe uses the stewed apples to make a quick and easy apple crisp. The only addition is the oat topping.
3/4 a cup of old-fashioned oats
3/4 a cup of all-purpose flour
1 stick of salted butter
1 cup of brown sugar
(As mentioned above)
- Prepare oat topping by mixing together dry ingredients with whisk. Then, take a pastry knife or fork and work butter in until clumps form.
- In a baking tray, pour oat topping on top of the stewed apples. Put in an oven preheated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bake until the top is golden.