When most people think of the variety of apples only a few names come to mind, such as Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala, Honeycrisp, and Red Delicious – these are your staple grocery store apple varieties. But there are so many more! According to the US Apple Association, a trade association for apple growers, “there are over 100 apple varieties grown commercially in the US,” but only 15 varieties make up 90% of the apple sales.” These are pretty ridiculous numbers when you consider that there are over 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the US and 7,500 varieties grown throughout the world.
Each apple has its own characteristics. Apples differ in taste (sweet v. tart), coloring, and crispness. Heirloom varieties are those that “have been bred by orchardists over the centuries for a wide range of tastes, textures, sizes, and shapes.” Orchardists have maintained and protected these varieties for years, making sure that we don’t lose them in favor of more commercially appealing varieties. Heirloom apples tend to be much more complex in their flavoring and serve a variety of different persons.
Beyond flavor another reason to step outside the traditional variety apples is the recent introduction of genetically engineered (GE) apples into produce sections. Arctic apples, the recently released non-browning GE apples, are now available at grocery stores in the Midwest, and will likely be sold in other regions in the near future. Currently, the Golden Delicious is the only GE apple available, but the Granny Smith and Fuji are next on the list of GE apple varietiesplanned to be released.
When picking an apple, it is also important to consider how your apples are grown. The majority of an apples’ nutrients and fiber are stored in the peel of the apple. The peel is also the area most likely to be directly exposed to pesticides. Make sure to buy organic apples and ask your local apple grower what type of pest management is used on their farm.
Tips to Finding the Perfect Heirloom Apple
For the most part heirloom apple varieties aren’t going to be found at your local grocery store. Since it is apple season you might luck out with some locally grown varieties at your local natural foods store, but more likely than not you’re going to have to do a bit of apple hunting. The first place to stop is your local farmer’s market, you will likely stumble upon a seller or two with heirloom varieties. If you don’t see any apples at the market, go ahead and ask some of the farmers there and the farmer’s market staff if they know any local apple farms in the area, it could be that they just aren’t at the market that day. If your local market doesn’t pan out, the internet has lots of resources to find your local heirloom apple sellers, for example New York State has an apple locator, helping you find heirloom varieties being sold at farmer’s markets and pick-your-own orchards throughout the state.
Another great option to make sure that you have organic heirloom apples for years to come – grow them yourself! Now this takes a bit more planning and quite a bit of patience, as apple trees don’t fruit the first few years they are planted. Homesteading.com has a great list of 16 heirloom varieties and what regions they thrive in and what they can best be used for. If you don’t have a place to plant your own apple tree, see if you can split the cost of a tree with a friend and then share in the bounty for years to come.
Once you have your bushel of apples there are so many ways to put them to use. You can make apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie (recipe below!), apple cider, and the list goes on and on. We recommend hosting a holiday apple tasting party. Apples pair well with so many things, but they are also quite delicious on their own. Pick up a few varieties of apples at your local farmer’s market or fruit stand and gather a group together for an apple tasting. Just like a fine wine an apple can be recognized by its varying flavor notes. This is also a great way to share new varieties of apples with friends and families and educate your neighbors about the need to avoid the GE varieties that are now on the market.
Just below is one of our favorite apple pie recipes. But if you want options, check out this list of 36 different apple pie recipes. Don’t forget all apples are not created equal so make sure to adjust the recipe based off the sweetness or tartness of your apples.
Deep Dish Apple Pie Crumble by the Minimalist Baker
* Use organic, non-GMO ingredients whenever possible.
- 1 heaping cup of organic unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 6 tablespoons organic cold butter
- 3-6 tablespoons cold water>
- 7 organic heirloom apples, cored, peeled, and sliced (best with a mix of different varieties)
- scant ¾ cup organic sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon organic flour
- 1 tablespoon organic butter
- 1 cup rolled organic oats
- ½ cup organic almond meal>
- ½ cup roughly chopped organic pecans
- ⅓ cup packed light brown sugar>
- pinch of sea salt>
- 4 tablespoons cold butter
Preheat the oven to 400° F.
For the crust: Mix salt in flour and cut butter into flour with a fork until well blended. Add enough water until the dough scrapes away from the bowl – usually about 3-5 tablespoons. Remove from the bowl and mold together with your hands on a well-floured surface. Form the dough into a 1-inch thick disc and then roll out into an even circle, adding more flour if it’s sticky.
Use a rolling pin to roll it up and lay gently over a 10-inch cast iron skillet or pie baking dish and gently form the edges with your fingers. The crust should extend to the top of the pan, no need to crimp the edges. Refrigerate until you’re ready to add the apples.
Next prep the apples by tossing them in sugar, cinnamon, and flour – feel free to reuse the bowl you made the dough in. Add to chilled pie crust and top with 1 tablespoon butter, scored into little pieces.
In the same bowl, mix the topping ingredients using your fingers or a fork to combine and crumble. Pour the topping mixture over the pie, spreading evenly to coat. Bake at 400° F for 35-45 minutes, or until the pie is warm and bubbly and the top is golden brown. If you notice the crumble top getting too brown, simply top it with foil.
Let rest for 30 minutes before slicing. Consume in one sitting.