In Season: Apples
A few years ago I started a new family tradition: apple picking. My son loves climbing the apple trees and my daughters giggle as they munch the freshly picked ones. Get ideas for adding more apples to your fall menu, and learn just how good an apple a day can really be.
Believe it or not, apples ( Malus domestica) are part of the rose family along with pears. There are more than 7,000 apple varieties grown worldwide. Some of the most common ones include Gala, McIntosh, Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji and Macoun. They're such a diet staple that the average American eats about 20 pounds of apples each year.
Depending on the variety, apples are available from late July through early November. Gala, Macoun and McIntosh ones are ready to go in September, so start stocking up now. Gala apples are sweet with a reddish-orange and yellow-striped skin. Deep red and golden Macoun apples have a sweeter, tarter flavor; because they're very juicy, they're great for applesauce. The red- and green-skinned McIntosh apples are one of the most aromatic apples around.
Other classic supermarket picks -- Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji and my favorite, Granny Smith -- are ripe by October. A Red Delicious is crisp and juicy with a mild flavor; look for their characteristic five-pointed lobe on the bottom. Golden Delicious also has those five bumps, but they're yellow and very sweet. Much sweeter and firm, Fuji apples mostly come from the west coast, though some smaller orchards around the country may grow them. Granny Smiths have a light green color and are tart, firm and juicy -- great for munching and baking.
A medium apple contains 72 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 11% of your daily vitamin C (almost half the vitamin C comes from the flesh). Apples contain flavonoids (plant compounds) called phloridzin and quercetin, which researchers have tied to helping battle heart diseas and cancer. They also contain the antioxidant beta-carotene, most of which is found in the peel.
Although my four-year old just likes to crunch on them raw, we use apples in a variety of dishes at my house. Some apples are better for snacking, while others work for cooking. When baking or pureeing (that is, making applesauce), pick apples that will remain flavorful and firm -- Golden Delicious, Rome, Granny Smith, Macoun, McIntosh, Cortland and Baldwin are good choices. For eating them raw or sliced in a salad, use Red Delicious, Golden Delicious or Fuji. Golden Delicious is the most versatile apples; you can nosh on them plain or add them to many cooked dishes.
Pairing up sweet and tart apples with a chicken or pork dish helps liven up those weeknight dinners. Consider tossing a few apples in a butternut squash soup to give it some added sweetness. The apple's pectins (a type of fiber) are a natural thickener. I also love crunchy apples in fruit or veggie salads, but I hate when the apples start turning brown before I'm done. A quick tip: squeeze lime, lemon or orange juice on them to hold off the browning.
Shopping Tip: Choose apples that are firm with shiny skin and don't have bruising on dented parts. Avoid the overripe ones as they taste mealy. Bruised apples give off an ethylene gas that promotes ripening, which may cause foods around it to spoil (so clean out your fridge often!). Store your apples in a cool, dry place or in a paper bag in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Recipes to Try: