The taste of apple is undeniably the flavor of fall. Just as asparagus captures the essence of spring, and strawberries contain the sweetness of early summer, the sweet-tart crispness of a freshly picked apple encompasses all of the sunny, windy, rainy, crisp and colorful wood-smoky days of autumn.
Because of their steadfast availability throughout the year, the appearance of the apple in stores and farmer’s markets doesn’t seem quite as exciting as say, peaches or sweetcorn. But what the apple lacks for in novelty, it surely makes up in sheer variety. A myriad of unique heirloom apples with exotic sounding names and all manner of shapes and colors come and go with the passing of the weeks, bringing their vibrant colors to the farm markets starting mid August, and then quietly disappearing by the end of February. Sweet and juicy honeycrips, citrusy cox’s orange pippins, gigantic wolf rivers, nutty chestnuts, dark skinned oxfords – nearly 7,000 varieties grown worldwide, and 2,500 available in the US alone.
The varieties fall into three main categories, and each category holds it’s own favorites:
- Eating or Desert Apples: These are apples with a crisp, firm texture and juicy sweetness, meant for eating out of hand in all their raw and delicious glory. Honeycrisp and Mcintosh appear mid to late September along with cox’s orange pippin (the favorite in England), then October brings the Blue Pearmain (Henry David Thoreau’s favorite), Hubbardston Nonesuch (I love that one just for the name!) and Esopus Spitzenburg – the favorite of Thomas Jefferson. The spicy Winesap and Macoun appear late October. Be sure to also keep an eye out for the Lamb Abbey Pearmain, with it’s taste of pineapple!
- Culinary Apples: Apples that can hold up well when baking, becoming tender yet retaining their shape and flavor. Granny smith is the quintessential, but my favorites include the Calville blanc (Julia Child’s favorite), the Gravenstien (Italian heirloom), Northern spy, and Wolf River (the giant apple).
- Cider Apples: Typically very tart, tannic and juicy apples that are not eaten, but pressed for their juice and fermented into cider. As I’m not a cider presser myself, I don’t have any favorites to list for you here.
While you might be able to get a McIntosh any ol’ time you like, only in the fall can you find an apple with skin like a russet potato, shaped like a sheep’s nose or chestnut, or tasting of pineapple, orange or hints of banana. And, only in autumn can you eat an apple that is truly fresh – picked and eaten at the precise moment of sweet, crisp perfection – before it begins to deteriorate into the mushy mediocrity of the supermarket apples available the rest of the year. A freshly picked apple in it’s heyday makes every other apple pale in comparison. You will never want to eat a red delicious in April again.
As the old saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and there are many reasons to believe there is some wisdom in this old adage. At about 80-100 calories each, an apple contains 2g of fiber, 10% of your daily vitamin C intake, modest amounts of B vitamins and good levels of various minerals, including potassium (134 mg), calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and iron. As Elson Haas, MD, says, “apples are like mini multivitamins, they have a little of everything.” Apples also contain a variety of phytochemicals, including quercetin, catechin and chlorogenic acid, which act as strong antioxidants in the body, as well as pectin, which has a detoxifying effect on the colon. Most of these nutrients are concentrated in the peel, so think twice before you remove it!
Attributed largely to the fiber and phytonutrient content, apples have a wide range of medicinal effects, ranging from tumor suppression and antioxidant activities, to cholesterol lowering effects. Studies show that daily consumption may be useful for the following:
- Cancer Prevention: Apple consumption has been clearly linked with a decrease risk of cancer, particularly lung and colon cancer. Laboratory studies show that the flavanoids in apple promote cell suicide in cancerous cells and prevent tumor proliferation.
- Cardiovascular Health: The fiber and pectin in apples lowers LDL cholesterol and promotes healthy cholesterol ratios, while the antioxidant flavanoids protect the lining of our blood vessels from oxidative damage. Epidemiological studies have shown a strong negative correlation between apple consumption and heart disease. In the Women’s health study, apple consumption was found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 13-22%.
- Respiratory Health: The flavanoid quercetin found in apples is strongly anti-allergic, and has beneficial effects on hypersensitivity conditions such as allergic rhinitis and asthma. Studies show that apple consumption is associated with a reduced incidence of asthma. In Chinese medicine, the apple is said to moisten dryness and cool heat in the lungs, and studies show that apple consumption is positively associated with pulmonary health.
- Digestive health: The fiber and high pectin content of apples promotes bowel regularity and the removal of waste products from the digestive tract. Apples also contain malic and tartaric acids, which inhibit the growth of non-beneficial bacteria in the gut and prevent plaque formation in the mouth. Eating an apple before meals is also a great preventative for gastric reflux.
- Diabetes and weight loss: Apple consumption has been associated with a reduced risk for type II diabetes. In one study involving overweight Brazilian women, daily apple consumption was shown to enhance weight loss and lower blood sugar levels in comparison to placebo.
How to choose and prepare
Most research suggests that as few as 3 apples per week is enough to offer cardiovascular and cancer preventative effects, but I like to follow the sage advice of the old proverb, and shoot for 1 per day. The apples you choose should be fully ripened, as evidenced by the nice blushing and coloring of the skin and the full development of sugars, giving the apple a sweet juicy taste. The antioxidants increase until the apple is fully ripened, and very slowly decline over time, meaning that a well stored apple is still quite nutritious even in February or March. Removing the skin or juicing the apple, however, radically diminishes the amount of antioxidants and nutrients present in the fruit, so go for the whole apple, baked or eaten raw. And, it must be said, eat apples when they are in season! When the last of the local apples in the store start getting replaced with New Zealand pink ladies, it’s time to move on to a different, more seasonal fruit.
Some people experience gastrointestinal upset when eating raw apples, and the reason is simple. Apples are cold in nature and very sugary, meaning that they easily ferment when the digestive fire is less than optimal, and promote gas formation. To remedy this, cook your apples with warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or ginger. Also, try to consume raw apples with meals and not alone if you have trouble digesting them.
The most wonderful thing about the apple, aside from it’s amazing health benefits and immense variety of cultivars to choose from, is it’s lovely flexibility in the kitchen. An apple sits just as comfortably next to a pork chop or in a lentil curry as it does over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I love combining apples raw in shredded slaws of beetroot, fenel and carrot or served on a platter with a selection of fancy cheeses after dinner in the European style. Of course, I also love them baked with the usual suspects – spongy cakes, flaky pie crusts, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and ginger – or eaten raw slathered with nut butter. Here is a selection of my favorite recipes to celebrate the apple, in all of it’s glory:
Apple-Oat Pancakes with Cheddar Cheese
From Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors, a delicious contrast of sweet and savory, wonderful drizzled in maple syrup with a side of crispy bacon or sausage made from pasture raised pigs.
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 1/4 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1 large apple
- 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar
1. Beat the egg yolks with the vanilla, buttermilk, and butter. Stir in the rolled oats.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, soda, cinnamon and salt together.
3. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Grate the apple and cheddar.
4. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the flour mixture. Add in the grated apple, and then gently fold in the egg whites.
5. Melt some butter into a griddle, cast iron or non-stick frying pan. Drop in the batter in 1/3 cup increments when the pan is hot, and then sprinkle a tablespoon of cheese on top of each pancake. Cook until the bottom is golden, then turn and cook the second side without patting down. Keep hot in the oven until you finish cooking or serve as they come.
Kielbasa, caramelized onions, kale and apples with sauerkraut
A hearty fall meal packed with flavor. Serves 4.
- 1 package pork or beef kielbasa, organic and pasture raised, sliced into 1/4 thick rounds
- 2 medium cooking apples, sliced into wedges
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced thinly into half moons
- 1/2 small head of green cabbage, sliced thinly into strips
- 1 bunch kale, chopped thinly
- 1 tbl maple syrup
- 1 tbl balsamic vinegar
- 2 tsp caraway
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups lacto-fermented sauerkfraut
1. Sauté the onion, cabbage and apple in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the kielbasa, and then let the onion begin to caramelize, which will take around 15 – 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.
2. Add the maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and caraway seeds to the pan, letting the flavors meld for another 5 minutes or so. Add the kale, and cook an additional minute or 2, until the kale turns bright green and wilts.
3. Season to taste, then place into wide bowls with a generous scoop of sauerkraut on top of each serving.
Beet Root, Carrot and Apple Slaw with Apple Cider Dressing
Adapted from Vegan Soul Kitchen by Bryant Terry. Serves 4-6.
- 2 large beets, peeled and coarsely grated
- 2 large tart apples, cored, and coarsely grated
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
- 1/2 cups apple cider
- 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 2 tablespoons walnut oil
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 cup cranberries or currants, dried
1. Combine the shredded veggies and ginger in a large bowl.
2. Heat the cider in a small saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce by half. Let cool slightly.
3. In a blender, combine the cider with the apple cider vinegar. While blending, slowly pour in the oil. Season with pepper to taste.
4. Add the dried fruit and dressing to the bowl, and massage until well dressed. Check for seasonings and add salt as necessary.
Apple tea with cinnamon and rosehips
Apples are good for your teapot as well as your cooking pot. To make, cut a large apple into chunks (you can also use several wild apples or crab-apples), not bothering to core. Place in a saucepan with 4 cups of water and 2-3 cinnamon sticks, and let simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add 2-3 tablespoons dried rosehips, and turn of the heat. Let sit for a further 10-15 minutes. Strain the herbs out, and serve hot with a teaspoon of honey stirred in.
- 1 recipe pastry crust
- 2 tbl butter, melted
- 2 tbl sugar
- Cinnamon, to taste
- 3 baking apples, sliced into 1/4 inch wedges
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Roll the dough into a wide circle, and place the fruit in the center, leaving a 3 inch band around the edge. Sprinkle cinnamon liberally over the apples, then fold the dough over the fruit, overlapping it as you go. Brush the butter over the dough, leaving a little to drizzle over the fruit. Sprinkle the sugar over the crust, then bake for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 degrees F, and bake until the crust is browned and the fruit is tender, about 45 minutes. Be sure to turn the pan occasionally for even baking. Serve with a drizzle of cream or some really nice organic vanilla ice cream.