There are thousands of apple cultivars worldwide. It seems everyone has a favorite. Some favor the pretty varieties like ‘Red Delicious’, while others like the sweet ones like ‘Fuji’, ‘Honey crisp’ or ‘Gala’. ‘Gala’ and ‘Honey crisp’ fruits are early maturing and ‘Fuji’ apples are late. If I had to choose, I’d say ‘Fuji’ is the sweetest.
I choose apples based on their flesh characteristics. Some have qualities that make them more suitable for a particular use. One of my favorites for fresh use in salads is ‘Cortland’. They’re not common around here as they’re adapted more to northern climates. They aren’t overly sweet, but they have a strong apple flavor.
‘Cortland’ apples have attractive white flesh and like ‘Granny Smith’ apples, they are very resistant to browning. They are also quite versatile. They hold together during cooking, so they’re great in pies. Folks who like smooth applesauce might prefer another cultivar. I like mine chunky.
‘Mcintosh’ is another northern cultivar. They’re usually grown alongside ‘Cortland’, and they complement each other. Macs make great smooth applesauce, and I like to use a few in pies to soak up the liquid and give the filling more viscosity. I grew up with ‘McIntosh’ and ‘Cortland’, so these two varieties will always have a soft spot in my heart.
One southern variety I especially like is ‘York’. These fruits are ugly and lopsided. They aren’t especially sweet either, but they keep for a long time and I love their full flavor. ‘York’ is considered more of a cooking apple, but I like them fresh.
One cultivar I don’t especially like is ‘Red Delicious’. These are beautiful apples and make great centerpieces, but their flavor is not to my liking. The texture goes downhill rapidly too.
As far as cooking is concerned, they get mushy very quickly, which should be good for applesauce. However, they seem to lose flavor during cooking and the applesauce turns out bland. Despite all this, they’re still the most popular apple cultivar.
‘Golden Delicious’ lives up the delicious name. They are sweet, crisp and juicy. They also make a fine baking apple. My problem with them is that they hold together a little too well in a pie. They break down very little, so pies often turn out chunky and runny. Another problem with this variety is that fruits tend to bruise easily.
‘Winesap’ is a cultivar with a great reputation as a cooking apple. They aren’t especially sweet, but they are very versatile. They make great pies and applesauce. Their flesh has a unique balance of firmness and disintegration when cooked.
In recent years ‘Pink Lady’ apples have gained popularity by leaps and bounds. They remind me a little of a colorful ‘Granny Smith’. They’re tart, firm and hold their color well when eaten fresh. They are late maturing, so you won’t see them in stores much early in the fall.
I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to apple varieties. Additionally, these are my preferences and you might have differing opinions. Try a new cultivar. You might like it.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.
The Santa Clara Valley used to be famous for vast orchards, but only a few produced apples or pears. (Apple and Macintosh are not exactly appreciative of our local culture.) ‘Golden Delicious’ was popular for home gardens because it does not need much chill. It is probably my favorite as a ‘single’ apple tree (for gardens that can accommodate only one tree that makes apples for fresh eating as well as cooking and everything else.) In the Santa Cruz Mountains above, where there were a few apple and pear orchards, ‘Gravenstein’ was the standard apple. It got the bit of chill that it needs there. Other cultivars were grown to prolong the harvest. Pippins were grown because they can be stored longer without canning.