Know your Mac from your Cortland?
Linda Quinn doesn’t make apple wine.
But she can make a comparison between apples and elegant reds and whites that are poured into glasses.
“We taste wines and we really taste the difference,” said Quinn, a Syracuse-based registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the New York Apple Association. “With apples, different varieties really do taste different and can be used for different dishes.”
There are 40 red and yellow players on the association’s apple roster. The mildly tart McIntosh, mellow Golden Delicious, sweet and crunchy Honeycrisp and ultra-sweet Fuji are among the fruits Quinn puts into the lineup when she’s saucing, baking and slicing apples.
And like a coach putting the right player at the right position, Quinn knows which apple works best for culinary projects.
“When it comes to pies, it’s a very personal thing,” she said. “Some people like a tarter pie, some people like a sweeter pie and some people like to use less sugar. You really want to mix in what people like. I’m finding when I talk to most bakers, they like a mixture of apples, sweeter apples mixed with tarter apples, they make the best pies.”
Cortlands, Empires, Red Rome, Granny Smith and Ida Red will be picked for Quinn’s pies. A Northern Spy in the pie is also a possibility.
Divining the secret
“Some people have a secret, they don’t want to tell anyone what they’re using,” Quinn said. But people who know pies can often tell what kind of apple has been socked with sugar and cinnamon and covered with a blanket of pastry.
“One of the things they know is, when you’re looking for baking or pie apples, you want an apple that’s going to be firm, that’s not going to break down as much so it stays nice in a firm pie,” Quinn said. “A firm apple will add tartness.”
A Honeycrisp apple could be miscast as the lead for the traditional dessert.
“I’ve heard people say they tried to make it with a Honeycrisp — they say it’s so crisp because it has more cells so it’s bursting with crispness,” Quinn said. “It might be an apple that may not work in a pie because it may be too wet, too crispy. It won’t cook as well, have the structure of other apples.”
For sauce, the apple association gives Cameo, Cortland, Fortune, Idared, McIntosh, Golden Delicious and Jonagold excellent ratings. People used to the pale yellow applesauce found in store jars may be surprised to see the red batches that people cook at home.
“When I do my sauce, I leave the skins on because I want the full benefit of all the apple,” Quinn said. “The skins may seem tough to you with an Empire or a McIntosh, but if you use a red apple, be prepared to see an applesauce that is very red. Most applesauces you buy in the store are peeled apples, so there are no skins attached. When you make your own applesauce . . . and let the skins cook down, you change the color of the sauce.”
When people want apples for salads, they want Empire or Cortlands. Once the fruits are cut and exposed to the air, they’ll stay white longer than will other types. Quinn said people making these moves should toss the apple pieces with lemon juice — a natural preservative.
When people make cider — people at orchards, mostly — Quinn said anything goes. A variety of apples are generally used for the traditional fall drink.
Other people have other ideas for autumn reds.
• For meat dishes:
The apple you choose will depend on the characteristics of the meat you’re cooking. Pork and duck both do well with slightly sweet apples that also have good acid. “You could go with any of the cooking apples,” said Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the Washington State Apple Commission. The sweet, crisp Golden Delicious, tarter Jonagold, or the big, exuberant Pink Lady work particularly well.
For beef, a very tart apple like a Granny Smith works best.
• For snacking:
Red Delicious and its yellow namesake, Golden Delicious, are the classic snacking apples with a mild flavor and thin skin. But when you want a great big apply apple, says Amy Traverso, author of “The Apple Lover’s Cookbook,” sink your teeth into Honeycrisp, one of the juiciest, crunchiest apples around. Tangy sweet Jonagolds — which mix the tartness of Jonathan and the gentle flavor of the Golden Delicious — offer layers of flavor.
Braeburns and Galas give good crunch with delicate aromas, Lyons says, and a nice balance of sweetness and acid. For nature’s equivalent of a candy bar, grab a Fuji. “If you like sweets, the Fuji is the best,” says Lyons.
• For all-purpose uses:
The Golden Delicious may be the original all-purpose apple. With a firm texture that holds up to baking and a mild flavor and sweetness, it does well in pies and tarts, as well as alongside your peanut butter. Ashmead’s Kernel, a great baking apple, also has a juiciness that earns its popularity with cider makers and a mild acidity that makes it wonderful to bite into. “When it’s ripe and fresh, to me it tastes like champagne with honey stirred in,” Traverso says.
Quinn said there are plenty of apples to choose from. More are on the way.
“There are going to be two more apple varieties coming,” she said. “They’re called New York One and New York Two so far, because they’re still in the testing stage.”
The pair, with more imaginative names, eventually will join the Zestar as one of the new guys on the tree. Quinn said people should test and taste other apples, just to know options available to them.
“You take a Fuji, which is a sweet, sweet apple, and then a Gala, which is almost flowery tasting,” Quinn said. “The Red Delicious is a very popular apple and it holds up well. But with so many different varieties, I really like to say to people, ‘Try a different apple to see if you like it.’ If you always thought Red Delicious was the crème de la crème, I really feel like you need to try other varieties to see which other ones you might like better.”
Quinn said apple fans can experiment by hosting a tasting party. Apple slices are paired with cheeses — Empire’s sweet and tart taste teams up with a sharp cheddar cheese. A sweet, crisp Crispin tangos with a soft Brie, while a tangy McIntosh plays nice with mild cheddar.
Some apples, Quinn believes, don’t receive enough attention from consumers. “There’s one called the Macoun, but it’s only around for a short amount of time, many people don’t know about it,” she said.
“But I think for the people who do know about it, it’s a little hidden secret. It’s just tasty and refreshing.”
While Quinn suggests people explore their orchards, as a dietitian she stresses that apples are a healthy option for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
“Apples are full of fiber and if you’re eating apples, you’ll probably lose weight,” she said. “A study that came out just last month showed that women who were eating apples as opposed to another fruit, they found within three months when they ate two apples a day, they changed their heart disease risk, they lowered their bad cholesterol and increased their good cholesterol. They weren’t trying to lose weight, it was just a side effect.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.