The Quintessential Fall and Winter Fruit
Fall and winter in North America bring countless ingredients to the table that are best enjoyed seasonally – this includes apples. Somehow apple pie has gotten equated with mom, baseball, and the fourth of July but that is honestly only because fall harvested apples store so well. There are a few of the over 7,500 named and 100 commercially grown varieties that might be ready around July but generally speaking, they are not “in-season” around the fourth for our pie-baking pleasure.
So really, the apples we see at the winter markets – grown perhaps by a small orchard nearby, are the winter fruit of all fruits. Cold storage helps them suffer until they can be enjoyed in all of their glory almost year-round from commercial growers but that is hardly the most sustainable way to enjoy them. And as a population, we do enjoy them to the tune of about 50 pounds per person, each year. We enjoy them raw naturally of course, but increasingly as a processed ingredient in other prepared foods – used to add heft and body as well as moisture and nutrients. Not to mention the current popularity of apple-flavored adult beverages.
Many of the commercially grown varieties in North America are grown worldwide due to their popularity here. From its origins in central Asia as a cousin of the rose family to today, few foods have been continuously grown, harvested, and eaten as the apple.
Apples take well to most locations and will fruit abundantly with the proper amount of cold weather or ‘chill hours’ during the winter. The investment an orchard makes in apple trees, regardless of the variety, take from between 6 to 10 years to begin to pay off. Dwarf trees yield sooner (in about 3 to 4 years) but dwarf varieties are more for our tight urban yards and not for orchards. Apple trees, like most fruits, have to be replaced every so often as well, commonly because of damage but from age and disease as well. So unless your local apple grower happened to buy a producing orchard with well-tended trees, years of care, pruning and watering went into producing an apple that they are only just now realizing the ‘profit’ from. So we can’t really complain if locally grown apples are two to three dollars a pound.
Farmers’ market orchards may not wax their apples like most commercial growers do but their apples may have been sprayed with one or more ‘non-organic’ pesticides or fungicides. Worldwide, apples are one of the most heavily sprayed foods you can buy so it is always better to look for organic or ask the orchardist if you are not sure. Chemical residue remains on the skin and demands washing to remove it.
photo by Joanna Nix
So what makes our winter fruit of all fruits so interesting? Its durability, value and variety are all off the charts. Compact and dense with a tough outer skin to protect it, the apple is the perfect packable fruit. They can be transported, stored, crated, or shipped with hardly a loss with most varieties. Its value both in terms of abundance, price and uses makes it a real champion. Prices dip when supplies are abundant but generally apples are a real price value considering all of the ways they can be enjoyed. And in terms of variety, no other fruit has the delicious notion of being good for sweet, savory or raw eating as apples do.
There are apples for baking, apples for sauce, and apples for eating and not all apples fill every need the best. Crisp varieties like Gala or Fiji are best used raw as snacks, grated into salads, or diced and sprinkled on soup for a cool crunch. Firm apples like Granny Smith and Rome varieties are designed for cooking. They will hold their shape and are good choices for tarts and pies without being overly sweet or releasing too much moisture. The soft varieties of apples such as Red Delicious and McIntosh are beautiful for making a spectacular applesauce, juices or for cooking into more savory dishes like roast pork. Again – everything in its season.
All apples are nutritionally dense and rich in important antioxidants, dietary fiber and vitamins and contain about 95 calories. Cooked apples loose vitamin C that is destroyed by heat but retains other important nutrients like potassium. Leaving the skins on rather than peeling maximizes dietary fiber but be sure to wash and dry your apples before eating or cooking them with the skins.
One of the greatest ways to enjoy an apple is to simply cut it in half and then core out the seeds before sprinkling with a bit of sugar and cinnamon and baking it until it is soft and browned. Not a lot has to go into this beautiful preparation though some dried fruits like cranberries are nice and can add a sweet-tart kick to the dish. All lined up they are a beautiful addition to many main dishes including roasted pork and seasonal vegetables.
Enjoying locally grown apples through the fall and winter months is one of the best treats of the year. The right kind of apples prepared the right way make seasonal dining more enjoyable.