the washy center between acerbic and ambrosial
September 23, 2021 11:46 AM   Subscribe

Like denim jackets and air, apples are everywhere in autumn (and also year-round, but you get it). You can almost smell the "generic apple promotion" of National Apple Month (September!) in the increasingly chilly wind! It only makes sense to rank them—all of them. Apples, ranked: An indisputable list of the best apple varietals we could get our hands on.
posted by sciatrix (90 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for posting, as I am a fool for apples and apple-ranking lists.
Dear fellow fools: they couldn't get their hands on Arkansas Black apples. This is a ranking of "18 popular apples," but there's still plenty to quibble over.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:02 PM on September 23, 2021 [9 favorites]

None of the best apples we get at the Ballard Farmer's market are on this list.

Try to find Crimson Topaz or Golden Kernal apples. Very yummy
posted by Windopaene at 12:07 PM on September 23, 2021

No SweeTangos? Wrong wrong wrong.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:08 PM on September 23, 2021

When I lived near NYC one fall the supermarket had Jonamac apples, purple and green on the outside, and snow white flesh on the inside that was juicy and softly crisp. Each bite released a fragrance was like the artificial apple flavoring used in candy. I didn't know real apples could also taste like that.
posted by polymodus at 12:09 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

A depressingly modern suburban list. Eg., no Northern Spy?

The problem with Macs is not that they suck, it's that they're sold year-round when their season for tastiness is as short as that of their descendant the Macouns (which would be my #1). An off-season Mac tastes of nothing.

This past weekend, I got some Cox's Orange Pippins, which I haven't had for a long time, at the Baltimore farmer's market. They were good for one (1) day, but easily the most complex-flavored apple you could hope for.
posted by praemunire at 12:11 PM on September 23, 2021 [7 favorites]

One gets the impression that the person who wrote this doesn’t actually like apples.
posted by eviemath at 12:12 PM on September 23, 2021 [11 favorites]

What I wish they had everywhere is Ginger Golds. Light and tart like a Granny Smith without being as sharp and hard as one. Good for eating out of hand or cooking. But they're pretty small and have a narrow seasonal window, at least judging from when I have found them in stores, and I have never found them in the South.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

I assume this is some kind of coastal list because I've never seen several of these and it's easy to get Cosmic Crisps here, although I expect them a little later in the season.

The Arkansas Black is the best apple but hard to find.
SweeTangos have a dumb name but they're good, especially the early ones.
Cosmic Crisps are also good.
Ambrosias are good.

Braeburns are unpleasant and Granny Smiths are inedible. Those Opal apples are extremely bland.

But the real truth is that apples vary a lot by region and season within the same variety. One year the Jazz apples at the store were really good and I bought a lot of them. This year they were really bad and I used them for baking only. I like Ambrosias in general but one time I got some from whatever different grocery delivery circuit serves central Indiana and they were amazing - large, crisp, sweet, beautiful. Basically, although I never buy Granny Smiths, etc, I tend to buy whichever other kinds of apples look best because a good Jazz apple is better than a bad Honeycrisp.
posted by Frowner at 12:17 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Their Red Delicious entry is extremely unfair from a historical standpoint, as the story they link explains that it because popular because it was very different from what it is now, and actually good.

Actually I don't like their list at all. Granny smiths are way too high, for example. And no Winesaps, which are excellent.
posted by Caxton1476 at 12:17 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

I dunt know where he got his Jazz apple, but if they're fresh, they're really good.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:18 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

apples vary a lot by region and season within the same variety

Also, favorites differ so much from region to region that I think they must have more terroir and CNN less shippability than we assume.
posted by clew at 12:21 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

They do not mention Winesaps, this list is questionable.

Although I agree that Honeycrisp isn't worth as much of the hype it gets.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:21 PM on September 23, 2021 [10 favorites]

Love to my fellow apple nerds! Snapdragons just reappeared at my local NYC farmers' market. Get on it! (And look for Ruby Frosts, while you're there.)
posted by prefpara at 12:23 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

The best apple I’ve eaten out of hand was a very fresh Macintosh, three weeks later they were mealy and nearly tasteless. I’m sad that Pippins have been entirely replaced in stores by Granny Smiths, which are…fine I guess. Actually I didn’t see a single other green apple on this list which is a shame.
posted by cali at 12:23 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

One word: Empire
posted by saintjoe at 12:25 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

I planted 2 Arkansas Blacks this past spring (along with a 3rd to pollinate them, forget the variety). One of the AB's produced two ugly apples which were every bit as...firm...and delicious as I remember. Here's hoping they do well over the next couple of years.
posted by jquinby at 12:28 PM on September 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Yeah, Winesaps. *sigh*
posted by praemunire at 12:30 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Braeburn is pretty much the default apple now here in the UK, and has been for a couple of decades. Before that it was the Granny Smith (OK, I suppose) and the Golden Delicious (which, as the listicle says, is neither). The Braeburn seems to have become popular mainly because it has a long shelf-life, and looks attractive. It's OK... better than a Golden Delicious in every respect, but inferior in every respect to actually good apples like the Cox or Russet. Even the not-great Worcester Pearmains from my garden are nicer than Braeburns.
posted by pipeski at 12:35 PM on September 23, 2021

"Although I agree that Honeycrisp isn't worth as much of the hype it gets."

When they were first available here in western NY, they were fantastic. Lately, they generally haven't been worth the extra money.

And Empires should definitely be higher on the list.
posted by jonathanhughes at 12:35 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

A good list, but perhaps not quite as comprehensive as that of Brian Frange, The Applelist.
posted by NailsTheCat at 12:55 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Autumn makes me homesick. Apple picking in the Hudson Valley: A Bushel? A Peck? How Many Apples Do You Really Need to Pick? ( Some apples are better for baking while others are better for eating, so do your research before making your plan. Now that you know what apples you want, just how many do you need? Most orchards hand out bags that are either a half-peck or peck. Those paper bags of apples you see in the grocery store are usually a half-peck, containing 5 or 6 pounds of apples. This is just about the right size to make two large apple pies. A full peck of apples will weigh 10 to 13 pounds and contain about 30 good-sized apples, enough for a couple of pies and plenty of fresh apples to enjoy on their own.

About a century ago, a tumblr-er called NYC "the longest love-hate relationship" of their life, and I wanted that on a sampler. Sending everyone a hug around the neck.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:56 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Braeburn is fucking delicious. I approve of this list.
posted by Gadarene at 12:58 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ambrosia is generally my fave, and I look forward to the month-ish time I can get them from my local orchards at the farmers markets. I generally eat Fujis the rest of the year, which keep well in the fridge, are readily available, and seem consistent in quality, at least here in the PNW. Honeycrisps cost more for some reason but I typically don't like them as much, I don't know what's up with those ones.
posted by curious nu at 1:03 PM on September 23, 2021

Braeburns used to be my regular go-to in New England, but then for some reason they've gotten scarce in a number of our local groceries. Sometimes they can be found at a farmer's market or at Star, but never at, say, Whole Foods or Stop'n'Shop or Roche Brothers. Right now I have a half bushel that's a mixture of Spencer, Empire, Orange Pippin, and Baldwins, and some plans for apple butter, apple cakes and just a bunch of garnishes for oatmeal and granola. Every year we go, and every year I try to layer the bushel in such a way that I can remember if layer 1 is Spencer, layer 2 is Empire, etc. then it gets tossed in the pannier of my bike or the trunk of my car, and I'm, like, fuck it's all going into a crisp anyway.
posted by bl1nk at 1:07 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Really? Braeburns? Questionable judgment.

The thing about Honeycrisps is that when they're good, they're very very good, but when they're bad, they're inedible, and I don't want to pay $4 for an apple I can't eat. I think this happens when they're especially big and the flower is deeply recessed.

Ambrosias are a good alternative that's more reliable, but lately I've been buying Envys mostly.
posted by adamrice at 1:08 PM on September 23, 2021

Team Envy for life. Even if they weren't the best for tart + crisp + sweet, the fact that they don't turn brown after you cut them so your kid will still eat them an hour into your trip to the museum that he hates puts them way over the top.
posted by Mchelly at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2021 [6 favorites]

The lack of the newest miracle variety, Cosmic Crisp, makes the entire list useless. And the #1 choice is absolutely laughable.
posted by dbiedny at 1:26 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have been looking at various apple lists lately. I have one small Honeycrisp tree and a very established crabapple. The crab lots a bunch of branches last month with a very large red oak had the audacity to fall down and break several of its branches. To fill out that side I’m planning to try my hand at scion grafting next spring. Looking forward to trying several varieties. If anyone has good scion sources for hard-to-find but must-try eating apples let me know!
posted by misterpatrick at 1:34 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've had Red Delicious apples off the tree that were quite good, but I'd never buy one at the grocery store.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:35 PM on September 23, 2021

Anybody ever had a pink pearl or surprise, which both have pink flesh? Always wanted to try one, but they are not available in my area.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Anybody ever had a pink pearl or surprise, which both have pink flesh? Always wanted to try one, but they are not available in my area.

I have had Lucy apples, which are red inside. They were wonderful - I got a few the fall before the pandemic and the pandemic made me forget until now.

Like Arkansas Blacks (and I assume like the Jonagolds that polymodus describes upthread) they are so different from the average that they seem like magic apples, apples from a book.
posted by Frowner at 1:46 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ashmead Kernels are the best, and there used to be a grower who came to a local farmer's market we could get them from. They are so firm they’re al dente even after you bake them.

And they have a really passionate following. My partner went to the market late one season in hopes of snagging a last few only to witness an actual, albeit low key and very brief shoving match at the farmer's stall between a couple of other women over the last dozen Kernels in the display box. After they left (with approximately equal hauls) she was poring over the other offerings, and the farmer came out of the stall, peered around a bit kind of oddly, then went back in and produced half a box of Kernels she'd been holding back for my partner!

We ate those only on special occasions that year and they lasted almost till Christmas without noticeably deteriorating — and I'm surprised to hear of praemunire's experience with Cox Orange Pippins going bad so fast, because those were our fallback when we couldn’t get the Kernels, and they also seemed to last a long time.
posted by jamjam at 2:03 PM on September 23, 2021 [5 favorites]

I was just coming here to sing the praises of the Arkansas Black.

A local store had them in stock and I thought they looked pretty so I bought a couple. I ate them and they were incredible. But when I returned for more, they were gone and I have never seen them again. I still dream of the day I can get my hands on some again.
posted by edencosmic at 2:07 PM on September 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

When I first moved to the UK, I kept buying this one type of apple because it was the crunchiest, tartest thing ever. It was everything I want in an apple. Plus it was always the largest AND the cheapest! Thought I'd died and gone to apple heaven.

All the Brits here are shaking their heads in horror, as they know I'm talking about a Bramley apple.

For the rest, this is apparently not meant to be eaten raw and only used for cooking. Who knew? Anyways, Bramley is #1 on my list. Plus, it makes an excellent pie. Win-win!
posted by iamkimiam at 2:11 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

I was Team Fuji for years and years. Then I cut out processed sugar.
And then I joined Team Envy.
posted by Glinn at 2:14 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

That is the worst list ever. Braeburns are merely satisfactory, and Empires are the platonic ideal of an apple.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:40 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Thanks jamjam, I called them Golden Kernals, they are Ashmead Kernals, and they are great...
posted by Windopaene at 2:57 PM on September 23, 2021

Granny Smith is about the only apple I buy. Like the article says, it’s long lasting, and I find it very versatile. Added to my oatmeal, sliced and eaten with cheese or pb, made into a crumble… it fits all my needs. I feel Granny Smith got an appropriate ranking on this list so I’m fine with it.
posted by obfuscation at 2:58 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

Ashmead's Kernel is really good. Another one that I like is Gold Rush. It is almost inedible when initially picked but if you let it sit on the counter until it gets a bit wrinkly on the outside it is great mix of sweet and tart while somehow remaining quite crunchy. It's a weird apple but I love it.
posted by nolnacs at 3:03 PM on September 23, 2021

When I was young (ca. 1975) our family would regularly take a fall vacation to the mountains around Hendersonville, NC. Our route home would take us through Tuxedo, where there was a large farmers market full of freshly harvested local apples. The aroma was intoxicating; the freshly squeezed cider was amazing in that way that good food and drink can only be when you’re just becoming mature enough to enjoy good food and drink, but still young enough to have comfort foods. They seemed to have every variety of apple in the world; even the “Delicious” varieties tasted good because they were so fresh. I remember Winesaps and Braeburns as well. But apparently apples (like citrus) constantly hybridize and so only clones of the original cultivar even have the potential to taste like the apples you remember. But on the other hand, there are unimagined new varieties out there, if we just let wild apples do their thing.
posted by TedW at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

The original Red Delicious and Golden Delicious are both in fact, delicious. There's a reason why they are in the parentage tree of a huge percentage of all modern apples. It's just that any apple that gets grown outside its ideal range and most especially anything that gets gassed and stored in an industrial supply chain goes downhill. The same pattern has happened with Gala and lately Fuji.
posted by tavella at 3:27 PM on September 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

Mutsu apples were my favorite sweet apple; apparently they are also known as "Crispin", but the mutsus I used to buy were as big as a grapefruit and were aromatic. Cortland apples are also a favorite. And to agree with others: there is nothing wrong with a fresh macintosh, small and crisp.

There is an apple tree in my yard, but sadly, it is a red delicious of the worst kind, and I let the squirrels have it.
posted by acrasis at 3:30 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

We have a Norland tree in our front yard that just exploded with fruit this year. It's got to be a heritage tree, at least 40 years old, if not more. Our land was sold for houses in the late 80s, so it predates that.

They're great apples, a lot like a Granny smith with a bit more sweetness and flavour, but unfortunately had a pine forest that's grown up around it and the tree buggy as no one's business.
posted by bonehead at 3:42 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Fuji apples are just about to come into season here in Japan, and I am a complete convert to their superiority in nearly all things. When just right, they have a crispness to them that, when you bite into them at the precise angle, there is a shattering along secret, flavor laden fault lines that can result in accidentally coming away with a quarter of an apple, secured by your teeth, just sort of hanging there blocking your mouth, juices (sweet, sweet juices) running down your chin. It's like a little bit of accidental heaven.

The only apple I've had that I enjoyed more, I have no idea what the name was, and I had it in southern China. It was almost unwieldy in its largeness, crisp, and it tasted like honey the way you think mead is supposed to taste before your first disappointing sip. It was the kind of apple you'd defy god to eat, and gladly be sent forth from earthly paradise for having eaten it. After all, you'd be secure in the knowledge that you'd had the best thing available in the garden, and that after that, how could you ever enjoy days spent naming all those dumb animals, anyway?

It was a pretty good apple.
posted by Ghidorah at 3:55 PM on September 23, 2021 [7 favorites]

I've been thinking about apples this year, and maybe trying to go pick some? Knowing that nobody, probably, grows the utterly fantastic King David-- tiny; dark red to nearly black skin; white flesh with red streaks. It's very tart yet sweet, it is the most amazing little apple and it makes any cheese better cheese.
posted by winesong at 4:15 PM on September 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

The Staymans at my local orchard (Ridgetop in south-central PA) are a yearly, greatly anticipated event in my world. They come ripe in the second or (weather depending) third week of October. For my household of one, I've found that a reasonable amount of apples during apple season is two bushels. I should note that this represents two separate trips to the orchard's "porch" and also the entirety of my apple consumption for the year. I eat apples from when the Staymans are in season through about the second week of December, when they start to turn mealy even though they're in the cold part of the house. I hustle up and eat them all before they go critical. Or, if I have judged wrongly, then I make applesauce.

Is this a rational choice? I dunno. I really, really, REALLY like apples, but only Staymans and only when they're in season. When they are available, I eat all of them. When they are not available, I wait for next year.
posted by which_chick at 4:16 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

I have to wonder if Opals don't vary an awful lot from one grower or region to another, based simply on the fact that not everyone is truly, madly, deeply in love with them the way I am. I just don't even buy other apples. I wait for Opals. If you see them, choose the ones with russeting.
posted by HotToddy at 4:18 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

BRAEBURN?! No. It's SO MEALY. And maybe I've only had poor quality ones, but Granny Smiths bum me out so hard. It's the skin in particular -- it's too soft but also hard to get through?

As a Minnesotan, it's possible that I've been brainwashed into liking Honey Crisps more than I should, but I LOVE THEM. Also, SweeTangos are GREAT; I'm eating one with my dinner as we speak.

I do agree with her assessment of Red Delicious and gala, though.
posted by leftover_scrabble_rack at 4:25 PM on September 23, 2021

For years, when doing the grocery shopping, I'd always stand in the apple section looking at a dozen types of apples, wondering what to get and picking mostly randomly or on price. One of the best things we did in lockdown around this time last year was a blind apple tasting.

I bought apples of seven different varieties; then I took a piece of paper and a platter, labelled them both A through G, and then washed and sliced each apple and stuck the apple stickers to the paper (the printing is too tiny for me to read at a glance, so other than the obvious Red Del, I didn't really know which was which). Then we tried all seven making individual tasting notes, then compared our rankings and had further discussion and then unblinded ourselves.

We agreed on three tiers, but this list is only correct for my wife and I, your mileage will vary:
Best: Fuji, Pink Lady, Spartan
Okay: Ambrosia, Royal Gala
Bullshit: McIntosh, Red Delicious.

I can't recommend enough you try your own vertical blind tasting of apples; I was astounded -- I never realized how much variety there is in the flavour of apples until I tried them in close proximity. It's science, it's gastronomy, and it's like five bucks for an hour's entertainment. And you get a good batch of applesauce with the leftovers.
posted by Superilla at 4:40 PM on September 23, 2021 [4 favorites]

I dunno. I really, really, REALLY like apples, but only Staymans and only when they're in season. When they are available, I eat all of them. When they are not available, I wait for next year.

This is pretty much my approach with Macouns, except I will eke out the rest of the year with the occasional Granny Smith.

September and October are No Constipation Months around my place!
posted by praemunire at 5:25 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

To hell with all your "Jona-" hybrids. Pure Jonathans are small, tart, an unbelievably intense dark red, and absolutely delicious.
posted by BrashTech at 5:42 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Never heard of half of these, but the ones I have feel randomly sorted and written up according to their assigned rank. I mean, I like Empires and Cortlands, which are some of the worst and best according to this list. I’ve had Braeburns but they’ve left no impression other than ‘apple’.
posted by rodlymight at 5:46 PM on September 23, 2021

I am a gigantic fan of the Rockit apple. It's delicious, the right kind of tart and sweet and is nicely juicy, and they are a WAY better size for nomming than other apples. Grab some if you see them; they are really great.
posted by hippybear at 6:09 PM on September 23, 2021

It’s Song of September time here in Iowa—YUM!
posted by epj at 7:12 PM on September 23, 2021

Joining a CSA from a an Apple library-orchard was the BEST move I made in 2018ish. So many wierd apples with such diverse textures colors shapes flavors applications. The oblate ones for fritters? The vanilla-smelling crabs for pickling? YUM.

But for mainstream-ish apples, Cox’s Orange Pippin, please. And after that, basically any russetted apple > not russetted.
posted by janell at 7:18 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

My life, especially my trail walking life, was improved greatly when a friend turned me onto slices of granny smith (which I already loved) with salt! What a revelation!

My fave is the apple I know as Lady in the Snow. Small, crisp, scented, and very white flesh with juice that sparkles when fresh picked.
posted by Thella at 8:51 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

My late parents retired to two acres of old riverbed in northern New Mexico, and put in 200 specialty apple trees over the years. Of them all, the one I remember the most was the Arkansas Black. Deep purple, a touch of bitter when fresh, my father presented it like a field-found gem, and my mother made the best apple pie ever.

I wish I could find the trees to grow my own, but they seem hard to come by.
posted by SunSnork at 8:59 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

*Or maybe I just haven't googled enough, seems to be plenty out there now.
posted by SunSnork at 9:06 PM on September 23, 2021

One historical method of getting a lot of different apples into a small space is to graft different variety branches onto an existing apple tree. It's like Willy Wonka with apples, each branch with a different variety.
posted by hippybear at 9:12 PM on September 23, 2021

The unanswered question: why are cosmic crisps so bad? I was so excited to try them but they taste like red delicious in a trench coat.
I like sugarbees, sweetangos and envys but the rest of my family gags unless it's honeycrisps. So I spend too much money on apples.
posted by rouftop at 10:25 PM on September 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

It’s really depressing how many OBJECTIVELY WRONG opinions of apples people seem to hold. There should be agreement about the terrible (Red Delicious, etc) as well as the perfect ( Braeburn, Cosmic Crisp) with plenty of room for debate about middling apples like Jazz, Pink Lady, Fuji, etc. Honey crisp? So overrated. Granny Smith? Yeah, I get that there’s room to disagree over personal taste.

Braeburn is a very solid overall number one choice, for both novices and those of us with more refined tastes. I think there are reasonable arguments to be made for slightly better apples, but if you have disparaged the Braeburn in this thread, you are wrong, your opinions are bad, and you owe me and many others an apology.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:09 PM on September 23, 2021 [2 favorites]

I discovered Macouns last year and it was like finally finding something I had no idea I was searching for. Need to get on them this year before they disappear!
posted by peacheater at 1:04 AM on September 24, 2021

What can I say, I approve this message.
posted by Braeburn at 1:24 AM on September 24, 2021 [5 favorites]

Granny Smiths are another apple that used to be a lot better than any example I’ve been able to find over the last 10-15 years.

I was a big apple seed saver and eater as a kid, and when I finally tasted Granny Smiths as a young adult I instantly recognized their unique tang as a dilute version of the bitterness that drew me to apple seeds. I’ve never attempted to verify whether that’s true biochemically, however.
posted by jamjam at 1:33 AM on September 24, 2021

Cox's Orange Pippins, … easily the most complex-flavored apple you could hope for

Yep, my dad's favourite, so basically all we had. Good ones are tiny: you can fit two in your hand. We used to buy them by the crate, and they never had a chance to go off.

It's about now that Ontario Galas start getting good. Seems the whole area from Long Point to Tillsonburg grew 'em: everything smells of apples. I bought 10 lb (an obscure unit) of 'em to take back to the office in Toronto, but I ate half of them on the drive back. And I'm usually 2-3 apples a year these days.
posted by scruss at 4:35 AM on September 24, 2021

There were heirloom apples at my old house in Santa Cruz county. One of them is called "My Jewel" which is Winter Banana × Newtown Pippin. This apple became my reference: sweet with good acidity and crunch enough but not like gnawing a turnip or a Granny Smith, then you find it really does have a banana-like perfume. If you get a chance, try one. A few years back, Gizdich Ranch was supposed to have had a few producing trees.
posted by jet_silver at 5:09 AM on September 24, 2021

I'm a little sad to see golden delicious so low on the rankings, but I totally get it--the ones you get in the store have been, like, bred to maximize mealiness and minimize that crispy crunchy tart first hit of flavor. There's a 40+ year old tree in my parents' front yard that barely produces fruit any more, but it was planted by my grandfather, who was a Man of Apples, and the apples it does produce are otherwordly--tart and crisp with a sweet top note and a whole bunch of complex bromides dancing around underneath. It's my platonic ideal of what an apple should be, and I have absolutely no idea what kind of apple it actually is or where on earth he got the tree from in the first place.

In conclusion, apples are a land of contrast, and now I'm going to go look up orchards around here.
posted by Mayor West at 5:24 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Apples are like tomatoes in that it is very hard to judge them based on what gets shipped and shelved, and that a poor apple you picked is usually better than a great apple you bought.
posted by Nothing at 5:34 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

I'm always looking for the best all-around apple - one that will make a good pie, dry into tasty apple rings, can be crushed into tasty cider, or is a delight when eaten fresh. I'm going to a cider making party in a week to test that part, but Northern Spy apples fit the bill for everything else, especially since we picked a fresh off of the tree bushel ourselves last week.

However, I'm always looking for more all-around apples, because while they are great they tend to not be the best at storage. Anyone have any mid to late season varieties that can do it all?
posted by Alison at 6:27 AM on September 24, 2021

Apples are like tomatoes in that it is very hard to judge them based on what gets shipped and shelved, and that a poor apple you picked is usually better than a great apple you bought.

Yes. In a way it's a bit silly to say that one likes, eg, the Envy better than the SweeTango (god, that's an awful and stupid name, even worse than the run of the mill apple names) because the quality of what you're going to get is so variable. SweeTangos are usually pretty consistent because the sale and growing conditions of the trees is controlled, unlike the Honeycrisp, but even so.

Essentially, I have boring apple tastes - I like sweet, very crisp apples more than I like tart, softer, less juicy apples. But quality depends so much on weather, the specific orchard and shipping that it's hard for me to say that I definitely like, eg, Ambrosias better than Envies. I'd have to have a perfect specimen of each to compare, and honestly the variety is part of what makes it interesting. I don't want to buy awful apples, but there's a bit of a thrill in feeling like the Ambrosias are especially good this year or in this region.

Arkansas Blacks are different, though, since they are not especially crisp or juicy. They are my favorite apple because they are magic apples - their colors are so beautiful and their flavor so subtle. I suppose it would be different if there were Arkansas Blacks everywhere but eating one pushes you to focus on the experience of the apple, its color and heft, in a way that even really good but more usual apple doesn't.

Thinking about it, I notice how prior to mass shipment of fresh fruit, apple varieties were regional/seasonal and there was a discourse of apple varieties that wasn't very much based on commercial distribution. Now we all have favorite apples the way we'd have favorite anything else - there's a menu of apples that we choose from, there are rare kinds that we collect, so to speak, there's discourse about authenticity and origins. It would be nice to have a society where there was a brisk trade in a variety of apples so that you didn't get stuck with nothing but, eg, Cox's Orange Pippins if you didn't like those but where apples were not subject to the whole capitalist rationalization thing.
posted by Frowner at 7:02 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

These discussions always assert the "Truth" about which apples are best, as if these opinions are a matter of fact and not individual preferences. This always irritates me (and no, I'm not fun at parties either).

I wish I could find it, but I can't: Somewhere there's a blog by someone who catalogues, describes, and ranks a ton of apple varieties in a way that's very interesting and informative.

The problem I have is that any time I encounter one of these lists, I can't find most of the varieties at the top of the list. I'm very lucky to live near the Berkeley Bowl, which has about a hundred varieties of apples, but I can never find half of those varieties on any of these lists.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:07 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

A recent favorite for me has been Autumn Glory. It tastes the tiniest bit of caramel, which is both weird and tasty. It's interesting how great new apples can taste (like when honeycrisp really was delicious) and how often that turns into okayish apples a few years later as more people grow them in more climates.
posted by blueberry monster at 9:16 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

mikeand1, I think that blog was linked upthread: The Appleist. The same writer/comedian, Brian Frange, has the easier-to-navigate site.
posted by Iris Gambol at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2021

Iris, I saw that tumblr; this was another site (organized more like an old-style blog I think). The format is closer, but it still looks different. Maybe I'm just old though; I saw it years ago, I think.
posted by mikeand1 at 9:33 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Right - this whole thread combined with the fact that I have some apples from my last CSA box that need using is all prompting me to make an apple cake tonight.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2021

Mikeand1, could you be thinking of Orange Pippin? I like the reviews there.
posted by tavella at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2021

EmpressCallipygos: "Right - this whole thread combined with the fact that I have some apples from my last CSA box that need using is all prompting me to make an apple cake tonight."

Apple cake, you say? Do you have a good recipe? We just went overboard apple picking and ended up with like 30 pounds of Gravensteins. We've done pie and cobbler, and made apple bread for the first time, but I've never tried an apple cake.
posted by team lowkey at 11:28 AM on September 24, 2021

Apple cake, you say? Do you have a good recipe? We just went overboard apple picking and ended up with like 30 pounds of Gravensteins. We've done pie and cobbler, and made apple bread for the first time, but I've never tried an apple cake.

You're not asking me, but I'll butt in and say this Smitten Kitchen apple cake recipe is my go-to. It's easy, very good the first day and even better the second.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:35 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Having moved to Minnesota in August, I have been glorying in visiting orchards on my weekends and glutting myself on all the versions I've been missing out on during fifteen years in the apple wastelands of Georgia and Texas. Unsurprisingly there is no comparison between grocery store purchased and fresh picked.

I'm still sampling. Might have a final opinion on December, but then again I might not.
posted by sciatrix at 11:36 AM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Oh, I hope not. In an orchard paradise, I wish you yearly, maybe even monthly, apple opinions.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:53 AM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

Via this previous FPP, I found the USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection , with more apples (and other edible flora) than you can imagine. No tasting notes, but beautiful pictures.
posted by TedW at 1:25 PM on September 24, 2021 [1 favorite]

If anyone here is interested in UK varieties, this link might be of interest. Rick Stein's Cornwall, a BBC food series filmed last year during lockdown. If you don't want to watch the whole episode, skip to about the 17 mins mark.
posted by paperpete at 1:32 PM on September 24, 2021

Oh, well if we're talking apple cakes, you will want to know about Dorie Greenspan's Marie-Helene's Apple Cake. It's all different kinds of apples held together by rum cake and it's my favorite.
posted by HotToddy at 6:15 PM on September 24, 2021 [2 favorites]

Cripp's and Pink Ladies have been my fave this year. Very sweet, fairly crisp, nice texture, and tender skins make them my main apples.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:10 PM on September 24, 2021

Apple cake, you say? Do you have a good recipe?

I have never made apple cake before; I found many options on Google, and I admit that my selection will be dictated by the pans that I have (I moved recently and have not yet supplemented the pared-down-from-the-move kitchen tools) and the quantity (it's just me and a roommate so a big-ass cake would go bad before we could finish it).

....Oh, but wait, apple streusel muffins are also a thing. I ditched the cookbook with that recipe during the move, but leave off the vanilla glaze from this recipe and you basically have it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:03 AM on September 25, 2021 [1 favorite]

my apple cake recipe contribution is Babette Friedman's. My wife and I like that it makes for a crumbly, almost cookie like crumb, which we feel goes well with the coolness of fall.

Also, my general go-to for what to do with an extravagant quantity of apples is to make Apple Butter and have that on hand for spreading on toast or mixing into oatmeal throughout the winter.
posted by bl1nk at 7:58 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Photographer Noah Kalina (previously) offers a lovely pictorial essay about the apple trees on his property.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:00 AM on September 27, 2021

For the record I went with an apple cake from one of my many Moosewood cookbooks - it made a small enough cake for two roommates to be able to polish off within a week, it was simple, and it used up two whole apples (well - almost whole, I helped myself to a couple small slices when I was chopping them up). It was also a friendly enough recipe to adapt to my having only 65% of the brown sugar they called for and having to top it up with white sugar. I had considered adding a drift of cinnamon to the cake, too, but decided "let's just make it as-is and see". I still may want to try it with cinnamon at another time, but it's also lovely without.

It puffed up pretty nicely too!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:28 AM on September 27, 2021

Oh, and for the life of me I can't remember what apples I used, only that they were not the suggested-in-the-recipe Macintosh or Granny Smith. Cortlands, maybe? (I don't know, they were apples from the CSA box 3 weekends ago)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:30 AM on September 27, 2021

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