Over the last few years, it seems like everyone has begun marking the turning of summer into fall with the newfound abundance of pumpkin everything. As soon as the hint of fall appears, pumpkin-spiced lattes, baked goods, creamers, ciders, cereals, and candles fill stores and cafes before you can say “decorative gourd season.” However, this wave of pumpkin everything pales in comparison to the undisputed champion of fall: apples. If you’re not at an orchard wearing red flannel and drinking apple cider while picking apples for pie, is it even fall? Thankfully, September is the start of peak apple season in the US with dozens of popular varieties hitting their stride. To help you soak in the joy of apple season, here are some tips on what to look for in perfectly ripe apples, and which varieties are the best for baking and juicing.
How to Notice Peak Ripeness
Picking apples at just the right time can be tricky. Picked too early and they can be overly tart. Picked too late they can be mealy and soft. Best way to know is to check for a few key visual and tactile signs. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but is a good rule of thumb:
- The stem separates easily from the branch.
- Mature apples are firm and crisp, but not hard. They shouldn't be soft or easily bruised.
- When you bite into them, they should be crisp and juicy and not starchy or tangy.
- The peel color changes from green to red with yellow hints. (Unless it's a variety of green apple)
- The color of the peel inside the indention around the stem goes from green to yellow.
- The flesh inside is cream or white and the seeds have turned from white to brown.
Best Varieties for Baking
Braeburn – sweet-tart flavor that holds firmness when baked and won’t make filling overly juicy
Cortland – juicy and slightly tart, and great for pies, cobblers, and tarts (also great for cheese plates as they don’t brown quickly)
Empire – firm texture is great for baking and flavor is sure to please nearly all palates
Fuji – among the sweetest in flavor with a firmness that makes them durable in the oven
Golden Delicious – mild and sweet flavor that juices very little when baked so won’t give you a soggy crust
Honeycrisp – a sweet, delicious flavor and crisp flesh that loves a pie. Try these in Taste of Home’s Blue-Ribbon Apple Pie recipe
Best Varieties for Juicing
Gala – provides a mellow, slightly acidic, and fruity sweet juice
Golden Delicious – has an aromatic, almost honey-like flavor for a sweet, rich juice
Granny Smith – gives you the classic sour apple flavor, and with a touch of cinnamon is a refreshing juice
Pacific Rose – slightly floral and sweet, these provide a well-balanced, crowd-pleasing juice for parties
Jazz – a mix between Gala and Braeburn to give a sweet and fruity juice with a slight tart tang
Pink Lady – while sporting a high sugar content, the tart undertones create a well-rounded juice like this one from Stemilt Growers in Washington: Tart Apple, Strawberry, & Basil Smoothie