It was the first Friday of February and I had just come in from outside a bit parched and hungry for something. Cookies on the counter caught my eye, but what I was tasting for was a different sort of sweet… a crisp, juicy, honey-sweet apple. mmmhmmm… Went to the fridge and pulled out a lovely apple from the crisper drawer. One big bite, and several more afterwards… yea, that was so good! It was a Honeycrisp apple.An extremely popular apple I might add, and has become one of my favorite apples now because of how well it holds up. It’s February for pete’s sake and I picked the first one off the tree from my family’s farm way back in the middle of September. That’s a long time for any apple! The Honeycrisp still has that unique buttery-crispness and that mellow honey-sweetness that I think only gets better over time. This stopped me to think about the many other apple varieties we grow. What are some other ones that store well and can keep through the cold winter months here in Michigan? AND be a perfect snack apple or the perfect apple to cut-up and throw in a pie crust?
Fuji is probably the only apple you can eat in November when it has just been picked fresh from the tree or stored away and eaten the following November! Maybe a slight exageration there, but Fuji is a solid, sugar-sweet apple that can stay crisp for months and months in just common storage (i.e., in the crisper drawer of your fridge). Fuji was developed in Japan and originally named Tohoko #7. Its parents are Red Delicious and Ralls Janet—both American apples.
Idared or Ida Red is an excellent apple for pies and any baked good for that matter. It is a staple apple at any farm market or roadside stand including my family’s roadside farm market, but it is also readily available at most supermarkets. Idared is a Jonathan and Wagner cross, and when Jonathan is part of any cross you know that it is going to have lots of real apple flavor, plus a nice tart tang. We start picking Idared around October 15 here in midwest Michigan and it keeps its texture and flavor well into spring.
Granny Smith has the reputation of being THEE apple for pies, Marie Callender’s famous pies in particular (although, now they have been advertising Fuji as the apple they use for their pies. Would never have considered a pie made with Fuji, but maybe one of these days I will give it a try). Granny Smith apples are good for pies, maybe not THEE best in my book, but they are quite good. They are also good for fresh eating if you like a tart, hard apple in the middle of winter. I remember when I was growing up, and we had stored apples in an insulated apple box right outside our front door. I’d open the box everyday, take a big whiff of the trapped apple aroma, and grab a bright green Granny Smith–usually barely able to grab it with one hand because they were such huge apples! Granny Smith has come to us from Australia and according to tradition, it originated in a pile of discarded apples and apple cores that Mrs. Smith had tossed out her window. Who would’ve thunk?!
Braeburn may not be readily available everywhere but it is an old apple that has been making a come back because of its long-keeping capabilities and big apple flavor. The original Braeburn tree was a seedling found growing on New Zealand’s South Island. Braeburn apples have a thin skin which seems to disappear when eating it. The crisp flesh is yellow-green to creamy yellow and has a complex sweet-tart flavor. It is probably the last apple to pick for pretty much every orchard grower out there–middle of November! And this year I would have been picking Braeburn in the snow (yea, crazy Michigan weather!) if my dad hadn’t planted the early ripening strain, Braestar, which ripens last day of October. Thanks dad! :)
Suncrisp comes from the New Jersey Apple Breeding Program and has a sweet, spicy flavor and is highly rated in taste tests. That spicy flavor is what makes this such a delicious apple during the winter. It won’t last to spring, but if kept n the crisper drawer it will go through the winter months with very little loss in texture. I remember just a couple years when our tree began bearing, I had brought home a peck of Suncrisp from the farm. Those apples disappeared in a matter of a month and, yes, yours truly was the apple thief.
Gold Rush is the last apple to ripen on our farm, about November 5. It is a rather small yellow apple, but it packs a very nice sweet-tart punch. It has been an excellent keeper, although, it has only begun bearing two years ago for us so our personal experience is lacking. However, knowing that most apples that have a firm texture, thick skin, and good sweetness tend to be excellent keepers and Gold Rush is no exception to these qualities. It is one of the new disease resistant apple varieties that have been developed at Purdue University. It is a cross of the Golden Delicious and an experimental disease resistant apple.
Splendor is another apple from New Zealand and is a cross between Red Dougherty and Golden Delicious. It is very sweet with a lot of Golden Delicious flavor and sweetness. It is a dark pink apple with crisp, breaking, white flesh. The skin is thin and it can be fairly easily bruised, so it is no longer available in supermarkets. It is one of those grab and go apples that you can count on through most of the winter if kept in the crisper drawer in a plastic bag. The plastic bag helps to hold in moisture because Splendor have a tendency to shrivel a bit.
Blushing Golden is one of those heirloom apples that are picked late and not eaten until it has had time to sit and develop a flavor, and boy what flavor it develops! It’s an excellent keeper that will keep to spring. Blushing Golden was dDiscovered by R Griffith of Cobden, Illinois and introduced in 1968 by Stark Brothers Nursery. It is believed to be a Jonathan and Golden Delicious cross. I can see the Golden Delicious (very pretty yellow apple!) and perhaps taste it, but the Jonathan genes are hard to find. There is something very unique about this apple that you need to taste to understand.
Golden Russet can be one of the longest keepers, right there with Fuji, or it can have a very short lifespan. It all depends on how this apple is stored. It will shrivel up in a matter of a couple months (we start harvesting Golden Russet in mid-October) if left in common storage. This apple depends on high humidity and a regulated temperature to stay firm and crisp. One of the best places to store this apple is in a root cellar or buried in the ground. Yep, you just read that. Weird, but true. It was sold commercially before the English burned the White House and Capitol Building in 1814. In fact, it probably came from a seed from the even older English Russet. Its yellowish flesh is crisp, fine textured with a definite sweetness that makes it probably the best cider apple there is!
And now I come back to… Honeycrisp. It is a cross between Keepsake and an unknown apple variety. Yep, no one actually knows the parents of this widely publicized apple, even though it was developed by fruit breeders at the University of Minnesota by no mere accident. Whatever the momma or papa apple is, that was a dang good apple today, let me tell ya.