Edible Cooks: Apples


Photo by Michael Piazza / Styled by Catrine Kelty

It’s hard to grow up in New England and not have apples be a big part of your fall season. New England revolves around apples. There’s pick-your-own, apple bobbing, caramel covered, school field trips to see cider being made and, of course, cider doughnuts.

Apples have been part of the human diet for tens of thousands of years. The colonists started planting apple trees here in the 1630s (mostly to use for cider). John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, was from Leominster, MA and largely responsible for what we know as the modern day apple orchard.

Like most kids who grew up in Massachusetts, I went apple picking with my family and we gorged ourselves on cider doughnuts and various other apple treats. It’s a tradition that my husband and I continue to this day with our own kids. I think it must have been exactly the same for my parents: kids rolling their eyes at picking apples and enthusiastic parents searching for the perfect ones. The kids just want the doughnuts and the apple desserts more than they want to pick the apples! That’s okay, they’re part of the New England tradition, and I’m sure that they will carry it on in their own way.

This fall promises a bumper crop of high quality apples in New England and what better way to celebrate the season than to cook up a variety of apple-inspired creations?

Apples are such a versatile fruit and can be enjoyed in countless ways. For eating out of hand, the best varieties are sweet, crunchy, and juicy, like the newly-popular Honeycrisp (in fact, the owners of Northborough’s Tougas Farm, Phyllis and Mo Tougas, say they can’t grow enough Honeycrisps to meet the demand, they’re just that delicious). Boston’s own Roxbury Russet, developed in the mid-17th century, with its brownish-green skin and durability for winter storage, is best for cider, both sweet and hard.

As for baking with apples, I find that a crisp, slightly-less-sweet apple works best. Most desserts have added sugar, and a slightly tart apple is a nice contrast. Granny Smiths fit the bill, as do Empire, Gravensteins or Cortlands, and many others. But, really, there are no hard and fast rules, and most recipes do well with more than one variety which only adds to the complexity of flavor.