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The Big Apple - Getting to the Core of Fall's Favorite Fruit

Crisp, sweet, and delicious, apples are a treat no matter how you eat them. In addition to being tasty, apples are also a guilt-free snack, offering numerous health benefits to their consumers. Most of us enjoy apples fresh, or in juice, pie, or applesauce, but there are many more ways to enjoy this fall classic when used as an ingredient in soups, salads, entrees, and, of course, desserts. Keep reading to learn tips on cooking with this quintessential autumn delicacy.

Finding the Perfect Apple

Most chefs agree that the best meals start with top-quality ingredients. To find the best apples for your favorite recipes, the supermarket should be your last stop. In many parts of the United States, the freshest (and hence most nutritious) apples are available at farmer's markets or pick-your-own orchards. Local growers often offer heirloom varieties of apples and can also be a great source of information on different ways to use them. Check out Chef2Chef's Farmers Market Directory to find a farmers market near you.

Variety is the Spice of Life

There are thousands of apple varieties in existence worldwide, but most of us are hard-pressed to name more than 5 or 6. While Golden Delicious apples are just that, why not broaden your apple horizons and try a Macoun, which many claim to be tastier than its relative, the McIntosh. Cox Orange Pippin is reportedly a great choice for desserts, and Honeycrisp is a highly coveted apple perfect for fresh munching. From Granny Smith to Fuji apples, you're bound to find the perfect variety for your recipe.

Even if you compare the more commonly known apple varieties available at your local supermarket it's obvious that not all apples are created equal. The best way to get to know the subtle differences among apple varieties is by testing them yourself. You may discover a new lunch box favorite or the secret ingredient for your soon-to-be-famous curry squash soup.

Harvesting and Storing Apples

For the best quality of apples, they must be harvested at the perfect time and stored properly. The harvest season varies from one variety to the next, and is the product of weather and other environmental conditions. Apples ripe for the picking should be firm, juicy, and crisp. Whether you're picking them yourself or buying them in a store, be sure that the apples you choose make the cut.

Larger apples don't keep as well as smaller ones, so it's best to separate the apples by size. According to Iowa State's Horticulture News, the fruit should be stored near 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and in a relatively humid environment (90 to 95 percent). Given these ideal conditions, many varieties, such as Red Delicious, may keep up to 5 months.

Have more apples than you can store? No problem! The surplus can be canned, dried or frozen. Note that frozen apples deteriorate quickly once thawed, however.

Creative Uses for Autumn's Apples

While few of us can resist a fresh apple pie, there's no need to relegate apples to dessert. Try some of these ideas to incorporate this healthy fruit into any and every meal.

  • Breakfast: Make yourself a bowl of apple-cinnamon oatmeal, or try jazzing up pancake batter with grated apples.
  • Snack time: Pair a crisp apple with cheddar cheese slices or almond butter for a healthy, energy-boosting treat.
  • Lunch: Give your salad a kick with some apple slices or try cottage cheese with apples for a light, nutritious midday meal.
  • Dinner: Apples go well with most meats and even seafood, in stuffings or sauces. For an easy, colorful side dish, sautée apples with red cabbage, onion, vinegar, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar. Apple is also a natural complement for pork.
  • All year long: Find your favorite variety, buy a bushel, and make and freeze applesauce so you can enjoy the flavor of fall year-round.

Recipes abound for this versatile fruit, and fall is the season to incorporate the delicious flavor, unique texture, and abundant health benefits of apples into your cooking repertoire. Get some apples, find a few new recipes and have fun!

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