Not so many years ago, cooks really needed to know their apples. Thanks to modern agriculture techniques, though, those differences aren’t quite so crucial, since apples have become the mainstay of North American fruit. Centuries of apple cultivation have resulted in many all-purposes varieties that can be eaten as well as cooked.
Traditionally, cooking apples tend to taste more tart than so-called “eating” apples. Cooking apples also are bred to be larger than eating apples, yielding more fruit content per unit. This larger size helps to make cooking apples preferable for popular desserts such as pies, tarts, cakes and breads. Another quality of a cooking apple is its ability to hold its shape when cooked or baked.
Even with these commendable qualities, cooking apples can be just as tasty eaten fresh as their crunchy, munchable cousins. According to the U.S. Apple Association, some 2,500 varieties are grown in the United States, but there are 15 kinds of apples that account for nearly 90 percent of all commercial apple production. These top 15 are Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Cortland, Idared, Empire, Jonagold, Fuji, Jonathan, Gala, McIntosh, Ginger Gold, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, and Granny Smith. States that grow the most apples include California, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.
Varieties grown to work well in cooking include the pale green Granny Smith and reds such as Jonathan, McIntosh and Northern Spy. Granny Smith apples have an interesting history. An Australian grower named “Granny” Anne Smith discovered the variety by chance in 1868, and thereby won fame by giving the apple its name. Granny Smith apples have a tart flavor and distinctive green flesh popular for apple pies or applesauce.
Another of the “immigrant” all-purpose apples is Braeburn, a variety that was first grown in New Zealand in the 1950s. Braeburn emerged unintentionally, possibly as a chance cross between Granny Smith and Lady Hamilton apples. Braeburns are now grown in the United States, and have become popular because of their crisp texture and spicy-sweet flavor. Another transplant from the land of the Kiwis is the Gala apple. The U.S. Apple Association says that Galas came to the United States in the early 1970s. Since then Galas have become popular for snacking thanks to their crisp, juicy flesh and very sweet flavor.
The Idared offers a homegrown American cooking apple. This variety was developed in 1942 when agents at the Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station crossed the Jonathan and Wagener cooking apples. Idared has a firm texture and holds it shape well, making it ideal for baking. Another descendant of the Jonathan strain is the Jonagold, a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious varieties. This apple has become popular as an all-purpose variety for both eating and cooking.
Of all cooking apples, the U.S. Apple Association calls Rome Beauty the “baker’s buddy.” Mildly tart, this variety was another of those “chance” seedlings that 19th century apple growers discovered from time to time. In this case, the apple was found on a farm near Rome, Ohio – hence its name. Rome Beauty is known to store especially well, a quality that no doubt added to its popularity with cooks and bakers. It’s used almost exclusively for cooking purposes.
With all their delicious variety, this fruit gives a new meaning to the old wisecrack: “How do you like those apples?”