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Over the Garden Fence: Each variety of apple offers something unique

Apples, seen here at Way Fruit Farm in Port Matilda, are grown in every state in the continental United States.
Apples, seen here at Way Fruit Farm in Port Matilda, are grown in every state in the continental United States. nmark@centredaily.com

I was chatting with Don Smith, research technician with the tree fruit and grape research programs at the Penn State Horticultural Research Farm, the other day and asked him about some of his favorite apple varieties. We had a great discussion that I thought I would share with you, the readers.

Apples are grown in every state in the continental United States. Like vegetables, there are a lot of apple varieties, with more than 500 named varieties of apples and more than 100 varieties grown commercially. There are 15 varieties that account for 90 percent of the production.

Here are some of Don’s comments on the 15 varieties.

▪ Braeburn: A good, multipurpose apple, crisp and juicy with a rich, spicy-sweet flavor.

▪ Cortland: Developed in the 1890s, sweet with only a hint of tartness. It is excellent for salads and cooking for applesauce.

▪ Empire: A juicy apple with a nice sweet-tart flavor and creamy white flesh. It is a good all-purpose apple.

▪ Fuji: Has a sweet flavor and is firm and stores well. Another all-purpose apple and is one of my favorites.

▪ Gala: One the most popular apples. It is crisp, juicy and very sweet — an ideal snack.

▪ Ginger Gold: A sweet-tart apple and is great for salads, and cooks well also.

▪ Golden Delicious: Discovered as a chance seedling in 1890. It is mellow and sweet, and an all-purpose apple for eating, baking and salads. Don also noted that cooks have told him that you can reduce the amount of added sugar when making pies with this apple.

▪ Granny Smith: Has a distinctive green flesh and a very tart flavor. Another all-purpose apple great for snacks, pies or sauce.

▪ Honeycrisp: A more recent addition to the lineup, this apple is juicy and sweet and is good for snacking, salads and sauce making and stores well also. It does sometimes get large.

▪ Idared: Has a tangy flavor and a bright red skin and firm texture. Good for snacking and holds it shape in baking.

▪ Jonagold: Has a honey-tart flavor and a crispy, juicy nearly yellow flesh. Excellent for both eating and cooking.

▪ Jonathan: It is used for pies and applesauce and has a spicy tang that blends well with other varieties in sauces and ciders.

▪ McIntosh: Discovered by chance by John McIntosh in 1811. A very juicy, tangy tart apple has a tender and white flesh. Best used for snacking and applesauce, but Don says some folks enjoy its tart flavor in pies and also adds that its flesh cooks down easily so if making a pie cut your slices thick or add a thickener.

▪ Red Delicious: Most widely recognized of all apple varieties. It is sweet, crispy and juicy. It is best eaten fresh or in salads.

▪ Rome Beauty: Its claim to fame is its storage qualities. It is mildly tart and primarily used in cooking and is especially good baked or sautéed.

Don said that we have roughly 140 varieties of apples at the Horticultural Research Farm and are harvesting from late July through mid-November. Don also mentioned to me that they are evaluating 11 varieties of Asian pears at the farm. I have certainly enjoyed eating some of the Asian pears as well as the apples. Remember the old adage that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant science at Penn State and can be reached by e-mail at wlamont@psu .edu.

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