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A Guide to Buying Apples at Your Neighborhood Greenmarket

By Heidi Patalano | September 19, 2013 7:50am
 There's an apple for every purpose at the city's greenmarkets.
Apples at the Greenmarket
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UNION SQUARE — One bad apple may not spoil the whole bunch — but it just might muck up your jam.

With 20 popular varieties, dozens of lesser-known types and a smattering of heirloom strains, it can be overwhelming to choose from all of the apples that will soon fill the city’s greenmarket stalls.

As this beloved fruit comes into season over the next few weeks, DNAinfo New York presents a guide to picking out the best apple to suit your needs.

New Yorkers will benefit from living in the second largest apple-producing state in the U.S., second only to Washington state, according to the USDA. New York harvests a whopping 29.5 million bushels of apples every year (a single bushel weighs about 48 pounds).

Regional farms such as Breezy Hill Orchards, Caradonna Farms, Terhune Orchards and Red Jacket Orchards are already stocking many of the popular varieties that appear at the beginning of the apple harvesting season: Cortland, Macoun, Gala, Empire and Honeycrisp varieties.  

Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, N.Y. is also bringing its fruits to the market. A member of the seventh generation of the Clarke family, which has owned the farm nearly 200 years, farmer Pamela Clarke Torres knows her apples. She ran through a few key things shoppers should know before heading to the market.

How To Tell If An Apple Is Truly Organic:

Farms that offer organic produce tend to have clear signage that address their growing practices. Organic apples are also noticeably different from their conventional counterparts.

“You should be able to tell by looking at the apple. They definitely don’t look as perfect as our low-spray apples,” said Torres. “I think talking to the grower is one of the best parts about the farmer’s market. You can talk to your grower a lot and get to know what they do. But you can always ask what the apples are sprayed with.”

A Word About Heirloom Apples:

Most of us associate the term heirloom with tomatoes, but there are some very old, pure strains of apples that are grown as specialty crops. While more expensive than the common varieties, heirlooms also tend to be small and have a thicker-than-average, rough, russeted skin. But much like the famed heirloom tomato, an heirloom apple’s flavor is more complex than your supermarket variety.

“Their flavors are a little more distinctive, whereas a lot of today’s apples I think of as very one-note,” Torres said. “The heirlooms have a much broader array of flavor within each apple.”

Because heirloom apples are small, dense and a little tough, they tend to be good for baking. Common heirlooms at the greenmarket include the Golden Russet, Cox’s Orange Pippin and Lady Sweet apples.

Apples for Cooking:

The best-suited apple for both sweet and savory cooking is one that can keep its shape and avoid breaking down when heat is applied. Cortland apples, with their bright white flesh and sweet flavor, are ideal for baking as are the more tart Idareds, which have a pink or yellow-green flesh. Jonagold apples are such sturdy, honey-sweet apples that they’re often fried just in butter and a dash of cinnamon, but they are also popular for baking in an apple crisp. Jonagolds come into season in October.

Apple Butter and Jams:

With eight pounds of apples, some apple cider vinegar, white and brown sugar, cinnamon and cloves, apple butter can be made. The sweeter varieties such as Winesap, Stayman, Golden Delicious and Maclntosh are recommended for this purpose.

When looking to make a jam, go for more tart varieties, like a Baldwin, Paula Red, Northern Spy or Rome. Newtown Pippin apples have a little more naturally occurring pectin, a sugar and gelling agent commonly added to jams and jellies.

Lunchbox Apples:

Torres has two favorites when it comes to apples that appeal to youngsters with picky palettes.

“Galas and Empires are really good September apples. I tend to think of those as lunchbox apples because they’re not super huge and [are] very kid-friendly,” she said. “Empires are a little bit tart but also sweet. Both of them are not super-acidic and they come in a pretty reasonable size for kids.”

For adults, Torres recommends sweet, crispy varieties like Jonagold, Macoun, Winesap and Honeycrisp.