September 30, 2004

Taste Matters

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On the Washington Apple website, it says, ‘if you put all of the year”s Washington apples side by side, they would circle the earth 12 times.’ Wow. Washington state harvests about 10-12 billion apples every year for the 17 pounds of them Americans consume anually on average. My lord, that”s a lot of apples. Good for you, Washington! So you”re the country”s number one apple picker. Washington is clearly a winner in the apple department if you are a boring individual who does not firmly believe that variety is the spice of life. For all of Washington”s prowess and tyrannical rule over this country”s apple industry, they only grow and package about five major types of apple. New York, on the other hand, is the nation”s number one for variety, with around twenty different types of apple. Take a bite out of that, Washington. Take a bite out of that.

Don”t be mistaken — New York does produce around 25 million bushels of apples each year, second only to that Western state known for rain, coffee, and grunge rock. Not surprisingly, nearly all of the apples grown in the Empire State come from Central to Northern New York, which makes Ithaca the perfect place for apples. And another thing, Washington, how many apples have you invented? None, huh? Well, the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, which is owned and operated by none other than Cornell, genetically created over 50 different kinds of apples in the past 60 years, including the Rome, Cortland, and Empire varieties. Why the rant? Walk into Wegman”s from now until about late November and check out the vast array of different apples laid out for your consumption. It”s apple season, baby. Alright, I”m gonna be honest about this — it can become quite confusing with so many varieties available as to which one best suits you. Most people probably know Granny Smiths, Macintosh, and Delicious very well because of their immense popularity. In fact, nearly 40% of apples consumed in New York are of the Delicious variety, and about 15% are Granny Smiths. These statistics represent the two extremes in apple taste; Delicious are very sweet, and Granny Smiths are very tart. Those numbers say that a lot of people like very sweet apples, while a considerable amount prefer them sour.

With most of the other apples, we find a compromise. Many of the different varieties grown in New York are often a combination of sweet and sour, to varying degrees. The apple”s texture and its ability to hold up against heat are other important factors that determine the best uses for it. For instance, my favorite apple is the Macintosh — it”s sweet but tangy, always crisp and medium in size, which makes it the perfect apple for snacking. However, the Mac”s tender flesh does not hold up well during baking, so it”s not preferable for apple pies or tarts. Other apples that match these criteria for simple snacking include the Fuji Apple, which is similar in taste to a Delicious, but with more tang. Braeburns are also among my picks because they are full of interesting, sweet, and tart flavors, and are consistently crisp. In fact, the New York apple web site calls the Braeburn ‘the perfect apple for teens.’ Is it finally the cure for the side effects of puberty, such as awkwardness and chronic acne? Not sure, but it”s pretty tasty.

The other, more indulgent use for apples is their role in baking, cooking and, yes, alcoholic beverages. The Rome apple, native to New York, is ‘the best apple for baking, hands down’ states an Ithaca apple expert, who chooses to remain anonymous. ‘The Rome [is] to baking is what MC Hammer is to puffy pants — it”s flesh is mildly tart and very firm, which keeps it together in the oven.’ Unrelated analogies aside, cooking with apples comes down to how firm their flesh is. So if you have a meaty apple, even if it happens to be a Rome, toss it or give it to someone you don”t like, and never turn it into a baked good. Going a little further, you can also adjust the taste of your pie or pastry according to what apples you use. For sweeter pies and desserts, use sweeter apples, like the Crispin, Golden Delicious, or Jonagold. Do you prefer sour to sweet? If the answer is yes, then use tart apples, such as the Cortland, Empire, or Granny Smith. Again, it”s what you prefer. You like it, you make it. Follow your palate.

But for all you alcoholics, it”s time to embrace appleholism. We all know what hard cider is, like Woodchuck. It”s sparkling apple cider with about the same amount of alcohol as beer. If you like Smirnoff Ice, you”ll probably like this stuff, which is usually on tap at most of the bars around here. Hard cider is more of a gimmick than a true display of the harmony between apples and booze. One of my personal favorites, and this is not for the faint of heart, is cider mixed with Bacardi 151. Granted, anything mixed with 151 will burn like hell on the way down, but this one is worth it. Or how about the Appletini? This is definitely one of the most popular drinks in Manhattan, and one of the most expensive as well. So what have we learned? NY Apples = good. Drunk off NY apples = really good.

Archived article by Jon Rich