There are more than 7,000 varieties of apples but not all of them come to harvest at the same time. In the course of a year, there are actually three apple harvests: an early-season harvest, a mid-season harvest, and a late-season harvest.
The harvest for early-season apple varieties begins in mid-summer and peaks in late summer. The harvest for mid-season apples begins in late summer and peaks in early autumn, and the harvest for late-season apples begins in early autumn and peaks in late autumn–and sometimes runs right into early winter.
Late-season apples are the best keepers. Keepers are apples that can be set aside at cool temperatures just above 32°F (0°C) and will stay fresh right through the winter and into spring. For that reason, late-season apples are sometimes called winter apples.
While some cookbooks like to divide apples into those that are eaten out of hand (the early- and mid-season apples) and those that are set aside and used for baking and cooking (late-season apples), it’s not really that simple.
Late-season apples–just like apples from the early and mid-season harvest times—have a variety of uses. An apple’s use depends upon the variety of apple.
- Some are right for eating out of hand; they are usually firm, juicy, crisp, and sweet to sweet-tart tasting.
- Some are best for pies; they are more dry than juicy and will have a slightly acidic flavor.
- Some are great for baking or cooking whole; they will be sweet but firm and will not disintegrate in the oven easily.
- Some are suited for jellies; they will be more acidic but juicy.
- Some are best for sauce; they will be sweet to tart and will not discolor easily.
If you want a sweet tasting winter apple for eating out of hand, choose the Pink Lady. If you want a winter salad apple that is crisp but not too sweet, choose the Sierra Beauty or the Newtown Pippin. If you’re making a late-season applesauce, choose the Rhode Island Greening. If you are planning to bake a tart this winter day, choose the Winesap.
If you really want to appreciate fresh apples, get to know the varieties that grow in your region. There will be early-, mid-, and late-season apples growing close by, and there will be an apple in each season right for the use you have in mind.
Late season or winter apples are great for cooking and are also the best keepers. Most will last through the winter until early spring if chilled at just above 32°F (0°C).
Choose apples with tight, smooth, unblemished skin with good color for the variety. Apples should be firm to hard. The scent should be full and fresh. Avoid fruit that is slightly soft, the flesh could be mealy and mushy. To test the degree of ripeness, give the apple a flick close to the stalk–a dull sound indicates ripeness, a hollow sound is a sign of over-ripeness.
Taste is always more important than looks when it comes to apples. Get to know the varieties that grow in your region. Taste several to discover which ones you favor.
Winter or Late-Season Apple Varieties:
Here are some of the winter apples you will find at the farm market this week:
Arkansas Black: from Benton County, Arkansas; very dark color; crisp, juicy, slightly acid; good for eating out of hand, for desserts and applesauce; good storage keeper.
Ashmead’s Kernel: heirloom that is highly regarded in the UK; yellow with orange-brown blush; great flavor fresh or juiced–intense nutlike flavor with a balance of sweet and tart; tart when tree ripe, mellows with storage.
Baldwin: from Wilmington, Massachusetts since 1740; bright red and streaked with yellow; sweet-tart with sharp full flavor; juicy; crisp texture; great for munching, baking pies, cider, and applesauce; good to store for winter eating.
Black Twig: heirloom found only at farmers markets; dark red, almost purple; hard, juicy, fragrant; golden flesh and grassy, intense flavor; great for eating out of hand.
Braeburn: from New Zealand; medium size, mottled red and yellow skin and orange red over yellow; crisp, sweet-tart flavor, aromatic, firm texture; stores well for up to12 months; eating out of hand, applesauce, pies, baking.
Brown Russet: heirloom before 1870; very late harvest; with patches of green and red; good fresh, stored, or use for sweet apple cider.
Cortland: from Geneva, New York since 1915; large, round, smooth, shiny red with flat ends; fine-grained very white juicy flesh, crisp, fragrant, sweet; flesh resists browning; fresh eating, perfect in salads, good for cooking and oven-baking, remains firm when baked, perfect for pies, desserts, applesauce. Does not store well.
Cox’s Orange Pippin': from Bucks, England about 1830; found in farmers markets in U.S.; skin is clear yellow with orange and red stripes; crisp juicy, excellent flavor; for eating out of hand, applesauce, or blended with other varieties for pies; good keeper.
Enterprise: medium size, red blush; firm, sweet; keeps well.
Esopus Spitzenburg: from Esopus in Ulster County, New York since 1790; medium to large, bright red with yellow dots; crisp, sweet tender pale golden flesh; rich complex flavor, tangy and spicy; choice for dessert, good all-around.
Fuji: cross between Ralls Janet and Red Delicious; esteemed in Japan and China; introduced into the U.S. from Japan in 1980s; medium to large, green to yellow with under color blushed with red; flesh yellow green with red strips; firm, crisp, juicy, fragrantly sweet, excellent honey-like flavor; stores well; use in applesauce blends, eat out of hand; too hard for pies but holds texture well when baked.
Golden Russet: unknown origin before 1870; hard to find outside of farmers’ markets; small or medium size and round; skin russeted redish-brown and golden; flesh is firm and yellow; flavor rich and aromatic; excellent eating out of hand, cooking and making fresh cider; keeps well in storage.
Gold Rush: medium size, yellow; dessert quality, excellent fresh or for baking; best after storage.
Idared: from Idaho since 1942; large, dark red with greenish-yellow spots; firm, juicy, fragrant, tangy-tart flavor, aromatic flesh; all purpose, excellent baked, remains firm when cooked or baked; for applesauce; keeps well.
Melrose: from Ohio, the official apple of Ohio; cross between a Jonathan and a Delicious; medium to large, round; skin yellow with bright red blush; white flesh, mildly tart, aromatic; good for storage, good dessert apple.
Mutsu (Crispin): developed in Japan as Mutsu; renamed Crispin in Europe and America; large, round, harder than Golden Delicious; pale yellow skin with light red blush; cream colored flesh, crunchy, moderately sweet to tangy; eat out of hand, excellent in pies and for dessert; long storage life.
Newtown Pippin’ (Yellow Pippin’, Yellow Newtown): developed in the Borough of Queens, New York before the American Revolution; large; skin is pale green and soft yellow with occasional red streak; crisp, faint citrus scent and complex sweet and tart taste; excellent for cooking, pies and applesauce.
Northern Spy (Red Spy): from East Bloomfield, New York about 1800; skin bruises easily so seen usually in farmers’ markets; large, round shape with pale yellow pink to red blushed skin; tender, fine-grained flesh; juicy, sprightly flavor, aromatic; excellent dessert, baking, and cooking apple; eating out of hand and applesauce.
Pink Lady: crisp fall nights bring the bright pink color to the skin; sweetly tart taste with hints of kiwi and raspberry; for snacking and baking.
Rhode Island Greening: yellow-green grassy colored skin; distinctive sweet-tart spicy flesh, sometimes sour and hard; for eating out of hand, pies, applesauce; intensifies in flavor when cooked.
Rome: from Rome Township, Ohio; older than the Rome Beauty; large, round, yellow-to green skinned with mottled red overtones; crunchy texture and tangy flavor; best as a baked apple; mealy and flavorless when stored too long.
Rome Beauty (Red Rome): from Ohio; medium to extra large, round, smooth red, tough skin; firm greenish-white flesh; juicy, crisp, slightly tart, firm; outstanding for baking, keeps its shape with sweet flavor; use for whole baked apples; fair for eating out of hand; season from September to early November, holds until June.
Sierra Beauty: intense sweet and tart flavor, crisp and juicy.
Stayman (sometimes mistakenly called Winesap): cross between Red Delicious and Winesap; grown mainly in the southeastern United States; rich red color with green undertones, russet dots; fine-grained, firm flesh, juicy with lively, complex flavor; all purpose, excellent cooking apple.
Tydeman’s Late Orange: full flavor around Christmas; excellent for storage.
Winesap: small, bright red sin with areas that look almost purple; fine grained, firm , juicy with lively, slightly fermented winey flavor; good eating out of hand, good for applesauce and pies, apple cider; stores into June.
York or York Imperial: from York County, Pennsylvania since the 1800s; off-center, lopsided shape; light red or pinkish skin dotted with yellow; yellowish flesh, crisp, moderately juicy, mildly sweet; good for drying, cooking, or baking; add to pies or applesauce.