Fall’s here, which means everyone’s dreaming about pumpkin, pulling fleece-lined jackets out from the depths of their closets, and mourning the end of peach and berry season. Fortunately, the beginning of fall also marks the start of apple season. Apples are the quintessential fall fruit—once it’s September, they surge in popularity, starring in baked goods, as interior decorating props, and in festive party games, like apple bobbing. Grocery stores keep bins of apples stocked, and apple orchards send people away with bags weighed down with hand-picked fruit. Luckily for you, with all the apples you’ll inevitably have on hand, they’re an extremely versatile fruit: excellent when they’re baked into pies, cooked down in sauces, made into cider, and munched in their pure, raw form.
There’s an astonishing number of apple varieties, and when you’re faced with selecting apples, it can be difficult to determine what’s the best apple for baking, or the best apple for eating. To prevent you from inadvertently biting into a tart Granny Smith when you wanted something sweet, or baking with a Red Delicious which is best eaten raw, this guide provides you with a handy key to tasting notes, texture, color, and cooking and baking suggestions for a dozen of the most popular apple varieties.
Cortland apples are squat, with a creamy interior that’s both sweet and tart. Their flesh is pretty soft—though not as soft as a McIntosh apple—but it’s easy to confuse the two: Both have similar coloring and the same mix of sweet and tart. Unlike McIntosh, Cortland are multi-purpose: You can eat them raw, baked, or cooked.
While crab apples tend to be discovered rotting in the grass—apples you’d never consider eating because they’re sour and tart—crab apples are generally used to make jam and jelly. For other crab apple ideas, you can also pickle and juice them.
One of the most beloved apples in the country, Fuji apples range in color, from orange to yellow to red. Fuji apples were originally cultivated in Japan before arriving in America in the 1960s. Don’t cook with Fuji; their crispness adds an appealing crunch to salads or other dishes that don’t involve cooking.
Unlike the consistent, vibrant red of a Red Delicious, no two Gala apples look quite the same. They’re generally light red, with yellow undertones and wisps of pink and orange spots. Gala apples have a reliable, mild sweetness and a crisp bite, and their thin skin makes them ideal for a fresh-eating apple.
Discovered by a farmer in West Virginia, Golden Delicious are not related to Red Delicious, despite the shared name. With bright yellow skin, they feature a silky texture and a very sweet flavor. Bake into pies, toss slices into salads, and cook down into sauces. They taste best shortly after purchased because the thin skin is easily bruised.
Although bright green Granny Smith apples are quite tart and crisp, cooking with these apples actually makes them sweeter, and they pair well with savory and salty foods. They’re also frequently used in baked goods because of their high acidity, as well as their ability to maintain their shape when baked.
Similar to Macoun and Gala apples, Honeycrisp are sweet and crisp. With a red exterior and pale white interior, their crisp texture will stay firm when baked or caramelized.
Macoun apples are a cross between a McIntosh and a Jersey Black. Sweet and juicy, Macouns are often found at pick-your-own apple orchards. Intensely sweet, they’re best eaten fresh, but these apples bring a crisp sweetness if you’re looking to make applesauce.
McIntosh apples are generally characterized as crunchy and mealy, which honestly sounds a bit unpleasant, but this quality, paired with their creaminess, makes them optimal for applesauce and apple butter. They’re typified by a crimson, dark red, and green color with a bright white interior.
Mutsus, relatives of Golden Delicious, will drip down your chin when you bite into them. Sweet, sharp and pungent, they can be munched on plain, or juiced and cooked. They can be stored for three months before going bad.
Perhaps the most recognizable and widely planted apple in the country, Red Delicious are easy to spot because of the vibrant red color. They’re juicy, with a mildly sweet flavor, and have a long storage life. While not suggested for baking or cooking, Red Delicious are one of the tastiest raw apples.
Rhode Island Greening
As their name suggests, the Rhode Island Greening was first cultivated in Rhode Island, and are the official fruit of the state. Rather large and round with a waxy green exterior, these apples are crisp, juicy and sometimes sour, and similar to Granny Smith. Cook immediately after picked, or wait until their skin turns a greenish-yellow. That color signifies they’re fully ripe and ready to feast on.