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My cherimoya, shortly before it became smoothie fodder.

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November 24, 2006

Pie Apples

I just baked my first apple pie. It's a little dry and could probably use some sugar (Lady Evil Fruit suggests that more sugar would have drawn out some more moisture, solving both problems). People I work with were shocked that I had never made an apple pie, given my thing for fruit, but while I do have a thing for fruit, I don't have a thing for cooking, at least not historically (I've become oddly domestic in the last month or so, but this is my first foray into fruit-based cooking).

Just wondering if anyone has any thoughts on what makes a good pie apple? In this case, because I was struck by a powerful urge to make an apple pie now, I was limited to what I could find at the grocery store up the street. I've had 'Golden Delcious' pies that were okay, and I recalled being less impressed with '(Red) Delicious' and 'McIntosh'. When I got there I basically narrowed it down to 'Empire', which I've been a fan of since my days at Cornell, and 'Granny Smith'. I settled on Granny Smith, partly because it was bigger than the smallish 'Empire' and I didn't feel like spending forever peeling apples, and all things considered I think it was an okay choice, though my cooking probably didn't do it justice.

Anybody have favorite pie apple cultivars (either common or obscure)? I've heard good things about 'Newtown Pippin' and 'Rhode Island Greening', but neither was available at Publix. (No great surprise).

Update: My mother reports using 'Jonagold' this Thanksgiving with good results.

Update 2: John Schmid reports success with 'Grimes Golden' and 'Northern Spy'. (Anybody know a source for 'Northern Spy' in North Florida? I haven't had one in ages...)



At 3/18/2007 08:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great pie apple cultivars? Now you're talking. My top 10 recommendations (in order of ripening in the Summer/Fall) are:

Gravenstein (DK)
Opalescent (US)
Porter (US)
Bramley's Seedling (UK)
Tompkins County King (US)
Victory (US)
Annie Elisabeth (UK)
Olympia Baldwin (US)
Calville Blanc d'Hiver (FR)
Northern Spy (US)

I don't have Granny Smith on the list because I can't grow it. It ripens too late in the year for the Maine Coast. Plus, it's a horribly common apple and I've never been very pulled toward the horribly common.

I believe Northern Spy is considered by most pie aficionados to be the definitive pie apple, although many diehard Gravenstein enthusiasts would argue. Porter is an old variety that was listed in the original Fannie Farmer cookbook as being the best choice for pie, but it's a tough apple to find. And it simply doesn't have the eye appeal of most modern day cultivars. Bramley's Seedling is the top UK cooking apple although it's virtually unheard of in the States. Annie Elizabeth is pretty high up there in the UK, too. Calville Blanc d'Hiver, a beautiful apple of French origin, has an illustrious history going back to late 1500s and is believed to have the highest Vitamin C of any apple.

The key to a great pie apple is one that has a tart edge to it to give it some dimension and character in a sweet pie, as well as having the ability for slices to retain their shape when cooked.

Hope this helps . . .

At 7/01/2008 11:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my days in the apple world, I talked with many growers (and their wives) about favorite pie apples. It's nice to dream about the old, never available varieties, but here are my real-world recommendations:
Empire-good mix of sweet-tart, and firmness
Rome-actually commonly available in FL, and while awful for fresh eating, can be good for baking.
Golden Delicious-*trade secret*-this is the apple of choice for Mrs. Smith's frozen apple pies
Red Delicious is absolutely awful for baking.
In NY, many folks swear by McIntosh for pies. It has the tendency to bake down into mush, so I prefer to mix it with another variety.

Occasionally you can find the 20 oz, a semi-heirloom variety, noted for its good cooking properties. In my experience this is mostly related to it being huge, and requiring less peeling. It is very dry and tart, and should probably only be used in conjunction with other varieties.

In general, the best pies are those with a mix of varieties. Granny Smith might be ok, if mixed with Golden Delicious, McIntosh or Cortland.


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