My children have discovered apples. They’ve realized that differences in apples are more than simple color, and they have become adventurous in choosing a lot of different kinds of apples. Our kitchen is full of autumn apple color.
I’ve decided to create educated apple eaters. Rather than randomly choosing whatever apples we happen to find in our grocery store, we are going to decide which apples we like and go in search of them. We are in the process of experiencing the gorgeous variety of apples available.
We have a plan to formalize our experiment, since everything is a homeschool lesson. We are gathering apples for a taste test, keeping notes as we go. We will taste each kind of apple raw and cooked. When we start to focus on our preferences, we are going to find the best local sources for those apples in particular and stock up before the apple season is over.
Color is the obvious and not always superficial difference between apple varieties.
Taste is probably the next difference we notice.
I like sour apples, and my children prefer sweet apples. I grew up eating crab apples—a smaller, perhaps more wild and definitely more sour fruit than even the most sour Granny Smith apple. My favorite apple juice is a dry, very tart Bramley apple juice that I drink when with my in-laws in England. The more sour, the better. The rest of my family eats sweet, sweet apples.
Texture is another difference that can effect our apple preferences quite a bit. Some apples are more grainy feeling than others.
All of these differences can be factors in determining which apples are most often preferred fresh, which for juice, which for pies, which for cakes, and which for applesauce or apple butter. There are charts of which varieties work best for each type of recipe, but I think you should throw out the charts made by others once you begin your own experiments. You might have different tastes than others do. Maybe you DO want the skins on the apples in your tart! (I know I do. Most recipes say this makes the tart bitter, but I prefer that taste.)
The point is: experiment to find what YOU like.
All apples provide fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The phytonutrients found in dark fruits and vegetables are in the skin, though. Dark apples like Red Delicious contain the most phytonutrients, but you have to eat the skin.
Apples are already on the list of foods you should definitely buy organic. Apples are on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list. If you are going to eat apple skins, it is even more important to buy organic in order to reduce exposure to pesticides.
DO eat the skins!
The Search for Apple Varieties
To run your own apple experiments, you will need to variety a variety of apples greater than just the Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith apples from the store. (That’s about the extent of variety at my store.)
Of course, most farmers’ markets will have a big variety of apples this time of year. Now through October is the most common time for apple festivals across North America. Going to a pick-your-own orchard will give you and your children another dimension to the apple experience as you feel differently about food you have picked yourself. Check whether the orchards use pesticides, which is the more important question than organic certification.
The CSA that we used to belong to (before laws favoring mega-organic made it so much more difficult for small farms) encouraged us to pick apples when we picked up our weekly shares. The apples weren’t always beautiful, but we picked and ate them warm off the tree. This is yet another opportunity for those intense food memories I wrote about recently.
Gather a variety of apples and a variety of recipes. Create a chart with apple varieties down the side and ways to eat apples across the top. With little kids, you might want to get stickers with faces—happy, sad, puckered. Each person in the family can add their review of each.
Start tasting and cooking and tasting again. Be sure to review and discuss at each tasting.
The apple experiments will not only help you and your family to add variety to your apples, but it will help young children learn some basic scientific principles as they do a little tasty food science.
Good luck! If you go on an apple search adventure and especially if you make an apple chart, I would love to hear back from you how it goes.