October is National Apple Month, and it’s not hard to see why. It is the height of the apple growing season. For some, visiting an apple orchard is a rite of passage into the fall season. Agreed, apple pie, apple cider donuts, BBQ sandwiches, apple butters, and other apple products offered at the apple orchards don’t fit the WFPB lifestyle, but don’t let that stop you from going to the orchard. There are a variety of fun, low cost activities families can enjoy together at the apple orchard. It’s a great opportunity for mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends to be together outdoors and find enjoyment in a country setting (and have a reprieve from all electric devices). Go on a hayride. Ride in a tractor-pulled wagon out to the orchard and pick your own apples. Wander through the corn mazes. Climb bales of hay. Visit the barn to find corn husks, mums, pumpkins and other fall country-style home decor to decorate your house inside and out. Some apple orchards even have pumpkin patches to extend their season. Wonderful memories can be created when visiting an apple orchard. Chances are, we have all heard the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” This seems to be true, as a review of over 85 studies showed apple consumption consistently showed a risk reduction of heart disease, cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes compared to many other fruits and vegetables.¹ People who are diabetic are often concerned about eating fruit (carbs). Apples are low on the glycemic index. Eating an apple is a great way to have something sweet without spiking blood sugar levels.
An average sized apple has about 100 calories, 4 grams of fiber (16% DV), and is 85% water. Most of an apple’s nutrients are found in the skin. Apples are an excellent source of Vitamin C, fiber, and pectin. Vitamin C strengthens the immune system, boosts collagen production, and reduces inflammation. Fiber is needed for good gut health. Pectin is a soluble fiber that can lower cholesterol and glucose levels and is a natural stool softener. Apples are also are a good source of flavonoids, especially quercetin, that can neutralize free radicals that damage cell membranes and DNA. Flavonoids can also protect against heart disease and asthma. Nutritionally speaking, eating apples raw is best as much of the healthful benefits of flavonoids are lost during cooking.
Unfortunately, apples are listed #7 on the Environmental Working Group Dirty Dozen list. To get the maximum health benefits from eating apples, we want to eat the peel where the biggest concentration of the apple’s antioxidants and fiber are. Soak apples in a solution of 1 teaspoon baking soda in 2 cups of water 12-15 minutes and then rinsing them with tap water before eating will remove the pesticides according to Consumer Reports. Depending on the pesticides used, however, some do seep into the fruit, so the baking soda solution won’t necessarily remove all of the pesticides. When possible, buy organic.
Apples kept on the counter will keep for about a week. If they are not ripe when bought, store the apples in a paper bag and keep in a cool, well-ventilated place for a few days. Apples will keep up to six weeks in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Wrap them with a damp towel or in a plastic bag with holes punched in it to allow the ethylene gas that apples produce a chance to escape. Ethylene gas accelerates ripening, so store them away from other fruits and vegetables. Apples will not ripen in the refrigerator. Apples add a natural sweetness to soups including pumpkin, carrot, and potato. Apples are often added to smoothies to sweeten them without having an overpowering flavor. They make a great addition to oatmeal. Top pancakes or waffles with applesauce. Apples are a nice addition to leafy salads. Nut butter spread on sliced apples make a delicious snack. A simple dessert can be made by slightly sautéing a sliced apple along with raisins, adding a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, ginger, or cloves and adding walnuts at the end.
A simple carrot-apple salad is 1 diced apple, 1 shredded carrot, 1/2 cup diced pineapple, and 1/4 cup raisins. The salad is a nice contrast between the tartness of the apple and the natural sweetness of carrots, pineapple, and raisins.
Homemade applesauce is quick and easy to make by just coring 6 apples (McIntosh, Gala, Fuji, or other), and cut them into chunks, leaving skin on. Place in a saucepan with 1/3 cup water. Cook for about 10 minutes until soft but not mushy, stirring occasionally. Let them cool. Puree in a blender, or for a chunkier applesauce, mash with a potato masher. Add cinnamon or apple pie spice to taste. Tip – an apple slicer corer works really well to core and slice apples with a single motion.
Apple season begins at the end of summer and lasts through early winter. The apples that are available out of season we find in the grocery store have been kept in cold storage or imported. Although their use is interchangeable, some varieties of apples are preferred over others for various recipes. Tarter apples have a tendency to hold their shape better when cooked that sweeter apples. Here are a few of the more popular varieties:
* Red Delicious – The most popular apple. They have a thicker skin and their flesh is crisp and their flavor is mild and sweet. Because their flesh doesn’t hold up well when cooked, they are often used in salads and eaten raw. They are ready for picking in late September and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month.
* Cortland – Another popular apple. It is a tart apple and good for baking and eating raw. Their snow-white flesh makes great applesauce and a great addition to sauerkraut. They have a shorter shelf life and will begin to lose their crispness after about a month. Cortlands are available beginning in mid-September.
* McIntosh – Green-red in color. A good all purpose apple. Slightly tart and juicy. They are good for eating raw or baking. Their flesh breaks down quickly when cooked and pair well with a firmer apple like Fuji or Granny Smith apples. Available starting in late September.
* Empire – Have a sweet-tart flavor and are crisp and crunchy when eaten. They make a great addition to grain bowls and overnight oats. They keep up to two months in the refrigerator crisper and are available beginning in late September.
* Jonagold – A cross between the Jonathan and Golden Delicious apple. They have a sweet-tart flavor and are firm and juicy. They can be used for eating raw and baking and are a good choice when making baked apples. These you can find in the orchard beginning in late September.
* Jonathan – Red in color and smaller in size. This apple dates back to the mid 1800’s. They are semi-tart and popular for baking and also a favorite for making applesauce. They are ripe by mid September.
* Golden Delicious – Pale golden-yellow color and are mild tasting, sweet, and crisp. It is a good all purpose apple for eating raw and cooking and makes good applesauce. Golden Delicious apples don’t brown as quickly as other apple varieties when sliced and are a good addition to fruit salads. They are ripe beginning mid September.
* Granny Smith – Green in color and smaller in size. They have a tart flavor and are a favorite for cooking with its high sugar and acid content. Granny Smith apples hold their shape well when cooked and are available beginning in late September.
* Braeburn – Have a red hue and are a good cooking apple. They are firm and taste both sweet and tart and are good on salads and for making applesauce. They store well. Braeburns are a late season apple available beginning mid-October.
* Fuji – Green-red in color. They are crisp and very sweet and are best eaten raw. They make a nice addition to salads. Fuji apples will keep 3-6 months in the refrigerator. They are a late season apple and generally available for picking in mid- October.
* Gala – Orange-yellow in color. Galas are firm, sweet, very juicy and are a good all purpose apple. They are a good choice to add to salads and coleslaw. They will keep up to three weeks in the refrigerator. They are ready for picking in early September.
There is a big debate as to which is the best variety of apple. Is it the popular Red Delicious apple, the sweet crisp Fuji apple, the crunchy Empire apple, or another variety? There is no correct answer! It is your personal preference. Challenge yourself to try a variety you have not had before and discover your new favorite apple.
¹ Boyer, J. and R. H. Liu. “Apple Phytochemical and their Health Benefits,” Nutr. J 2004:3 (1):5.¹¹