How to Know When Are Apples at their Best?
Have you ever had this experience - you are in a grocery store and you see your favorite apple. You must have it. You fill up a bag full of them, full of excitement to take your first bite when you get home. You arrive home and take the first bite, only to be meet with disappointment and a mouth full of mealy, flavorless apple. What went wrong? It looks so good in the store? Did my eyes deceive me? Your real problem is not with the apple. It's with the calendar. While the most popular varieties of apples are available year round, they are at their peak at certain times of year. Knowing the peak season for your favorite variety will keep you from experiencing apple letdown. Below I listed some of the top selling apples in the United States and when to find them at their peak. I hope this will help you from being disappointed in the future.
When Are Honeycrisp Apples at their Peak?
The rock star apple. This is the "it" apple for right now. The one that everyone clamors for. And because of this it's being found in the grocery stores for a longer period of time, running now from September to even May, leaving only the summer season without this variety. That doesn't mean they are good this entire time. The Honeycrisp is an early apple, ready to pick come September. This is when you can get it from the most local of sources - the farmer's market. This is when they will be at their peak. As Thanksgiving approaches most of your local sources will be completely dried up, so you will find them being shipped in from big companies in Washington. These shipments will continue until the spring months. But the quality won't be as good as in the early fall, neither will the price. Here is the good news, modern storage techniques is able to keep the Honeycrisp exactly that crisp. So you can buy a Honeycrisp at the end of the season and pay the inflated price and still get that crisp apple. It just might not have the flavor it once did.
In the summer you can find some stores that will have a short supply of New Zealand Honeycrisp but expect to pay top dollar for these that don't have much flavor. I wouldn't recommend buying them.
Related link: Why are Honeycrisp Apples More Expensive?
When Are Fuji Apples at their Peak?
Fuji are an October ripening apple. The later in the season the longer storage capacity the apple has. American grown Fuji can pretty much be found in the store year round in most places. There are some early ripening strains that can be found in September that are good tasting, but again the main crop is October. Eating them around Halloween time is best. I think the quality doesn't really go down a lot as the year goes on. To me they aren't the most flavorful apple to begin with, what flavor they do have doesn't really diminish. They are a safe year round option.
When Are Gala Apples at their Peak?
Gala come out around the same time as Honeycrisp. They are at their peak in September and are not good really after that. Galas don't store well. They become mushy. While you can just about get them year round, they won't be as crisp as in September. They come from overseas during the spring time. The only way I would buy them outside of September is for apple sauce making because they add sweetness.
When Are Granny Smith Apples at their Peak?
Granny Smith are one of the latest apples. That combined with their high acidic makes them a great keeper. You don't have to be too concerned with quality year round. You can buy American grown commercial Granny Smith any time of the year and the quality doesn't change.
When Are Northern Spy Apples at their Peak?
While not being a top selling apple in the U.S., the Northern Spy is one of that is sought after by many apple pie baking enthusiasts. Most people default to Granny, but if you can get a Spy I think you will be happier with the end result. Early Northern Spy apples start showing up in the end of September, but they are at their peak around mid October and should be available through Thanksgiving.
When Are Pink Lady Apples at their Peak?
Another late ripening apple is available almost year round. It only disappears in the early fall when stores are promoting the freshly picked varieties. One thing to note about quality is looking at the sticker. Some stickers say Pink Lady, others way Cripps Pink. What is the difference? They are indeed the same variety, the name differences comes down to quality. The apples labeled Pink Lady are like a steak labled as Prime beef. It's the best looking and tasting of the variety. The acid/sugar balance is better too. I find that the ones labeled Pink Lady are gone a lot time before Cripps Pink go. Most of the crop is labeled Cripps Pink. When you see the Pink Lady logo that is when you know you are getting a peak Pink Lady apple. Grocery stores tend to label them Pink Lady whether the apples are labeled that or not. If you don't see that pink heart logo, then you have to know the quality you are getting is not going to be the best. Genuine Pink Lady are generally only found for a short time at the beginning of the season.
When Are Jazz Apples at their Peak?
This apple is a cross between a Gala and Braeburn. It has been growing in popularity since it's introduction in 2000. They tend to be marketed the most during the winter months when other not as good keeping apples are long gone. I find that the first Jazz to hit the market are the best. I think the later you get them and they larger in size they are, the worst they are going to be. Enjoy them when you first see them and move on to something else within a month.
When Are Kiku Apples at their Peak?
Kiku are a sport variety of Fuji. They are great for warmer climates, which is why you see them in the winter. I prefer them in taste over Fuji by a long shot. Small specimens are the best. I have never noticed a decline in quality based on what the calendar says. They aren't available year round but you do get a shot of them from overseas in the late spring/early summer and I find those to be as equally good.
Related link: Read about my first experience with the Kiku apple.
When Are Braeburn Apples at their Peak?
Quality control is a real problem with the Braeburn. They really need the destinction that Pink Lady/Cripps Pink do. Without knowing the source you can't count on them. What you can typcially count on is if you are buying them in the winter they are going to be bad. Any Braeburn I had this winter was bland and mealy. Really good for nothing. You really need to get them locally and as newly picked as possible. Finding a good Braeburn is a challenge, but you will be rewarded if you do.
When Are McIntosh Apples at their Peak?
A crisp, nicely tart McIntosh picked fresh from the tree is a delight. Eating them outside of the month of September is not so much. McIntosh do not storage well at all. They become mushy and mellow. I find it sad that places will even sell them when it's not September. Do yourself a favor and only enjoy them when they are their freshest.
When Are Golden Delicious Apples at their Peak?
Another apple that softens up over time and has some quality control issues. Grocery store bought Golden Delicious are seldom good. They are picked green and stored until more yellow. Farmer's market or directly from the orchard are the only way to go to savor their flavor. When picked yellow they have some flavor, but they lack the shelf life that grocery stores want. Golden Delicious apples found in stores from huge productions are almost guaranteed to disappoint.
When Are Red Delicious Apples at their Peak?
I want to say never, ever are Red Delicious apples at their peak. They always suck. However if you are lucky enough to find an orchard that has really old Red Delicious trees from the original strain, then you will know why the Hawkeye apple (the original name) became to be called Delicious. Look for orchards (like this one in Midland, Michigan) specializing in heirloom apples.
Here are some apple related kitchen tools I recommend:
Amco Dial-A-Slice Adjustable Apple Corer and Slicer : Allows you to slice apples into either 8 or 16 pieces
Zyliss Soft Skin Peeler : The best peeler I have ever owned. Does a great job peeling an apple.
Mirro Foley 2-Quart Stainless Steel Food Mill : A great tool for making your own applesauce. You can make the sauce without having to do any peeling.