This time of year, when leaves start to clump on the ground and the air has a certain bite, folks devastated by the closed beaches decide that driving out to the country to indulge a migrant-worker fantasy is the next best thing. Shoes get soaked in the dewy grass, denim knees sport muddy splotches, and sticky apple remnants cover every inch of exposed skin. I will concede that these apples are delicious. They are juicy. They are devoid of pesticides and that artificial shine you see in the produce section. There are no bruises or unsightly spots (aside from the occasional insect). But even with these things in its favor, even the most fanatical apple fan has no use for a bushel of apples. An ex-girlfriend of mine had a gorgeous orchard in her front yard and every October she invited college friends to fill baskets of apples and obliterate them in a sadistic cider press. When the carnage dissipated, everyone had a gallon of tasty cider to take home! It was a nice ritual, but inevitably these milk jugs would spill all over the backseat or ferment in the back of the fridge until an unsuspecting roommate discovered the disturbingly swollen container sometime in Mid-December. Apple picking is for the dogs I say. If you want fresh apples, go to your local Farmer's market not the orchard; but if you must go, allow me direct you towards the apples worth your time.
There are three factors that go into making a good apple: flavor, texture, and shelf-life. You will see on this list, that a sacrifice in any one of these categories can have devastating consequences for an apple.
Red Delicious - Red Delicious are the worst apples on earth, which is ironic, since they are often the apples brown-nosing children give to their teachers on the first day of school. If I was a teacher and I received a red delicious, the kid responsible would get a giant F and the apple back. Red delicious have zero redeeming qualities. Even at their freshest, they are mealy and flavorless. They have a bizarre, narrow shape that makes them exhausting to eat and tears up your gums in the process. I know they look tantalizing (come to think of it, I think they were the apple in Snow White too), but trust me, if you buy a bushel of these, you will regret it.
Granny Smith- I don't know Mrs. Smith, but she has a lot to learn about apples. They get high marks for shelf-life, but beyond that, I don't know a person on earth who prefers Granny Smith. They are grape-like in their inconsistency, tart one day and sweet the next. I have enough things to worry about. I have many a troubling childhood memory of my mom bringing my slices of them for snack before I knew any better. Now I do.
Golden Delicious- The similarities to Red Delicious end at the name. Golden Delicious have a much sweeter flavor and firmer texture than Red Delicious, but have a sensitive pear-like skin that makes them susceptible to unsightly bruises which can quickly turn to mush. Buyer Beware!
McIntosh- McIntosh apples are trendy and expensive. Sorry, but that joke was right in my sweet spot. Speaking of sweet spots, McIntosh apples are a common breed in New England orchards, and right off the tree, they are tough to beat. They are incredibly juicy and their flesh has a satisfying snap to it. Unfortunately, off the tree they rapidly lose their flavor and develop a waxy texture that makes them tough to stomach. Not bad in a pinch, but hit or miss.
Gala/Braeburn- I lump these together in the interest of time. They are both formidable apples, with good taste and a satisfying texture. They also last a long time in my refrigerator, which is a huge plus.
Fuji - Fuji apples are wonderfully consistent and flavorful. They are huge and sweet and have a thick skin that protects them from bruising and keeps them fresh. They originated in Japan, but have recently been cultivated in the US enough to become the 4th most popular apple in America since their introduction in the 1980s. Wikipedia claims that they can stay fresh for up to a year under refrigeration, which blows my mind and gives them a special place in my heart.
Jazz- Jazz apples are tasty and much more fun than their namesake. Why they are called Jazz is beyond me, it doesn't exactly incite excitement or curiosity, which is unfortunate, because they rule. They are a combination of Gala and Braeburn apples developed in New Zealand and enjoys the best attributes of both. They are quite small (I usually buy the 2lb bag at TJs), but this makes them ideal for quick snacking and inexpensive to boot. Those Kiwis know apples.
Pink Lady - Pink Lady is not the dainty fruit you might expect, nor do they bear any resemblance to a popular liquor/beer/lemonade concoction. Pink Lady apples are the reason I stop in the produce section at all. They are a perfect apple, and my one and only. Always fresh and crisp, sweet but not saccharine, firm and hearty, they are a gold medal apple. They are owned by a company named "Cripps" which is named after some Australian dude who developed them in the 1970s. This copyright is said to keep the quality extremely high, which I believe wholeheartedly, as I've never had a bad one. They take an extremely long time to grow, and are only cultivated in hot climates, but good things come to those who wait. Once I see these come in stock at TJs, I can barely contain my excitement. Sadly, I haven't seen them for nearly a month, but I will keep looking because when you love something like I love Pink Lady's you never give up.