Apples to Apples: A Look at Popular Varieties

Apples! Yes! It is Fall in New England, that means apple picking time. Apples are in every lunch box and crunching their juicy way into every afternoon snack. McIntosh. Honeycrisp. Empire. Liberty. Braeburn. Cameo. Jona Gold. Cortland. Macoun. Paula Red. Red Delicious. Ginger Gold. Northern Spy…Is an apple by any other name just as sweet? Who knew there were so many varieties? This week we will look at just a few of North America’s most popular varieties.

The McIntosh, a.k.a. the Mac introduced in the early 1800s, is the national apple of Canada and one of the most popular apples in North America. Considered the ultimate “all-purpose” apple, the Mac is sweet, tender, and easy to peel. The Mac is ready to eat now. Yum! Its tender texture also makes is very good for cooking: it cooks up faster than hardier varieties. Some find the Mac a little too soft, however, especially when it has not been stored properly. The parentage of the Mac is not known, John McIntosh, the fruit’s namesake, stumbled upon a sapling entirely by accident. The tree he found tree produced a lovely fruit that he and his wife started grafting and selling in 1835.

The Honeycrisp on the other hand is fairly new to the scene. Developed in the 70s and patented in 1988, the honeycrisp is fast supplanting the Mac. Celebrated for its awesome combination of sweetness, tartness, and crunchiness, the honeycrisp, is a hybrid of the Macoun, the Honeygold, and possibly the Keepsake. Carrying on all the best qualities of its parents, the honeycrisp is quickly moving up the ranks of best loved apples. It has better shelf-life than the Mac and is crunchier and more tangy.

The Empire is a late season favorite. Its parents are the Mac and the Red Delicious. On the smaller side, Empires were introduced in 1945. They are red, juicy, firm, crunchy, sweet, and tangy. Their small size and firmness make them excellent candidates for easy-to-transport snacks with good shelf-life.

The Cameo is another newbie on the apple cultivation scene. Appearing in 1987, it is thought to be a blend of Red and Golden Delicious.

The Cortland apple was the result of a successful experiment in 1898. Sweeter and redder than the Mac, the Cortland is an excellent dessert apple.

And finally (for this post), the Red Delicious. This beauty won an apple competition at the Stark Brothers Nurseries and Orchard in Missouri in 1880. ( Since then, the Delicious soared in popularity eventually becoming the most prolific apple crop in Washington state, but ultimately pushing Washington’s apple industry to “the edge of collapse” in 2000. ( Though still quite delicious, the Delicious apple is on the decline.

Unless you are an orchardist or a serious apple fan, you’d not expect that things were so volatile at the orchard. But even this week Minnesota orchards are unveiling a new variety called First Kiss! And who doesn’t want a taste of that?!