Apples are our most familiar fruit. Part of our collective consciousness since the Garden of Eden, they signify knowledge, good health and, in the United States, the essence of American home life.
While they're still second to bananas in sales, each American eats 19.6 pounds, or about 65 fresh apples, every year, according to the Washington Apple Commission. Much of that noshing is out of habit: The adage, "An apple a day . . ." has been drilled into our heads as far back as we can remember.
"We take them for granted because they are such a staple food. But they're much more diverse than people realize," said Christopher Green, a cooking instructor at Sur La Table and AndyFood — A Culinary Studio in Scottsdale. "The joy of it now is that we can get a variety of apples year-round. Twenty years ago, Red Delicious was the apple. Now, there are so many more varieties."
According to Scott Schuette, produce merchandising coordinator for the Valley's nine AJ's Fine Foods locations, six to eight varieties of apples are available pretty much year-round in Arizona. They include all-American standbys such as Red and Golden Delicious and familiar varieties such as Granny Smith, McIntosh and Gala. Braeburn. Fuji, and Rome are usually readily available, too.
"Right now, we're in a big transition between apple seasons," said Schuette. "The Washington apples we carry from September through May are done for the season. We're switching to New Zealand crops, where the season is almost the exact opposite."
Advances in transporting apples from growing regions across the globe and in controlled-atmosphere storage technologies also make it possible to stock Eastern varieties such as Empire, Cortland and Gravenstein, and new products.
"For the first time this year, we carried a grapple," said Schuette. Often assumed to be a cross between a grape and an apple, a grapple is actually a Fuji apple infused with grape juice. "You bite into it and it tastes a lot like a concord grape. We had really good success with them this year," he said, "and we're really excited to carry them again when they're back in season."
But even if you stick with more traditional varieties, green apples are good for more than just snacking.
"So often in cooking we try to go for something out of the ordinary, and we kind of overlook apples," Schuette said. "But they're a wonderfully low-fat, nutritious way to add moisture to recipes." Simply substitute an equal amount of applesauce for butter or oil when baking.
"For pies, I love Granny Smith, but I also love to mix it up," he said. "If you throw in a few different varieties, it gives your pie a depth of flavors and textures that using a single type of apple doesn't."
He also recommends grilling them. Just slice, brush with butter, grill and serve with a little blue cheese and endive.