A day spent apple picking at orchards near Weston or selecting from the stalls of your nearby farmers market can yield bushels of possibilities. Apples are apples, yes, but some apples are better suited to different preparation than others. Iconic food writer M.F.K. Fisher lets the unique flavor of each apple guide her. “I like to dig out the cores, sniff the flavor, and then stuff them with raw sugar or leftover jam or mincemeat, according to their messages,” she wrote in Bon Appétit in 1979.
For applesauce, it makes no sense to buy perfect, juicy, crisp apples when you’re just going to cook them down. If you have a conical strainer—a cone-shaped colander-like apparatus that sits on metal legs available at most hardware stores—you can use small, gnarly green apples without peeling or coring. Just give the apples a good rinse and put them in a big pot over medium heat. Let the apples cook, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom, until they soften, about 20 to 30 minutes. Then tip the apple pulp into the conical strainer set over a large bowl and use a wooden spoon to press out the applesauce. The peels, seeds, and cores will stay in the strainer. There is nothing better on a winter morning than warm applesauce, perhaps sweetened with a little sugar and mellowed with a teaspoon of vanilla.
For grilling, the Golden Delicious is queen. While a little soft and sweet to eat raw, those qualities are good for the grill; the sugars in the apple caramelize over the flames. Slice the apples about .-inch thick and leave the peel on to grill. They’re delicious with a lick of warm caramel or rum sauce.
For smoking, a quartered Granny Smith is good, put on to smoke when you have other things going, maybe with smoldering apple wood. Applesauce made with smoked apples is delicious served with pork or chicken— just try it at Hank’s Charcuterie in Lawrence. A little smoked apple dropped into a soup or stew gives a unique sweet/tart/bitter flavor boost.
A sturdy, cherry-red apple that will hold its shape during baking, such as Jonathan, Ida Red, Northern Spy, Empire, or Rome Beauty, does best for the quintessential fall dessert, the baked apple. The scent of those apples baking creates an aromatherapy that is almost as good as the flavor itself.
For pie, we favor a tart apple like a Granny Smith that will stay in discreet slices under the crust, not turn to sauce like the British Bramley variety.
But for eating out of hand, nothing beats the Honeycrisp, which has the most juice vesicles of any apple.