In my quest to enjoy fall, I've been trying a new kind of apple (or 2) every week by buying one of the nice 1/2 peck totes that gets delivered to the grocery store straight from local farms. For those of you unfamiliar with local apples, the types vary from week to week because different varieties of apples become available at different points in the season.
The first apple I tried was the Paula Red. It's one of the earliest apples of the season, available starting in late August. This was the first year I'd tried a Paula Red. It's a small to medium-sized fruit with bright red and speckled tan skin. The creamy ivory flesh is crisp, but still yields fairly easily to the teeth. It's juicy and sweet, with a slight tartness that rounds out the edges. I found the Paula Reds were excellent for snacking and adding to salads, and held up well in baking. They are sweeter than some traditional baking apples, so you may want to cut back on the sugar if you use Paula Reds.
Next up were some Jonamacs. This was again a new one for me. Jonamacs come into season in early September, just a bit before the classic Macs, and are a cross between a Jonathan apple and a McIntosh apple. They're similar to the Paula Reds in size and shape, but are more red and sometimes have green around the top even when fully ripe. Jonamacs have a softer, sweet white flesh and release a wonderful apple smell the minute you break the skin. They're perfect for snacking or adding to salads and hold up OK in baking, though I found it was best to mix them with a crisper apple that holds its shape better (such as a Paula Red or Granny Smith).
Of course I had to throw in some classic McIntosh apples ("Macs"), which are usually available starting early- to mid-September. These medium-sized red and green apples have juicy, soft, white flesh that ranges from slightly sweet to slightly tart and always smells wonderful. For me, McIntosh's are snacking apples only. They're just too soft to hold up in cooking or baking (though that would probably be a plus if you're making applesauce, something I've never attempted).
This past week, I got a mix of Macoun and Cortland apples. Two very different varieties that come into season in early October. The Macoun apples are small, rosy red and green speckled pieces of fruit with soft, sweet, juicy white skin. They are the perfect snacking apple, so sweet you feel like you're having dessert, but with no fat and few calories. However, because they are so soft, they're only good for fresh eating. They don't hold up in baking. (Again, applesauce might work!)
C0rtlands, on the other hand, are a perfect baking apple. These large red fruits with yellowish/greenish streaks have a hardier, crisp white flesh that stands up very well to baking. It's slightly tart and not too juicy, so it won't make your pies bubble over with excess liquid. I'm not a fan of eating Cortlands straight, but in addition to being great baking apples, they also make good accompaniments to salads and cheese plates, especially because they don't turn brown as quickly as most other apple varieties.
So there's your abbreviated guide to apples in the Pioneer Valley. Hopefully there will be a part 2 to this post when new varieties become available over the next few weeks. 'Til then, enjoy a yummy, locally grown apple and stay away from those icky, hard, tasteless things they dare call Red "Delicious." About as delicious as a week old donut if you ask me.