Harvest Spotlight: Local Apples

Apples are one of the most familiar signs of harvest. They are wildly common this time of year, bouncing out of farmstand bins and piled up at the market. And yet they're available year-round, the Red Delicious and Yellow Delicious apples looking strangely familiar week in and week out. If you can have an apple any time of year, why focus on them at harvest time?

Well, we're here to say that the fresh, local apples available only in the fall are an entirely different breed than those mushy grocery store staples.

I first learned the true value of local, seasonal produce from apples. Yes, I owe that to them. We lived near a huge Ohio orchard while I was growing up, and once a year we'd make a trip to pick a bushel of apples. They would keep all winter long, and even in January they tasted incomparably better than the glossed and waxed grocery store versions.

These apples were crisp and juicy - never mealy or soft. They tasted slightly wild, with a tangy juice that made me understand for the first time how good an apple could be. It was clear that these apples, grown just a few minutes away and twisted off the tree with our own hands, had a clear advantage.

Apples, as ubiquitous as they are in our grocery stores, perhaps show more clearly than anything else how much of a difference local and fresh can make. Plus, buying apples locally often brings you into contact with new varieties - new kinds of apples that have a beauty and deliciousness you would never find at a big grocery store.

Ever since my early experiences with apples from a local orchard, I can't abide waxed apples. The thick greasiness of that shiny coating (put on for beauty, not taste) is completely unnecessary, and you'll save yourself the trouble of washing it off if you go pick your apples yourself.

We focused on local goat cheese last week in our Harvest Spotlight series. This week we're going to concentrate on apples. We have apple picking adventures, recipes old and new for apple cider, apple cake, and a candied apple appetizer. We'll talk about some of the regional American varieties of apples and new ones you might look for.

What are some of your favorite apple recipes, and have you gone apple picking yet this fall?

Related: Farmers' Market Report: Apples

(Images: Faith Durand)