Paula red Apple tree

Apple varieties – which apple to pick and why; sorted by typical ripeneing date!

Are you trying to choose the right variety of apple for your needs? There are many to choose from. There are heirloom varieties that have been around for hundreds of years and apple growers are constantly creating new varieties to meet consumer tastes and 2020 is no exception. Scroll down this page for a table of dozens of apple varieties includingphotos and their characteristics and best uses. This page has tips about harvesting and storing apples. And if you bring home some apples and want to make applesauce, apple butter, apple juice, apple pie, apple cobbler, apple crisp, even apple cider, just click the links for each to follow directions and recipes or see this page see this page for a master list of simple, reliable, illustrated canning, freezing or preserving directions. There are plenty of other related resources, such as this list of local regional and apple festivals – click on the resources dropdown above.

If you have questions or feedback, please let me know!

What’s in season in February 2020, and other timely information:

Notes for February 2020: Summer is here and that means blueberries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, figs, corn and tomatoes are here. Check your area’s specific crop calendar (see this page) and call your local farms for seasonal updates. Strawberries and cherries are finishing up in the north, long done in the South.

See these pages to find a local Peach festival, Blueberry festival and other festivals. We have a guide to peach varieties here. Also recipes, canning and freezing directions for strawberries, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, corn etc.

See our comprehensive list of easy home canning, jam and jelly making, preserving, drying and freezing directions. You can access recipes and other resources from the drop down menus at the top of the page or the site search. If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to write me! It is easy to make your own ice cream, even gelato, or low fat or low sugar ice cream – see this page. Also note, there are many copycat website listing U-pick farms now. They have all copied their information from here and usually do not ever update. Since 2002, I’ve been updating the information every day but Christmas; so if you see anything wrong or outdated, please write me!

Children’s Consignment Sales occur in both the Spring and Fall See our companion website to find a local community or church kid’s consignment sale!

2020 looks to have apples ripening on their normal schedule. There have been few late frosts in the main apple growing regions, rain and temperatures have been good, so the year is shaping up well for a good apple crop. It’s too early for prices, but I expect most areas to see $14 to $30 a bushel, depending on variety! Scroll down the page to see the chart, or click here for a PDF print version. And for an explanation of why apple slices turn brown and how to stop it, see this page! To see how to properly store apples for the winter, see this page!

Varieties which are exceptional for a trait are noted in the chart below (Best, very good, etc.). Varieties which are at least good and well-suited have an “X” in a column. A blank box simply means that they are average for the quality. Ultimately, it is personal preference and cultural traditions. that often determines which varieties of apples are used for which purpose. That said, sweeter and softer apples make the best applesauce (like Gala), harder, drier apples are often used for baking and storing (like Rome and Arkansas Black), and tarter, more crisp and juicier apples are often eaten fresh (like Honeycrisp).

If you would like to print a clean PDF version of this table, click here.

Apple Varieties Guide – Which Apple to Pick and Why!

(Sorted by typical ripening date – see this page for sorted alphabetically on variety name)

Name Ripening Date
Dates are approximate and vary CONSIDERABLY with weather, location and more!
Eating fresh Cooking Apple Sauce Apple Pie Apple Juice Apple
Butter
Storage
Lodi Mid July X GOOD Must Refrigerate

Zestar
mid-July to mid-August

X

X

X

X

X

X

Should Refrigerate

Gala late July to early September Very
good
X BEST X X X Must refrigerate; even then only keeps for a few weeks
Mollies Delicious August X Must Refrigerate
Gravenstein August

X

X

Very
good

X

X

X

Should Refrigerate

Grimes Golden August X X X
Jersey Mac August X X OK
Earligold August X X X X Must Refrigerate
Akane August X
PaulaRed mid August to early September X X X X X
SweeTango mid August to early September X X X X
Zestar mid August to early September X X X X X

Empire

mid-August through September

X

X

X

X

A McIntosh type apple with a long shelf life. Aromatic and crisp with creamy white juicy flesh, sweet and tart

Ginger Gold mid August to early September Very
good
X Very
good
X X

McIntosh

September X good X X
Honeycrisp September Very
good
X good, but watery X BEST X
Jonathan mid to late September X X Very
good
X X X
Golden Delicious mid to late September X X Very
good
X X X Should Refrigerate
Ultra Gold mid to late September X X X X X X
Cortland mid to late September X X X X X
Jonalicious mid to late September X X Very
good
X X X Must Refrigerate
Jonamac mid to late September X Very
good
X
Ambrosia mid to late September X X good X X X Should Refrigerate
Red Delicious mid to late September X good X
Jonagold mid to late September X Very
good
X
Snowsweet Late September, 2 weeks after HoneyCrisp

X

X

X

X

X

Good

Jubilee mid September to early October X X X X
Mutsu, also called Crispin Late September to early October X X Very
good
X X
Keepsake Late September to early October X X X
Northern Spy Late September to early October X X Very good for storing
Shizuka Late September to early October X X X X X X
Braeburn early to Mid October X X X X
Cameo early to Mid October Very
good
X Very
good
X X
Rome early to Mid October X X
Sundance early to Mid October X X X X
Blushing Golden early to Mid October X X X X X
Stayman late September Very
good
X Very
good
X
Enterprise early to Mid October X X
Jazz early to Mid October X X Very
good
X X X
Melrose early to Mid October X X Very
good
X X X

Stayman Winesap

mid to late October

Very
good
X Very
good
X
Granny Smith mid to late October X X X
Macoun mid to late October X X
Liberty mid to late October X X
Pink Lady mid to late October X X good X X X
Suncrisp mid to late October X X X X X
Evercrisp mid October until frost (November)

Very
good

X

Very
Good

X

BEST

X

Excellent storage due to it’s parents (Fuji and Honeycrisp)
Yates mid to late October X X X X Stores very well
Fuji mid to late October Very
good
X BEST X X Great keeper; stores well in garage or basement
Black Twig mid to late October X X X X X X
Arkansas Black mid to late October Baking too hard Great keeper

Of course, each region of the country and each season varies. Variations in rainfall and temperature greatly affect the usual ripening date. So call ahead!

Click here for a PDF print version of the following list. And for .

Ambrosia

  • Sweet, crisp, aromatic flavour reminiscent of pear and low acidity.
  • Mostly red colouration, with yellow patches.
  • Flesh is cream-coloured, firm meat
  • Medium to large in size
  • Developed in British Columbia in the early 1990s.
  • Believed to be a cross of a Jonagold and Golden Delicious.
  • Ripens mid to late season

Ashmead Kernal

  • A small heirloom apple, covered with a thick russet, often found in Virginia, originated in England around 1700 and was brought to the United States much later.
  • Very sweet and acidic
  • Ripens from late September into October

Arkansas Black

  • A medium to large apple
  • dark purple to almost black
  • Very, very hard texture and an excellent keeper.
  • Almost too hard-textured at harvest. Best after some storage time.
  • Great for baking; and terrible for applesauce
  • A Winesap type.
  • Late season

Baldwin

  • good quality large red apple
  • An old variety, subject to cold injury in the winter
  • late mid-season
  • medium sweet

Blushing Golden

  • Medium-sized waxy coated modern yellow apple with a pink blush
  • Jonathan/Golden Delicious cross.
  • Firm flesh with flavor like Golden Delicious, but tarter.
  • Keeps well
  • Late season

Braeburn

  • Rich red color with white flesh
  • Sweet
  • Best for eating
  • Late season

Cameo

  • A large, round sub-acid apple with red blush stripe over yellow.
  • Late ripening

Cortland

  • A Ben Davis/McIntosh cross
  • large flat, dull red apple with a purple hue and soft, white flesh
  • Sweet with a hint of tartness.
  • Less aromatic than McIntosh
  • Good keeper.
  • Very good in salads.stays white longer.
  • Mid season

Cox’s Orange Pippin

  • Popular in English markets.
  • Medium sized, golden yellow skin, with brownish orange
  • often russeted.
  • Flesh tender, crisp, semi-tart
  • early

Crimson Crisp

  • Tart and Juicy
  • Fresh Eating
  • Disease Resistant
  • mid to Late Season

Crispin/Mutsu *

  • Light green to yellowish white
  • Sweet, rich, full flavor
  • Firm, dense texture
  • Best for: eating fresh
  • Sweet, very juicy and super crisp.
  • Mid – late season

Empire*

  • A McIntosh type apple
  • Long shelf life
  • Aromatic and crisp with creamy white juicy flesh.
  • Tasty blend of sweet and tart
  • Best for: eating fresh and baking
  • Early – Mid season

Enterprise

  • Large, red apple
  • Disease resistant
  • Ripens 3 weeks after red delicious
  • Stores well, flavor improves in storage

Fuji

  • Very sweet, aromatic flavor
  • Yellow-green with red highlights
  • Originated in Japan.
  • Best for: eating, salads, best applesauce apple
  • Great storing apple keeps for months if kept cool and dry
  • Late season

Gala

  • Developed in New Zealand.
  • Sweet, aromatic flavor
  • Best for: eating, salad, best applesauce apple
  • medium to smaller in size with a distinctive red and yellow striped heart-shaped appearance.
  • Early to mid season
  • Very poor storing; spoils quickly, so keep them cold and use quickly.

Ginger Gold

  • Very slow to turn brown, so it’s a great choice for apple slices.
  • Best for: eating, sauce, salad

Golden Delicious

  • Firm white flesh which retains its shape
  • Rich mild flavor when baked or cooked.
  • Tender skin
  • Stays white longer when cut;
  • Best for: salads, blend in applesauce
  • Early season

Granny Smith

  • Very tart
  • Bright green appearance, crisp bite and tart apple flavor.
  • Best for: people who like tart apples rather than sweet ones 🙂
  • Mid to late season
  • Not good for applesauce unless you add sugar (or like a very tart applesauce)

Gravenstein

  • Greenish-yellow with a lumpy appearance
  • A good, all-purpose apple,
  • Good for applesauce and pies.

Grimes Golden

  • Firm white flesh which retains its shape
  • Rich mild flavor when baked or cooked.
  • Tender skin, with a “grimy mottled surface”; (but there IS also Mr. Thomas Grimes, who developed the variety, see Wikipedia)
  • Stays white longer when cut;
  • Best for: salads, blend in applesauce
  • Early season

Hokuto

  • A Mutsu/Fuji cross
  • crisp texture of Fuji,
  • large size and shape of Mutsu,
  • sweet flavors
  • late mid-season

Honeycrisp

  • Introduced in Minnesota
  • Very sweet and aromatic
  • Great for juice, as it is a very juicy apple
  • Best for: Eating, pies, baking
  • Mid season

Idared

  • Crisp with a sweet tart flavor.
  • Great for pies and fresh eating.
  • Late season

Jazz

  • Cross between Royal Gala and Braeburn, developed in Australia
  • Very sweet, more flavor than Gala
  • Vewry good fresh eating and applesauce, apple butter
  • A “Club” variety, meaning licensed with limited commercial growing, first appeared on the shelves in 2004.
  • late ripening

Jonathan

  • One of the first red apples of the falll
  • Sweet-tart taste with firm texturee
  • Light red stripes over yellow or deep redd
  • Best for: eating and cooking
  • Early seasonn

JonaliciousJonalicious

  • Flavor like Jonathan but a little less tart and darker red skin.
  • Larger, crisper, and juicier than Jonathan, and a better keeper.
  • Slightly sour/acid balance.
  • early midseason

Jonamac

  • A medium-sized Jonathan/McIntosh cross
  • Sour flavored, aromatic and tender fleshed like McIntosh.
  • Early season, a few days prior to McIntosh.
  • Poor keeper.

Jonagold *

  • A cross of Jonathan and Golden Delicious.
  • Best for: eating, sauce, pies, salad, baking
  • Mid season

Jubilee

  • Best for: eating, sauce, pies, salad
  • Mid season

Keepsake

  • Best for: baking, sauces or eating raw.
  • Small apple with a red outer skin and a cream colored fine textured flesh.
  • very sweet flavor with a high sugar content

Liberty

  • A highly disease-resistant introduction from Geneva New York.
  • Liberty has superior dessert quality, similar to one of its parents, Macoun
  • Best for: eating, sauce, salad
  • flavor improves in storage
  • late season

Macoun

  • Named after a famous fruit grower in Canada
  • Best for: eating, sauce, salad and pies.
  • Extra sweet with a mild, tart taste.
  • Very good, sweet, all-around apple

McIntosh *

  • Popular in America since 1811
  • Best for: eating, sauce, salad, good as part of a blend for applesauce
  • Sweet, mild flavor

Melrose

  • The official apple of Ohio
  • Similar to a Jonathan but sweeter.
  • Good for pies: the slices hold together in pies
  • Keeps well

Mutsu

  • Lousy name, but a great apple
  • It is sweet and crisp
  • A lot like a Golden Delicious
  • Best for eating fresh and it makes a great applesauce

Northern Spy

  • Large, high quality fruit
  • Good for storage
  • Mid-late season

PaulaRed

  • A tart apple with light to creamy flesh.
  • Good for eating, in pies and sauces.

Pink Lady

  • Rich red/pink color with white flesh
  • Very sweet and crisp
  • Best for eating and makes a naturally sweet, smooth applesauce and it is good in salads and pies.
  • A cross between a Golden Delicious and a Lady William.
  • Late season

Red Delicious

  • WAS the most popular apple variety in the world! for December ades (now being replaced by Fuji and Gala)
  • Best for: eating, salad, very good as a base apple for applesauce
  • Thin bright red skin with a mildly flavored fine-grained white flesh.
  • Bruises easily and does not keep well.
  • Early to mid season
  • There are many, many varieties of red delicious, so there is a range of properties. Not all red delicious are the same!

Rome

  • Best for: baking and cooking – but not applesauce – not sweet enough, and it has a fairly bland flavor
  • Very smooth red apple with a slightly juicy flesh.
  • Very hard flesh
  • Mid to late season

RubyFrost

  • tart, all around apple
  • can be compared to Empire and Granny Smith.
  • stores well,
  • Late season, ripens later in the fall

Sansa

  • Sweet
  • Early season
  • Good for Fresh Eating

Shizuka

  • A sister to Mutsu developed in Japan, with milder flavor.
  • Mid season.

Snapdragon

  • Newer variety, derived from Honeycrisp so it is very crisp and sweet
  • Spicy-sweet flavor
  • Long shelf life.

Snowsweet

  • from the University of Minnesota, released in 2006
  • sweet taste, with a slight tart balance and rich overtones.
  • white flesh is very slow to oxidize and turn brown after cutting.
  • fresh eating, snack trays, salads, sauces
  • Late, approximately 2 weeks after Honeycrisp

Spartan

  • A cross between the McIntosh and Pippin apples.
  • Good all-purpose apple.
  • medium size and has a bright red blush, but can have background patches of greens and yellows.

Stayman or Stayman-Winesap

  • Juicy, cream-colored to yellowish flesh with a tart wine-like flavor. (often also called winesap)
  • Good storing apple, bruise resistant, dull red coat.
  • Best for: Cooking, pies and cider

Strawberry

  • A crunchy, juicy apple
  • a red striped exterior with slight yellow blush
  • sweet-tart flavor.
  • Antique variety, originates from Chenango, New York, circa 1854.

Suncrisp

  • A hard tart, long keeping apple.
  • Red over orange color; Golden Delicious-type
  • Ripens late in the season
  • Best for: Baking, storing

Sundance

  • Sweet, tart yellow apple with reddish highlights
  • Late season
  • Good for eating frssh, applesauce

SweeTango

  • Similar to Honeycrisp
  • Ripens mid August – September
  • Developed at University of Minnesota
  • Tightly licensed

Winesapp

  • Rich red color with white flesh
  • Crisp texture and juicy
  • Best for cooking

Yates

  • Mid to late season
  • Rich red color with white flesh
  • Sweet
  • Best for eating
  • Late season
  • Small

YorkYork

  • Crisp and flavorful
  • “lop-sided” shape
  • Deep red with green streaks
  • Best for eating. holds texture during cooking and freezing

Zestar

  • Sweet-Tart
    Best for Fresh Eating and Cooking
  • Early-Mid season

Images from the U.S. Apple Association (mostly)!

English Apple Varieties

These links take you to photos on GardenAction.co.uk

  • Bramley – The English gush over this apple with a fever (fevour?:) that borders on mania. It’s basically a granny smith type, a higher acid content and lower sugar apple, with a stronger, more tangy taste. Bramley’s are considered to be an ideal cooking apple.
  • Charles Ross
  • Crispin
  • Early Victoria
  • Early Worcester
  • Ellisons Orange
  • Epicure
  • Gibsons Scarlet
  • Golden Spire
  • Greensleaves
  • Howgate Wonder
  • Ingrid Marie
  • James Grieve
  • Jonagored
  • Jupiter
  • Katy
  • Orleans Reinette
  • Peasgood Nonsuch
  • Red Gravenstein
  • Red Victoria
  • Rev W. Wilks
  • Ribston Pippin
  • Rosemary Russett
  • Spartan
  • Sturmer Pippin
  • Sunset
  • Superb
  • Tydermans Late Orange
  • Warners King
  • Winston

More about apple varieties can be found:

University of Illinois Apple page

Apples-Average retail price per pound and per cup equivalent

More Apple Varieties

Apple Photos
Over 100 photos of apple varieties

Apple photos and brief descriptions

Credits:

photos:
Jonamac, Macoun, PaulaRed: Courtesy of New York Apple Association, © New York Apple Association

And if you are looking for shipping containers for apples and other fruit, see this page.

Home Canning Kits

This is the same type of standard canner that my grandmother used to make everything from applesauce to jams and jellies to tomato and spaghetti sauce. This complete kit includes everything you need and lasts for years: the canner, jar rack, jar grabber tongs, lid lifting wand, a plastic funnel, labels, bubble freer, and the bible of canning, the Ball Blue Book. It’s much cheaper than buying the items separately. You’ll never need anything else except jars & lids (and the jars are reusable)! There is also a simple kit with just the canner and rack, and a pressure canner, if you want to do vegetables (other than tomatoes). To see !

Lids, Rings, Jars, mixes, pectin, etc.

Need lids, rings and replacement jars? Or pectin to make jam, spaghetti sauce or salsa mix or pickle mixes? Get them all here, and usually at lower prices than your local store!

Get them all here at the best prices on the internet!

Northern Spy

Harvest late October
Season October through January
Quality tangy, robust, juicy, firm
Use baking, fresh eating, all-purpose

“Spies are for Pies!“ One of the oldest American varieties, it is the quintessential baking apple. Overlook the irregular shape and variable coloration, this apple is not for display. A little too robust as a fresh-eating apple for many, it still has many fans who enjoy it in hand. If you live in the north, don’t make the mistake of passing on Northern Spy in favor of a prettier apple.

Paula Red

Harvest late August
Season September
Quality mild, juicy apple with a little tang
Use fresh-eating, cooking

Paula Red may be the best early fresh-eating red apple widely available, especially in the northern states. A little like McIntosh, from which it is presumed to have descended, Paula is an attractive small to medium apple that fares well in the kitchen.

Red Astrakhan

Harvest late July
Season August and September
Quality brisk, refreshing taste
Use cooking

An early cooking variety presumed to have originated in Russia, and imported her from Sweden by way of England in 1835, it was at one time avery popular apple for home use. Its superior culinary qualities are its claim to fame. When it has ripened properly and aged a bit it is also a brisk, refreshing apple in hand. This variety has fallen a long way in popularity through no fault of its own, a victim of the cultural shift to fast food and processed food. A local grower told me that in the 60’s he had over 400 Red Atrakhan trees and that the buyers used to line up and haul bushels and bushels of this variety out of his market. As the years went by, the lines got shorter and shorter, and each year he took trees out. Finally he was down to one tree and couldn’t even sell that one tree’s production. If you should see Red Astrakhan, by all means pick some up for the kitchen, but don’t complain if the grower doesn’t have it on hand. Ask for his or her recommendation on an early kitchen apple that he does have available.

Red Delicious

Harvest late September
Season September through November
Quality sweet flavor; tough, bitter skin
Use fresh-eating, salad

The most controversial and widely distributed American apple. Red Delicious stores and ships so well, while retaining its shiny deep-red good looks, that it is sold in every possible state of internal disintegration. Too often, store bought Reds are little more than cardboard flavored, mealy mush beneath their glamorous skin. Still, Americans continue to buy it more than all other varieties combined. It can be a pretty good apple under the right conditions. Look for locally grown apples in season, and don’t insist on a uniformly dark red color, and the chances of getting a better apple will improve in your favor. Many growers are now growing strains that have been developed more for flavor than for looks. Don’t defeat their efforts by rejecting apples that don’t look as though they came from a plastic injection molding machine. Remember this simple rule- art is a matter of visual esthetics and food is a matter of taste- not the other way around.

Rein des Reinette

Harvest late September
Season November through January
Quality sweet, rich, crunchy, aromatic
Use fresh-eating, culinary use

Another famous French gourmet dessert apple, we don’t know much about this one. The samples we got last fall had spectacular flavor that seemed to improve over time in storage.

Rhode Island Greening

Harvest late October
Season October through March
Quality tart, strong, sweet flavor
Use fresh-eating, cooking

Rhode Island Greening, an old American variety that was discovered in the 1600’s, is a large, green tart apple of very high quality. It is an superlative baking apple which for decades was the best-selling variety for kitchen use. The complex and strong flavor of this variety makes for a satisfying and adventurous fresh-eating experience as well.

Rome Beauty

Harvest late September through October
Season late September into November
Quality thick-skinned, mildly tart and crisp
Use fresh-eating, sauce, pies, baking

Good keeper, fair for fresh-eating and reliable in the kitchen, Rome is one of those varieties that owes its popularity more for its looks than its taste. This variety still looks good long after its prime, so watch for out of season Romes and avoid them, as they have often turned mealy.

Roxbury Russet

Harvest late September
Season October through January
Quality very crisp, dense, coarse, tart
Use dessert, cider

Dull green, russeted, and rough-skinned, Roxbury Russet is the antithesis of what modern consumers expect in fruit. It was a popular dessert apple in this country for 300 years, until appearance became more important in an apple than its taste. Like most russets, this variety has rich, dense flesh that stays crisp all winter. This is one that we never pass up when we see it available.

Author’s Note: This is the second of three Food Lab posts in a series about how to make the best apple pie, beginning with the basics of pie crust and ending with the right way to cook apple pie filling. Here, we’ll get into what varieties of apples have the consistency and flavor we’re looking for in a pie filling—according to science.

Get the Recipes

  • Perfect Apple Pie
  • Gooey Apple Pie

I’m not much of a sweets person. Would I rather eat apple pie, or pizza pie? I often ask myself. You can guess what I reward myself with for answering that question correctly.*

* Okay, I’ll tell you: It’s pizza.

But fall is the one time of year that I genuinely look forward to baking pies, if only because I truly love apple-picking and need some way to get rid of all the excess apples I inevitably bring home. Being allergic to the raw fruit, and having a wife who thinks that nontropical fruits are not worth her time, I usually end up putting them in baked desserts.

Thing is, if you think that making an apple pie is as simple as picking any old apple up from the orchard or the supermarket, chopping it up, then tossing it with some sugar, cinnamon, perhaps a bit of cornstarch or flour to thicken up its juices, and baking it—well, then I can only assume that you’ve probably ended up baking a few bad pies in your lifetime. I know that I have.

What Makes the Best Apple Pie?

Like burgers and pizza, I believe pie to be one of the truly perfect foods. A culinary endpoint that can be improved incrementally, but not fundamentally. The true beauty of a pie comes from that magical interaction between crust and filling. One sweet, tart, and fruity, the other buttery and rich, they complement each other in flavor and texture and create a dish that is so much greater than the sum of its parts. As such, each part deserves respect.

What I want in my apple pie filling is, first and foremost, apples that are completely tender, yet stay in distinct chunks, with just a bit of al dente bite to them. Apples that turn to mush or, worse, are mealy can ruin a good pie for me.

I want those apples to be bound together with just a bare hint of a shiny glaze—not a torrent of juice that soaks the bottom crust or a sauce so thick that it becomes gloppy. (If you want that, you can get it at McDonald’s, two for $1.) Apple pie should be sweet but never cloying, with a bare hint of cinnamon—this is an apple pie, after all, not a cinnamon pie. Finally, it should taste overwhelmingly of fresh apples, with a bright, clean flavor.

Apple-Picking

Some apples just don’t make good pies. They’re too sweet, too mealy, or too tart. They disintegrate when you cook them, they release too much liquid, they just taste funny. The task in front of me was to find out which apples were up to the task of meeting the criteria I’ve laid out above—apples that would stay in distinct slices as they softened in the oven, and that struck the right balance of sweet and tart.

I rolled up my sleeves, made a few dozen batches of pie crust, then headed into the kitchen for some serious baking.

I started with two batches of 10 pies each, using 10 of the most common apple cultivars widely available in the United States. My apologies if your favorite apple type was left off this list—with over 7,500 known cultivars of apples, it’s absolutely impossible to test every single one of them.

I figured with these 10 varieties, I should be able to find at least one that is available to everyone in the United States. (You overseas readers’ll have to do this research on your own.)

Here’s what I tried:

  • Braeburn
  • Cortland
  • Empire
  • Fuji
  • Golden Delicious
  • Granny Smith
  • McIntosh
  • Red Delicious
  • Rome
  • Gala

To test them, I weighed out identical batches of each apple, cut them into quarter-inch-thick slices, and tossed them with sugar, just a touch of cinnamon, and a bit of cornstarch to thicken their juices. I purposefully left the cinnamon level very low and left out any other flavorings, like vanilla or lemon juice, in order to make sure that the apple flavor came to the forefront of each pie.

After baking them all off, I allowed them to cool and rest at room temperature for eight hours, to ensure that all of them had cooled down completely before I tasted them.

Color-Coding: How Browning in Apples Provides a Key to Texture

The array of textures and flavors that emerged was truly remarkable—even more varied than the differences between raw apples. Some, like Granny Smith and Empire, were great at keeping their shape, resulting in the tender-but-firm chunks I look for in good apple pie. But Granny Smiths are too tart, and Empires are too sweet. Other apples showed the opposite problem—decent flavor, but lacking in texture.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find a single apple that was completely successful both in flavor and in texture.

But I did notice an interesting phenomenon when I accidentally left out a few bags of sliced apples for a bit too long:

I noticed as the apples were sitting that, depending on the variety, they browned to a different degree. Some, like Red Delicious, turned dark brown almost immediately. On the other hand, even after several hours, Granny Smiths showed only a hint of browning.

I arranged the apples on a plate in order of their level of browning.** What immediately struck me was that the least tart apple—the Red Delicious—was all the way at one end, while the most tart apple—the Granny Smith—was all the way at the other end.

** The order they are arranged in in the photograph is by level of browning relative to their original color, which is why some appear to be out of order.

This makes sense: Acid can inhibit the browning oxidation reactions that take place in fruit flesh when it is exposed to the air. For the same reason, cooks will store trimmed artichokes in acidulated water—it prevents browning.

But what did that mean for my fillings?

Well, there’s another thing that acid does: It strengthens pectin, the cement-like glue that holds together the cells of fruit. So, looking at this arranged spectrum of apples is actually a pretty good indication of how well each fruit is going to hold up during baking. The farther to the right along the browning scale, the firmer the apple should be in the finished pie.

After arranging the baked pies in this same order and examining their fillings, turns out that this is indeed true. As you’ll see in the photos below, the pies start off with very mushy fillings that get progressively firmer.

The Results

Here are all of my tasting notes. Afterward, I’ll discuss how flavor is a factor.

Red Delicious

Flavor: Very sweet and one-dimensional.
Texture: Mealy flesh that turns to mush when cooked. Skin is thick and can be quite bitter. It may look good on the supermarket shelf for a long time, but is really only tasty when fresh-picked.
Pie Rating (1–10): 1. Completely mushy, with a very one-dimensional, cloying flavor. This reminded me of bad applesauce.
Best Uses: Eating out of hand, but only when very fresh.

McIntosh

Flavor: Sweet and mildly tart, with very white flesh.
Texture: Tender and slightly grainy.
Pie Rating (1–10): 3. It holds up better than, say, Red Delicious in pies, but still turns quite brown and mushy.
Best Uses: Applesauce or eating out of hand.

Braeburn

Flavor: Very sweet and mildly tart, with a unique citrusy aroma, similar to Granny Smith (of which it is a descendant). It becomes almost pear-like in flavor when it cooks.
Texture: Quite crisp and not much graininess. This texture seems to indicate that it indeed has a fairly strong structure of pectin.
Pie Rating (1–10): 7. It manages to soften fully while still retaining a good deal of texture when baked into an apple pie, due to its density. It could be slightly firmer when baked. Great golden color.
Best Uses: Pies, tarts, sauce, eating plain.

Rome

Flavor: Very mild when eaten out of hand; not very sweet, but develops in flavor when cooked.
Texture: It has a thick skin and very firm flesh. Though it has a reputation as a good baking apple, I found it unsuitable.
Pie Rating (1–10): 3. It turns dark brown and mushy as it bakes.
Best Uses: Sauce.

Fuji

Flavor: Quite sweet and fresh-tasting; not cloying.
Texture: Crisp flesh that stays good for a long time. The texture is almost pear-like in its moisture level and crunchiness.
Pie Rating (1–10): 2. The mild flavor does not get enhanced by baking. Watery but tart.
Best Uses: Eating out of hand.

Golden Delicious

Flavor: Sweet, tart, and almost buttery. Well balanced and rich, especially when cooked.
Texture: Very fresh and quite crisp, but can border on mealy when held for too long off the tree. When baked, it softens but retains a bit of texture.
Pie Rating (1–10): 8. The best flavor I got out of any single apple—this is what apple pie should taste like. I just wish it were slightly firmer.
Best Uses: Pies, sauce, apple butter.

Cortland

Flavor: Similar to that of a McIntosh, but much sweeter and more tart. Like its cousin, it’s got very white flesh and a mild flavor.
Texture: Tender and slightly grainy.
Pie Rating (1–10): 4. It does quite well in pies texturally—softening without breaking down—but lacks in flavor.
Best Uses: Applesauce or eating out of hand.

Empire

Flavor: Very sweet and very tart, with a good level of juiciness, it’s a cross between a McIntosh and a Red Delicious and shows flavors from both.
Texture: Despite its tender/grainy ancestry, its texture is quite firm and crunchy.
Pie Rating (1–10): 3. When baked, it has nice texture, but becomes cloyingly sweet. The acid is still present, but it’s not enough to fight against the sugar level.
Best Uses: Eating out of hand.

Gala

Flavor: Mild and sweet, with a fair amount of tartness, it’s one of the most popular apples around for its small size and good resistance to bruising.
Texture: Very thin-skinned, with a grainy texture.
Pie Rating (1–10): 6. When baked, it holds its shape, but the graininess can get overwhelming. I prefer my pie apples to be supple and smooth-textured.
Best Uses: Eating out of hand.

Granny Smith

Flavor: Very bright and tart, with a distinct citrus aroma and white wine–like nose. Texture: Very firm, crunchy, and slightly grainy.
Pie Rating (1–10): 5. It holds up almost indefinitely when cooking. It has good brightness, but not much apple-y flavor.
Best Uses: Eating out of hand.

Now, some very astute readers might have noticed the one glaring exception here: Braeburns are low in acid, yet remain relatively firm as they bake. Why is this?

It all has to do with air. Braeburns are relatively dense apples, with not much air in between their cells. (You can see this if you drop one into a bucket of water along with, say, a McIntosh: Braeburns will float up much more slowly.) Apples with lots of air will collapse on themselves, like a deflating balloon, as they cook. Very dense apples—like Braeburns—will retain their shape better, even as they completely soften.

As you can see from my tasting notes, for the most part texture certainly does improve with more tartness, but good texture alone does not a good pie make.

Some folks suggest mixing two varieties of apple—one to provide texture, the other for flavor—but this never made sense to me. Say we combine some Granny Smiths with some Romes. What you end up with is a pie that’s got nice firm chunks of apple interspersed with brown apple mush.

Nope, a single apple would have to do it for me, and the best ones in the running are the Golden Delicious and the Braeburn. They’re the ones I use for all of my baking purposes.

The question is, since both Golden Delicious and Braeburns have great, well-balanced flavor, but neither is quite firm enough when baked, is there something I can do to improve upon their texture?

Indeed there is, and this article is riddled with hints on how to do it. To get the full explanation, check out the final installment in our pie-a-thon, where I’ll describe how to turn your apples into the best pie filling they can be.

Are In-Season Apples Better?

You may think that the whole “local, seasonal” movement is getting a bit out of hand, and oftentimes, I tend to agree. But there are certain foods for which it truly makes sense. Apples for pies are one of them.

See, if you aren’t buying apples directly from the orchard or picking them yourself in the fall, chances are that they’ve been in long-term storage. Apples are stored in atmospherically controlled rooms for up to 10 months before being put on supermarket shelves. This holding wreaks havoc with their cell structure, causing them to ripen at a vastly increased pace once they’re taken out of storage.

This means that if you buy an apple from the supermarket in, say, June, most likely that apple was picked last October. Within a day or two, it goes from being crisp and bake-able to mushy and unsuitable for pies.

My advice? Don’t bake apple pies except in the fall and early winter. If you absolutely must have that spring or summer pie, look for apples that are refrigerated, and get them into your own refrigerator as soon as possible. Do not let them sit at room temperature for too long before cooking them.

As for what to do with the leftovers of 20 pies? If you ask me nicely, I might share with you a great way to make friends with your neighbors.

  • Perfect Apple Pie

    View Recipe ”

  • Gooey Apple Pie

    View Recipe ”

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Apple Holler has great early ripening all-purpose apples: Paula Red, Zestar!TM & Red Free

In 1960 Lewis Arends, a Michigan farmer, discovered the first Paula Red tree near his orchard of McIntosh trees. He named the variety after his wife Paula. They officially hit the market in 1968.

Paula Red apples ripen in late summer and early fall. These apples are red with yellow spots. They taste sweeter than McIntosh but are still tart and juicy. Paula red apples are good for eating and cooking. They soften quickly when cooked making them an excellent choice for sauces & butters. If using in pies it is best to mix in with firmer apples to achieve the right texture.

Zestar!TM were cultivated at the University of Minnesota in 1999 and are protected by a US Plant Patent. The name was chosen based on their ‘zesty’ flavor. With a crisp texture, Zestar!TM are both sweet & tart. They are a red apple with some yellow & green. Ripening in late August, these large apples are popular because they can be stored for up to 2 months. They are good for eating, cooking, and for making caramel apples! They brown quickly when cut but adding lemon will allow them to stay fresher longer.

Red Free are a medium size apple with a shiny, bright red color over a majority of the fruit. Crisp and juicy, the taste is a mild balance of tart and sweet. Red Free are a great multi-purpose apple that works in baking, salads, and for fresh eating. They keep well when stored properly. The first Red Free seedling was planted at a breeding orchard in Indiana in 1966. Red Free are known for being hearty and disease resistant.

Come check out these great varieties of apples at Apple Holler!

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