We live in the land of apples here in Walla Walla. According to the US Ag statistics, Washington produces about 58% of the apples grown in the United States, and 68% of those grown for fresh consumption. A lot of those apples are grown within about 50 miles of where we live (though Yakima and Grant counties far out produce us). So much so that with the record-breaking crop this year, I heard of an entire field of gala that the farmer was just going to leave on the trees until they dropped, as all the cold storage warehouses were full and galas don’t command the big prices that honeycrisp do. Made me want to buy a pig, just to fatten it up on apples!
We’re doing our best to get our own crop growing (including planting our 3rd honeycrisp, after the first was broken off by goat and the second was used as an antler scratching post by a deer – both trees are still alive). The only apples on site when we moved in were two beautiful large fruited crabs.
I look for several things in an apple. First and foremost (it’s a deal breaker if it doesn’t have this), it must be crisp and taste good out of hand. I abhor soft or mealy apples, no matter how good they taste. I also tend to lean toward the tart side of the spectrum. I haven’t eaten a red delicious in many many years. Once the list has been narrowed down, I’d like to have at least one each of varieties that are good for sauce, good for drying, good for pie, good for juice/cider and at least one that stores well. Back in Colorado, I spent most of an early winter there pouring over the St. Lawrence Nursery tree catalog picking out apple varieties, only to have them die or grow only a couple of inches a year. We got a few apples off of one tree by the time we left 10 years later. Ugh. Note: St. Lawrence is a fantastic nursery who specializes in preserving cold tolerant heritage apple varieties. Very low tech, but with fantastic information. It’s well worth ordering their catalog. And I just read that 2015 will be their last year, so for heaven sakes, order something to continue these lovely heritage varieties.
But now that we’re in the land of apples, its pretty easy to pick up a lot of apples for not a lot of money this time of year. Not a lot of heritage stuff happening around here, or organic, for that matter. But lots of gala, Fuji and braeburn, along with the still somewhat ubiquitous red delicious, yellow delicious, and of course, everyone’s darling, honeycrisp. This year I bought a big bag of Fuji’s at a great price and decided to dry them, which I haven’t done in years. They came out well, but it got me thinking. What ARE the best commercial varieties for drying?
So off we went to Albertsons, which for unexplained reasons, has by far the best selection of apple varieties in town (I almost never shop there because its clear across town). I picked up a Braeburn, a Cameo, a Jonagold, a Gala and a Honeycrisp. All apples were pealed and spiral sliced (with the exception of the Jonagold), dipped in a solution of Ascorbic Acid (i.e. powdered vitamin C) to prevent browning, and dried until crisp, which generally took 8 to 12 hours. Then we did a taste test. Here are the results.
Braeburn. Nice flavor but very noticeable browning, despite the ascorbic acid dip.
Jonagold. We found the flavor of these to be kind of one-dimensional. The least favorite of the bunch. The apple was so soft that I had to hand peal it, as the base of the spiral slicer just spun in the core. This makes sense, as Jonagold is usually used for apple butter and sauce.
Honeycrisp. Nice flavor. That bit of sweet/tartness comes through. Held its color. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this one dried, since its my favorite eating apple.
Gala. A sweeter apple. Good flavor, but noticeably browned, like the Braeburn. A smaller apple to begin with, so more work for the same end volume.
Cameo. Very nice balanced flavor and no browning. This is not an apple I’m that familiar with (it’s related to red delicious – go figure), but I hear its an up and comer in the market.
Fuji. Lovely dried. Stayed white white white, and had a very nice flavor.Tied with Cameo for flavor.
I’ll be honest. I don’t have the most sophisticated palette. You’re results may vary. The short version is most apples dry acceptably well. But for non-browning and flavor, I’d choose cameo, Fuji and honeycrisp. By the way, I made a mixed apple pie out of the other half of the apples that didn’t get dried (I already had a lot of Fuji apples, so only dried enough of each for a good taste test). The pie was spectacular!
Want to know more about the myriad different apple varieties out there, and what they taste like, and where they came from? This website is a wealth of information.
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2014, where mostly, we prefer our apples fresh, in yogurt or oatmeal in the morning, or with peanut butter for lunch.