Early apples herald the crisp bite of autumn

September 8, 2023

Although it’s technically not the start of autumn until we reach the equinox later this month, growers at the Historic Lewes Farmers Market had plenty of apples on offer last Saturday. This signature fall fruit includes more than 2,500 varieties growing in the United States alone. One of the earliest cultivated fruits, apples originated in Kazakhstan, and featured prominently in the diets of the ancient Greeks and Persians. 

The Romans brought apple cultivation to Europe, and the first settlers in Massachusetts brought apple trees from England. Sometimes written off as an urban legend, Johnny Appleseed was a real person who worked to encourage people to cultivate apples. Born John Chapman in 1774, he is credited with the westward expansion of apple orchards, beginning in Pennsylvania and extending as far as Indiana before his death. 

Apple seeds planted in northwest Washington in the early 19th century were the start of what is now the largest apple-producing region in this country. For many years, the supermarket supply of apples was typically restricted to just a handful of types – Red and Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith. These are popular with consumers because of their recognizable shape and color, and valued by distributors because of their long shelf life and shipping sturdiness. 

No matter which apple is your favorite, try to buy them from a local supplier during peak season, which runs from late August through November. Apples offered for sale the rest of the year have either spent time in cold storage or have been imported from the southern hemisphere. The technology behind controlled storage features computers that maintain airtight rooms with reduced oxygen levels, low temperatures and high humidity that keep the apples in pristine condition and prevent them from rotting.

You can mimic part of this at home by placing a damp cloth next to the apples stored in the crisper bin of your refrigerator, which significantly enhances their longevity. Better yet, find a farmer who lets you do the picking yourself and you’ll discover another benefit. Freshly harvested apples have a natural waxy coating that protects them from moisture loss. When they’re washed at a commercial grower’s packing shed, they lose this protection.

Industrial-scale apple growers replace this natural coating with a thin layer of edible carnuba wax or shellac before crating and shipping the apples. You can tell if an apple has been subjected to excessive heat or moisture before it reached the grocery shelf; the wax will whiten on the skin (like a chocolate bar kept around too long). Again, select firm, unbruised apples from a local grower for your best apple experience.

And for some ways to enjoy your apples, consider the broccoli salad in the photo. This combines crunchy broccoli florets, sweet and juicy apple chunks, and a little sharpness from red onion. The vinaigrette dressing includes Dijon mustard and a splash of maple syrup. Be sure to read the label on the container of sunflower seeds, as I discovered these had been treated with cornstarch, yeast, and smoke flavoring – not exactly what I planned. For an interesting soup, consider this recipe that features apple, quinoa and cheddar cheese. This creamy, flavorful mixture will help you understand why your friends like cheddar cheese on their slice of apple pie.

Apple Broccoli Salad

1 small broccoli head
1/2 C thinly sliced red onion
1 apple, cored and diced
2 T chopped parsley
2 T toasted sunflower seeds 
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T maple syrup
2 T olive oil
1 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 t salt (or to taste)
1/4 t black pepper

Bring a pot of water to boil. Trim the florets of broccoli into bite-sized pieces; retain the stems for another use. When water boils, blanch broccoli for one minute; drain and rinse with cold water. Place the broccoli in a serving bowl along with onion, apple, parsley and sunflower seeds; toss to combine. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over salad; toss to combine. Yield: 4 servings.

Apple Cheddar Soup

1 t olive oil
1 diced onion
1 apple, cored and diced
1 1/2 C cooked quinoa
3 1/2 C vegetable broth
1 C unsweetened apple juice
1/2 t thyme
1/4 t red pepper
1/2 t salt
1/2 t black pepper
8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
snipped chives for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium low. Add onion and apple, and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir in quinoa, broth, apple juice and seasonings. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in cheese and heat just until melted. Purée the soup with an immersion blender or in the bowl of a food processor. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with chives. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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