Apples. I have been working my way back into a loving relationship with apples. But it hasn’t been easy. Living in apple country, growing up surrounded by apple trees, being offered apples daily, having apples always on my counter, force feeding myself apples with every diet I’ve ever been on, the whole idea of apple season just doesn’t grab me.
All this familiarity has bred contempt. Well, not exactly contempt, but at least ennui. I suffer with apple ennui. But I have good reasons to get over it: Fiber and quercetin. Apples are a great source of both soluble (clear out the extra cholesterol) and insoluable (kill hunger and clear everything else out) fiber. Leave the skins on and they are a spectacular source of quercetin, one of the most powerful antioxidants (fight heart disease, fight cancer) in our food arsenal. And they’re easy to find, easy to pack, and taste good. Plenty of reasons to love them.
So now what?
First, if you have the chance, head to an orchard to pick your own. Taste and compare an apple in season, straight off of the tree with your other apple experiences. Something about having the sun on your back, happy bees buzzing around, and the particular heft and bounce and sound of a really fresh apple can help cure apple wariness. The sound of an apple? Yes, really. Tap your fingertips against a really fresh apple straight off the tree, and it gives off an interesting little tone, a “plink.” That’s the tension of the juice against the skin. That’s a good apple.
Talk to the grower, try different varieties. Taste them and compare initial flavor, aftertaste, skin texture, flesh texture. Ask questions about how long they store, which are best for cooking, which for eating raw. Pick your own, give some away. You’ll burn off more calories picking and considering apples than you will eating them. Probably.
Buying from your produce market? Keep in mind that apples want their stems on. An apple that’s lost its stem, or that has brown spots or wrinkly skin has been stored too long. You’re likely looking at a mealy apple with little flavor left. Apples in plastic bags are fine, but do ripen quickly. You’ll want to use them up as soon as possible. Remove them from the bag when you get them home to try to slow the ripening process. (Sticking an apple in a bag with any fruit you want to ripen more quickly will do the trick, so imagine what apples can do to each other.)
The quercetin, the good stuff, is in the skin. Eat skins, for sure, but always after washing off apples to remove any produce wax or residual pesticide treatments the grower may have used. Running them under lukewarm water, and them wiping them clean ought to do it.
Eat your apples whole or cut them into a waldorf salad, toss the slices with a little lemon juice and water (to keep them from browning) and throw them on your tossed salad, garnish your plate with them, dice them into your oatmeal, toss them into your yogurt, pair them with fresh or aged cheeses, blend them into a smoothie, core them and bake them for a really comforting dessert. Sauté apples in a non-stick pan in a tiny bit of canola or walnut oil until they lightly brown, sprinkle a little cinnamon over them, and serve them alone, over frozen yogurt, over a sugar-free pannacotta, over grilled pork or bratwurst, over polenta or over buckwheat pancakes. Dry them for great take-along snacks, cut up dried apples to use wherever you might normally use raisins. Apple sauce? Okay, but cook the apples in their skins and use a power blender to include the skins in your sauce.
Apple juice? Um that’s the apple without the fiber or the quercetin, right? Why would you want to do that? But if you’re choosing between apple juice and, say, a cola, then okay, pick the juice. Just don’t count it as your fruit serving for the day, okay?