Large bags of Ambrosia apples straight from Osoyoos, B.C. were on sale at the local grocery store last week and as I selected some to take home, I was struck by how seriously beautiful this variety of apples are, their skins faintly speckled light red over creamy yellow. They’re a low-acid apple, and one of the few apples available that are slow to oxidize, which is great if you’re making an apple slaw or slicing for later use. They’re quite sweet, which means that not as much sugar is required when using them in recipes…unlike, say, the tart Granny Smiths. These are a true Canadian apple, a cross between Jonagold, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious (which explains that gorgeous colour!), produced in the 1990s in British Columbia’s Similkameen Valley. And because we’re so close to the source of the orchards here in Alberta, we’re fortunate to get fairly fresh specimens on our grocery shelves. But what of the other popular “supermarket” apple varieties we can buy here? Where do they come from?
One of Ambrosia’s parents, Jonagold, is the offspring of a Golden Delicious and an old American apple called Jonathan. Bright red-gold, Jonagold is harvested out of Washington in September-October, and is good when stored cold. It is a versatile apple, great for cooking and eating fresh. I haven’t seen them this year; I would be curious as to their export numbers to Canada. Golden Delicious, of course, is one of the most important and popular apples in the world, due to their huge production numbers (I’m not talking about an episode of “Glee,” here!) and the fact that they store really, really well. In recent years, however, they’ve experienced a bit of a flavour backlash, as discerning consumers have noticed just how bland they can be after months of storage. Other apple varieties simply taste better. (The trick with Golden Delicious is to try to get the truly yellow ones – if they border on the green side, they were picked too early and are not as ripe. The yellow ones should taste better).
Red Delicious, contrary to popular belief, are NOT related to Golden Delicious, although both have an American heritage, circa late 1800s. And if you think Golden Delicious are declining in popularity, Red Delicious are suffering even more so. It seems no one really has a taste for this type any more – and apparently Europeans dislike them even more than North Americans do. I can see why: they’re grainy and frankly, very tasteless, without any sweetness or tang. They are very beautiful, though, deep crimson and sort of cone-shaped – I think they look lovely grouped in a bowl as a centerpiece on a table. Many much more delicious varieties of apples have Red Delicious as a parent.
Then there’s the mainstay, Gala – they’re pretty much available year ’round because they can grow in both the northern and southern hemispheres. Galas are a cross between a Kidd’s Orange Red (a very sweet apple named after amateur New Zealand apple breeder J.H. Kidd, who first produced them in the 1920s) and, of course, a Golden Delicious, with the warm, rich colour of its parents. They can spend up to six months in storage without giving up the ghost, although of course, the older they get, the more boring they get. (Not unlike some people, har de har). A good tip for best flavour is to purchase the darkest colour Galas you can find, because the pale ones are less ripe.
And, of course, there is the McIntosh, a high acid, sweet apple, great for eating fresh. I cook with this one, too, though most people complain that it gets all mushy in sauces and pies. I like the sweetness of it; I’m not a huge fan of the stalwart cooking apple Granny Smith and its severe tartness and firm texture. Granny Smith actually has a bit of a story behind it: a single tree was found growing (either in a compost heap or in a pile of garbage, depending on whose story you read) on a piece of property in Australia in the 1860s. No one knows the exact parentage of this particularly tough-skinned bright green apple, but one of them might be the French Crab, perhaps explaining the offspring’s distinctive flavour. Granny Smiths continue to be one of the most popular apple varieties in the world, prized for their persistent flavour through long storage.
NICEST APPLE NAME: Lady in the Snow (a variety from Australia)
WIERDEST APPLE NAME: Winter Banana (from the United States, it apparently bruises easily but does NOT taste like bananas!).