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The Native Apple Varieties to Pick in the Hudson Valley

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Native apple a day, anyone? Adobe Stock | Olindana

Sure, you could pick any old apple during your next farm visit…but why not pluck these native apple varieties for a taste of the Hudson Valley?

What is it about our apples that make them so irresistibly delicious? It could be that the Hudson Valley is the birthplace of commercial orcharding. “It started here with Dutch settlers in the early 1600s—they put in a lot of effort over the next 200 years to develop commercial production,” says Craig Cavallo, co-author of American Cider and co-owner of Rhinebeck’s Golden Russet Café and Grocery. “We have a warmer climate than elsewhere in the Northeast, so the fruit ripens faster and can get to market and into the hands of consumers faster.”

That tradition has deepened its roots, as heirloom varieties and new ones offer up bushels of options. The season may well be longer than you think, too. “It starts in late August with Ginger Golds and goes into November with Granny Smiths,” says Holly Brittain, one of the owners of Rose Hill Farm and Ferments in Red Hook. When you hit farmers markets this fall or head to an orchard to pick your own peck, try these native varieties:

red apples

Adobe Stock | Olindana

August

GINGER GOLD Likely to be the first apple you taste, since they ripen in late summer, Ginger Golds are big, bright yellow, crisp, and sweet. Ideal in salads or served sliced.

MCINTOSH Juicy, tangy, tender: The McIntosh is a favorite for good reason. Discovered by John McIntosh in 1811, they are typically red on one side and green on the other. Use any which way!

PAULA RED If there was a popularity contest for apples, the Paula Red might win. It was found in Michigan in the late 1900s, where the farmer responsible named it after his wife. Pro tip: this tart, juicy variety sells out quickly.

green apples

Adobe Stock | Mariusz Blach

September

CORTLAND This cross between McIntosh and Ben Davis apples debuted in 1898, and was named after its birthplace, Cortland County. Semi-sweet, juicy, and delicious, this multi-tasker is great cooked up in applesauce and apple pies, as a salad ingredient—or simply sliced.

CRIMSON CRISP This exceptional apple, described as having hints of melon, orange, and spice, is the brainchild of the Perdue, Rutgers, and the University of Illinois cooperative plant breeding program. It’s a delightful snack.

EMPIRE Named after its home state, the Empire was created by Cornell University in 1966, and it marries the sweetness of a Red Delicious with the tang of a McIntosh. Great for any use you can think of.

ESOPUS SPITZENBURG These date back to pre-Revolutionary times and were supposedly Thomas Jefferson’s favorite. Fishkill Farms says some of their trees came from Jefferson’s Monticello estate! This crisp, sweet-tart apple can be eaten out of hand, or if you’re game to try making cider, this one’s perfect.

GALA Red-gold beauties developed in New Zealand that are a favorite with kids.

GOLDEN DELICIOUS This yellow-skinned apple is actually not the first cousin of the Red Delicious. It’s a honey-sweet fruit that’s great for making apple sauce or enjoyed on its own.

HONEYCRISP Available in early September, Honeycrisp apples were produced from a crossbreeding program of Macoun and Honeygold apples in the 1960s to develop winter hardy cultivars with high fruit quality. Honeycrisps tend to be sweet-tart and juicy.

IDA RED This firm, tart apple is prized for everything from charcuterie boards to baking into breads and pies. What’s in a name? It was developed in Idaho, and you can guess what color it is.

JONATHAN An oldie but goodie: The thin-skinned, sweet-tart, crisp Jonathan is a classic American heirloom apple. Legend has it that it was discovered in the early 1800s by one Jonathan Zander. (When you have a Jonagold or Jonamac, you know that a Jonathan is somewhere in its lineage.) Good for snacks and cooking.

RED DELICIOUS A seedling discovered in Iowa in 1875 led to the classic Red Delicious, which sadly has lost some of its charm in commercial production. See how good a snack this can be when you pick one fresh.

SHIZUKA Look out, Honeycrisps: Shizukas are giving you some competition. These big, golden apples, which hail from Japan, enjoy universal love for their sweet taste.

STAYMAN WINESAPS An heirloom variety that apple cognoscenti adore, the Stayman Winesap originated in Kansas in 1866. As the name hints, they have an almost wine-like flavor and dense, juicy flesh. Try them sliced on a cheeseboard. SWEETANGO Another bit of agricultural magic, the SweeTango descends from the Honeycrisp and inherited the “little bit sweet, little bit tart” genes and super-crisp texture.

Red apples

Native apples are delightful for baking and snacking. Adobe Stock | Tim Ur

October

BALDWIN Considering its vibrant red and green coloring and tart flavor, it’s no wonder the Baldwin was one of the most popular apples from 1850 until WWI. Today, it’s beloved for baking and eating fresh—and how well it keeps.

BRAEBURN The Braeburn is no New York local—it was first cultivated at Braeburn Orchard in New Zealand in the 1950s. With its generous size, red- and yellow-streaked skin, tangy taste, and flesh that doesn’t release too much moisture when baked, Braeburns are prized for baking.

EVERCRISP Another creation of agricultural research, the Evercrisp is a bit of an “ugly duckling apple,” says Tenley Fitzgerald, VP of Marketing at Yes! Apples, which partners with 50+ New York apple-growers to promote and sell their fruit. “Get past the way it looks and it eats so well!”

Related: Where to Sip Orchard-Fresh Cider in the Hudson Valley

FUJI Sweet, hard, and crisp, Fujis are a Japanese apple with roots in the U.S., dating back to the mid-1900s. Perfect as a snack.

GOLDEN RUSSET Firm flesh with a tart (some say pineapple-y) taste, this Russet—meaning rough-skinned versus smooth red perfection—causes some to shun it, but it’s delicious for out of hand eating, and it’s a cider-making staple.

NORTHERN SPY This jumbo apple dates to the early 1800s and was named after a character in the dime-store novel The Northern Spy. Tart and firm, with a slightly pear-like flavor, heed the saying, “When baking a pie, use a spy.”

ROME Found in Rome (Ohio, not Italy) in 1816, these tart apples hold their shape and tang well, making them A+ for sautéing and serving with porkchops or tucking them into a grilled cheese.

fruit in the Hudson Valley

Sink your teeth into one of these native apple varieties. Adobe Stock | Katie Ross

November

GRANNY SMITH You may think of this Jolly Rancher-green fruit as being crazy-tart, but “the acidity mellows when fully tree-ripened to create a balanced flavor,” says Brittain. This crisp apple is ideal for cooking and eating on its own.

PINK LADY Originating about 50 years ago in Australia, this gorgeously round and vibrant red-pink apple is sweet, tart, and refreshing—use it any which way you like.

green fruit on green background

Which native apple is your favorite? Adobe Stock | Olindana

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