As apples come into season, there are many varieties to try. Some are best eaten as crispy treats straight out of the refrigerator, while others are best for baking or making applesauce.
It's easy to pop an apple into your lunch. But there are at least two other ways to savor them: with an apple-tasting party or by trying new varieties in salads.
Tasting parties are growing in popularity. Similar to wine or cheese tasting parties, apple-tasting parties are the topic of a book by Dina Cheney, Tasting Club (DK Publishing, $22). After doing chocolate tastings professionally, "I decided to extend the idea to other foods," she said in a phone interview.
Her method: Gather the variations of one type of food or beverage, taste, record your observations, learn, laugh, and enjoy. For each party, she provides a grid that guests can score or analyze the food or beverage.
The book introduces the idea of "deep tasting" or savoring food and drink. It's an idea most of us bypass in our hurried everyday lives. Ms. Cheney writes about the four basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. Tastings should last 1 1/2 to three hours.
As apples ripen in late summer and into autumn, choose six varieties of firm, dent-free apples. When shopping, keep the varieties separated. It's easy to get the apples mixed up.
The items selected for my apple tasting were the varieties that were ripening on Sept. 5 at MacQueen's Orchard. You might gather some historical information on the apples just as I did (see photo captions). But historical information on apple varieties varies depending on the source. Much of my information came from Ms. Cheney's Tasting Club and Whole Foods Companion by Dianne Onstad (Chelsea Green, $29).
Next, choose the accompaniments you'll serve. Ms. Cheney begins with an hors d'oeuvre and a beverage. For the apple tasting, she suggests a riesling or gewurztraminer white wine served with cheddar cheese and gingersnaps or Chicken Apple Sausage in Puff Pastry with Cranberry-Golden Raisins Chutney. You can also use packaged hors d'oeuvres such as pigs in a blanket.
When tasting the apples, serve whole-wheat crackers and salted pecans as a palate refresher. The host slices the apples just before tasting so they don't brown. As each apple is tasted, guests score the apple variety on appearance, flavor, texture, and whether they liked it enough to buy it.
The tasting finishes with a nice dessert such as baked apples or pecan tarts.
(If there are a lot of leftover apples after the tasting, make Homemade Chunky Applesauce from Tasting Club or use leftover apples for an apple pie.)
Another way to use fresh apples is in salads.
Waldorf Salad is the classic made with chopped apples, celery, walnuts, and a slightly sweetened mayonnaise dressing. Made with Delicious or McIntosh apples, it originated in the 1890s at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Contemporary salads are more likely to pair greens or mesclun salad mix with sliced or chopped apple drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing.
Paul Soska of Toledo takes the idea one step further by using grilled apple slices.
When Mr. Soska learned of the Taste of Home magazine's national recipe contest, he decided to enter his Grilled Apple Salad. His recipe was chosen from thousands of entries to be spotlighted on the cover of the June/July issue as the second-place winner.
Mr. Soska serves Grilled Apple Salad on pink swirled Depression-era glass plates from his great-grandmother.
When he made the salad most recently for a gathering of friends, he used Gala apples that he bought at a local farmers' market. "I prefer to buy local produce," he says.
The apples are sliced into eight wedges and marinated in 1/4 cup of the dressing for 10 minutes. The slices are grilled on medium heat about 8 to 10 minutes. "I cook them until they are golden brown and slightly soft," he says. "Folks seem to like the salad." He even makes the salad in the winter using Golden Delicious or another firm apple in the skillet on the stove.
The marinade is made from orange juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, cilantro, honey, salt, garlic, and a little Asian chili sauce. He composes the salad with the greens sprinkled with walnuts and blue cheese. The grilled apple slices are then placed on top.
Another apple salad is Mesclun Salad with Cranberries and Apples from American Regional Cuisine, Second Edition, from the Art Institutes and Michael F. Nenes (Wiley, $45) made with julienned Granny Smith apples.
Apple varieties seem limitless. Granny Smith apples, which trace their origin to Australia, are often used for pie-making. But these bright to light green tart and crisp apples are also good for salads.
According to The Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin, $40, 2004), Granny Smith apples are drier than others and hold together when cut into matchsticks.
Four Granny Smith apples are cut unpeeled into thin matchsticks about 1/8-inch thick. Toss with 1/2 cup loosely packed small fresh basil leaves, (chop after measuring), 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves (chop after measuring), 1/4 cup chopped salted roasted peanuts, and a Chile Lime Dressing. Mound the salad on four plates and top with sliced grilled flank steak.
Expect local Granny Smith apples to ripen around mid-October, according to MacQueen Orchards' ripening dates. Also ripening in October are Melrose, Fuji, Law Rome, and Matsu apples.
MacQueen's has its annual Apple Butter Stir festival Oct. 7 and 8 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the Apple Pie Contest on Oct. 7. Information:call 419-865-2916.
Throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, you'll find varieties such as Rome Beauty, Winesap, Jonagold, and Pippin. Empire is a relatively new variety from New York State. Northern Spy is an old variety traced to New York.
You could have a September apple tasting that is very different from an October apple tasting.
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