Apples - let me count the ways that I love thee.
Crispy, crunchy, juicy, bright red for eating, Golden Delicious for mellow-sweet, Granny Smith or old-fashioned Golden Grimes for pies, up-and-comers of crispy sweet Gala and the zingy Pink Lady, the darling of today's orchard Honey Crisp, and the multi-purpose McIntosh.
Throw in a Jonathan or a sweet-firm Fuji, the baker's favorite of Rome or New York state's Empire plus an old-fashioned Winesap later in the season.
It all adds up to delicious and refreshing. Apples can be eaten raw or cooked. When used in baked goods, apples are an all-American food. But this season I've discovered the economics of the apple. Here's the skinny:
Three trends in the U.S. apple industry stand out, according to Jim Cranney, vice president of the U.S. Apple Association in Vienna, Va.
Around 2000, a lot of apple tree acreage was taken out of production in response to economic circumstances: these include the Asian currency crisis in 1997 leading to a worldwide recession in 1998, consolidation of food retailing industry, and increased cheaper apple concentrate imports from China.
"But now, newer varieties have peaked consumer interest: Gala, Fuji, Cameo, Pink Lady, Honey Crisp, and Granny Smith are all excellent quality," said Mr. Cranney in a phone interview. "There's greater demand because of the new varieties."
A second trend is the popularity of fresh sliced apples that food service companies use especially in quick service restaurants. Even local supermarkets are selling sliced apples. The sliced apples stay fresh and white when dipped in a natural compound of ascorbic acid or Vitamin C, he said. The packaged sliced apples last on the shelf three weeks if refrigerated and carefully handled. Check the Use-By dates.
While the 2007 crop forecast is down, there are still plenty of apples. "The total U.S. crop is 212.5 million bushels which is 10 percent lower than 2006 and 6 percent lower than the five-year averages," said Mr. Cranney.
Washington State is the largest producer with 50 to 60 percent of the U.S. crop and it's crop is down 11 percent from 2006. "There's no particular reason. It's part of the cyclical variation. When apples came into bloom this year, they were not as prolific."
An early spring frost Easter weekend affected a lot of the apple trees in the southern growing region which were in full bloom, according to Mr. Cranney. The blossoms froze throughout southern Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and even as far south as Georgia.
"But there's still plenty of apples to go around," he said. "The year 2006 was one of the best crops for apple growers."
While there are reports of a smaller Ohio apple crop due to that Easter weekend weather, "All our varieties came back after that Easter freeze," said Jeff MacQueen of MacQueen's Orchard who expect 90,000 bushels again this year. "We have 85 percent of a full crop. Out of that 85 percent, there may be a few more that are used for cider due to the frost. It was cold enough affect the color of the skin but not enough to damage the apple."
There will be a good supply of cider, which they'll begin making around Sept. 18 once they get a good blend of apples. Once they start picking the McIntosh and Jonathan, then there's a sweet and sour to mix.
Michigan expects an average crop in terms of quantity, according to Denise Yockey, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee in DeWitt, Mich. "The rain has been good for the size. The flavor will be outstanding."
The hot summer allowed the starches in the Michigan apples to covert to sugars early. "We got a littler earlier start this year. Our cool nights bring out the acids that counterbalances the sugar to enhance the flavor profile," she said in a phone interview. Michigan did lose some McIntosh because of the weather.
The New York Apple Association predicts an outstanding crop of very good size and quality due to ideal pollination conditions this spring and good growing weather since.
As for baking, apple pie is probably at the core of fall traditions. Whether you make your own crust or buy a refrigerated crust and add your own fresh apple filling, there's a variety of ways to make apple pie.
In Bubby's Homemade Pies by Ron Silver and Jen Bervin (Wiley, $29.95), there's recipes for Caramel Upside-Down Pie, Ginger-Honey Pie, Mile-High Pie where the apples are piled up much higher than the tin is deep, Whiskey-Apple Crumble Pie flavored with 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon, Apple Pie with Black Pepper Blackberry Glaze, and the savory Apple-Roquefort-Bacon Pie.
Sweety Pies: An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations with Pie by Patty Pinner (Taunton, $23) features a Pink Lady Apple Pie made with Pink Lady apples and Old Fashioned Apple Meringue Pie. The author's hometown is Saginaw, Mich. where she lives today.
Watch for pie contests and fall apple festivals.
The 26th Annual Apple Butter Festival & Craft Show will be held Oct. 6 and 7 at Mac Queen's Orchards at 7605 Garden Rd. in Springfield Township. The All-American Apple Pie Contest which is limited to 30 entries will be at noon Oct. 6. Pre-registration is required. (Call 419-865-2916.)
The festival also includes apple butter making and plenty of apples and apple foods such as caramel apples, apple fritters, apple dumplings, and cider making. This year, a barbecue by We Are Ribs and James McDay will be part of the weekend's activities. Chicken, ribs, Philly sandwiches, beef barbecue, bratwurst, and gyros, will be among the foods sold.
Beyond pies, there's plenty of ways to use apples in baking.
To make Easy Apple Dumplings, use refrigerated pie crust. This recipe makes smaller portions, which is great as a kid-friendly snack or a special treat on a fall afternoon.
For Apple Puff Pastry, spread a cream cheese mixture over the puff pastry and top with the cooled apple mixture. Then cut the sides of the pastry into 1-inch strips and alternately cross the strips at an angle. Then bake. Suggested apple varieties are Empire, Gala, Golden Delicious, Idea Red, Jonagold, Jonathan, McIntosh, or Rome.
Or make an Autumn Fruit Cobbler with apples, firm-ripe pears, and dried cranberries. Made with oatmeal, the biscuit dough is a whole-grain recipe . For this updated cobbler, the biscuit dough is rolled and cut in the shape of leaves or apples. A dusting of granulated sugar adds sparkle.
Kathie Smith is The Blade's food editor. Contact her at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.