Making the most of apple season

Making the most of apple season

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More goes into choosing the perfect apple than simply picking between red and green.

Are you looking for a tart, crisp crunch? Or perhaps a more mellow sweetness? Should the apple hold its form in a pie or break down into a smooth sauce?

The possibilities are almost endless, and for apple-lovers, the season to chomp through dozens of apple varieties is nearly here.

Kim Lapacek, who co-owns Lapacek’s Orchard with her husband and in-laws in Poynette, wanted to help customers find their perfect apple.

“I get a lot of questions,” Lapacek said of her work running the orchard’s store. So she set about saucing the orchard’s more than 60 varieties and has recorded each apple’s taste, texture and shape, before and after it was cooked.

A civil engineer by trade, this systematic approach to chronicling apple details appealed to her. So far she’s sauced 38 varieties and “now that I’ve been doing the sauce, I’m a lot more knowledgeable of the apples,” she said.

Lapacek makes her sauce in a small crockpot without adding sugar or cinnamon, for the “full-on effect” and taste of the apples.

Based on her research so far, Lapacek definitely recommends using several types of apples when baking and her family’s orchard has traditionally sold a “baker’s mix,” a selection of apples from the orchard best suited for pies, sauce and other apple creations.

Mixing the apples when baking a pie gives “this really awesome medley of flavors,” Lapacek said, adding “I truly believe our bakers mix is the best.”

“I’ve also found that the apples that are more complex in flavor when you eat them, tend to be better saucers,” she said.

Another rule of thumb: You don’t have to use Granny Smith apples when making a pie. A Granny Smith is tart and will keep its shape, but a Cortland will do the same thing, Lapacek said.

Alternatives to the
ever-popular Honeycrisp

While Honeycrisp apples tend to get all the glory, apple growers in Wisconsin stress there are plenty of others worth sinking your teeth into.

“I’m a sweet apple girl and the (apple variety) Silken is heavenly,” Lapacek said. She also recommends the Crimson Crisp — a little red apple that Lapacek describes as firm, tart and rich; and the Scarlet — a small apple that’s completely pink inside.

But the Honeycrisp hype is largely warranted, and state apple officials say its introduction has elevated apples from a lunchbox staple to sought-after snack.

“The Honeycrisp really kicked off sort of a revolution in people’s taste for apples,” said Andy Ferguson, a second-generation apple grower and president of the Wisconsin Apple Growers Association.

Apple-eaters were stuck in the Cortland, McIntosh and Red Delicious rut, he said. “After Honeycrisps, people thought ‘Wow, apples really can be delicious.”

As a result, people are more open to trying newer varieties, such as the now popular Zestar! and Sweet Tango.

New varieties

Ferguson is especially excited about the Riverbelle and Pazaz and varieties, which ripen before and after the Honeycrisp, respectively.

The Pazazz has the same sweet and tart mix of flavors as the Honeycrisp, but is a little more sweet, he said, adding he believes it to be the next big international apple and has planted 40,000 trees so far.

“We’re really trying to provide the consumer with the perfect well-rounded apple,” Ferguson said. “We’re hoping you like them.”

Matt Stasiak, superintendent and researcher for UW-Madison’s Peninsular Agricultural Research Station in Door County, said Wisconsin apple growers are always asking “what’s the next Honeycrisp?”

The answer might be the Sweet Tango — a variety developed in Minnesota and primarily grown there, he said.

It’s a blush apple and similar looking to the Honeycrisp, but a tad less juicy and a little sweeter, he said. The Sweet Tango also ripens about two weeks earlier than the Honeycrisp, he said.

Stasiak said UW-Madison hasn’t conducted research on apple varieties since the mid-1990s and hasn’t done breeding since the ’60s. Instead, most new apple varieties come from the country’s three breeding programs in Washington, New York and Minnesota.

“Most of the new apples that are being released onto the market are proprietary varieties or branded varieties,” he said.

For orchard owners, however, Honeycrisp are still big sellers.

Vivian Green, co-owner of Green’s Pleasant Springs Orchard, in the town of Pleasant Springs, agrees that Honeycrisp are the most popular variety “without a doubt.”

But one of her favorites is the Swiss Gourmet, which she describes as having a nice tart/sweet balance with a lot of crunch and also holds up well during baking.

“I like something with a little more firmness than a (McIntosh),” Green said of baking apples. The Swiss Gourmet has a lot of flavor and character and would be excellent as a topping on an apple cheesecake, she said.


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