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Summer Apples: To Bake, Or Not To Bake?

Apple cultivars Duchess of Oldenburg, Yellow Transparent and Wealthy. Alois Lunzer illustration, from Brown Brothers' Continental Nurseries Catalog, 1909.

"I didn't even KNOW some apples ripen in July." So asserts Food Guy Jon Jackson -  in spite of the quarts of applesauce he cooks each year from White Transparents, one of Montana's summer apples. When it comes to early apples, Other Food Guy Greg Patent, a.k.a. The Baking Wizard, needs to know: can you BAKE with them? Gravensteins. White (a.k.a. Yellow) Transparents. Akane. Mackintosh. State Fair. Summer Treat. Mollie's Delicious. Alkmene. Williams' Pride. Dorset Goldens. Wolf Rivers. Gala.  These are all summer apples, varying in texture, size, flavor and availability.  Jon explains what qualities they share: "They mostly don't keep well. Get them and use them as quickly as you can. Apart from Gala and Mackintosh, don't count on finding locally-grown ones in October."

When he sees summer apples at the farmer's market in September, bakeability is at the top of Greg's mind. "If you notice an unfamiliar apple variety, when the grower insists that it's a good one for baking, be skeptical."  To decide for yourself how to best use a given variety, try this baking test:

Prepare some pie dough. Peel one apple of each variety you want to test, and cut it into eighths. Wrap a strip of pastry dough around one or two apple chunks from each variety.  Chart the contents of the baking pan so you'll recognize each variety when you remove each from the pan. If you're worried you'll turn the pan around in the oven and forget which is which, mark the pastry on one apple variety with an "X," color another with red food coloring, and stick a toothpick into the third.

Bake for twenty minutes, remove the pan from the oven and let it cool. Pay attention as you take each chunk out and taste it. The best candidates for pie are those apples that retain their shape when moved.

(Broadcast: "The Food Guys," 9/16/18. Listen weekly on the radio at 11:50 a.m. Sundays, or via podcast.)