Unique Apple Varieties & Recipes
Diversivore periodically launches thematic features focusing on food culture, recipes, cuisines, and interesting ingredients. This feature is dedicated to exploring the diversity and complexity of apples, with a special focus on lesser-known varieties and recipes that use them. You’ll find a mix of heirlooms, new and old hybrids, and information about finding and enjoying them. These varieties are generally bought and tested here in Vancouver, Canada, but many of them are available across North America and, in some cases, Europe, Asia, and Australia.
This feature will continue to update whenever I can get my hands on new apples (and/or come up with new recipes!), so keep coming back for updates and recipes related to this theme, or subscribe to make sure you don’t miss out on anything new!
How Do You Like Them Apples?
Origin: England (early 18th Century)
In my opinion, Ashmead’s Kernel might be the perfect representation of the problems with modern apple production (and why we should take steps to change the way we grow and buy fruit). Taste is personal of course, but these are easily one of my all-time favourite apples. They’ve got a great sweet/tart balance, with firm, crisp flesh. They’re a wonderful dual-purpose apple, meaning that they’re wonderful both for eating and cooking. So why aren’t they more popular?
Ashmead’s Kernel was once a rather popular apple, but they’re not well-suited to intensive, large-scale cultivation or distribution. They’re small, which means they’re more work to peel or core, making them less attractive for baking or cooking with. And speaking of attractive, while they have a beautiful juicy white flesh (as you can see above), they’re not particularly attractive on the outside – at least by contemporary apple standards. Yellow and/or green apples are already a tough sell in grocery stores, and Ashmead’s Kernel has the added problem of being a russet apple, meaning that its skin is either entirely or partly mottled brown. While russet skin has absolutely no bearing on flavour, it’s a trait that has become rather unappealing to modern apple consumers. The trees themselves are somewhat more susceptible to bitter pit (a cosmetic and quality-affecting disease caused by low calcium levels) and fire blight (a bacterial infection that affects and can kill plants in the rose family). Finally, Ashmead’s Kernel is a triploid variety (i.e. it has three copies of every chromosome), making it a poor pollinator. These growing factors are found in many apple varieties, and while it doesn’t mean that the trees are delicate (after all, they’ve survived just fine for over 300 years), it does make them less attractive to commercial apple growers. In essence, Ashmead’s Kernel is the polar opposite of a modern Red Delicious apple, which is big, beautiful, and easy-to-grow, yet insipid and mealy. I think you can guess which one I would choose pretty easily.
Ashmead’s Kernel is one of a relatively small number of European apple varieties that does well in North America. It tends to show up mid-to-late in the season, and stores well for three months or longer. While it’s unlikely to be found in grocery stores, it’s worth searching for at farmer’s markets and small orchard operations.
Dewberry and Apple Puff Pastry Tarts
Simple, rustic, delicious little tarts made (ideally) with pure-butter puff pastry. This recipe uses a bunch of ingredients with special significance in my life, but it’s also easy to adapt to the fruits you might have on hand.
Can’t find Ashmead’s Kernel? Try this with any firm, sweet apple with a bold flavour and a bit of acidity.
Belle de Boskoop
Origin: Netherlands (1856)
This very large, crisp, russet apple is a fantastic dual-purpose variety, though I personally think it really shines in cooking and baking. They’ve got a very nice sharp, sweetly-acidic flavour when fresh, with a lot more tangy ‘bite’ than the average sweet apple, but they’re nothing near what you’d find in a Granny Smith. This sweet/sour character coupled with their large-to-very-large size makes them fantastic for baking and cooking. Apple desserts that use Belle de Boskoops have a good amount of natural sweetness while still benefiting from the tart, sour-apple flavour that one usually gets with something like a Granny Smith. They also hold their shape quite well when cooked, making them ideal for cakes and pies. Given the option, these would probably be my go-to apple for any baking project.
Belle de Boskoops are one of a relatively small number of European apples that manages to do pretty well in the more temperate parts of North America. They can be a little tricky to spot, as they’re rather visually variable. The base colour can be yellow to greenish, usually with a variable red-blush and with variable amounts of russet on the skin. The ones pictured above are rather green – some red and yellow colouring is more typical. Belle de Boskoop is a late-season apple that benefits from being stored for a little while. They’re also excellent storage apples, and will keep very well for up to 6 months in a humid refrigerator.
Belle de Boskoop
Swedish Apple Cake
A delicious apple and almond cake with vanilla and spices, plus an amazing pastry crust, topped off (literally) with a spectacular vanilla sauce that will leave you wanting to lick your plate clean.
Category: Hybrid (Indo × Golden Delicious)
Origin: Japan (1930 [Developed], 1948 [Released])
Yellow and green apples have a hard time competing against red and red-blushed apples, but this large, beautiful, flavourful apple has managed to hold its own fairly well in recent years. In the USA, where these apples are sold under the name Crispin, they’re among the 20 or so most popular varieties in the country. While this popularity makes them easier to find than some of the other apples on this list, they warrant inclusion here because of their spectacular multi-purpose flavour and texture. Sharp, sweet, and a little sour, they’re juicy and excellent for eating, juicing, cooking, and drying.
Mutsu/Crispin apples are a late-season specialty, and they only store well for about 3 months. The large, vibrant green or yellow-green fruits often have some brownish russet colouring around the stem and shoulders (the ones shown above do not). Keep an eye out for them at farmer’s markets and well-stocked grocery stores. One of my personal favourites. If this was a red apple, you can bet it would be one of the most popular apples in the world.
Baked Brie with Apple, Walnut, Caraway, & Honey
Can’t forget about apples and cheese! This one’s simple, but unique and tasty. Apples play a starring role, but caraway, walnuts, and honey round things out in a distinctive and unforgettable way.
Category: Applecrab/Hybrid (Surprise ×)
Origin: USA (1944)
On the outside, the Pink Pearl looks a little unremarkable. Cut into one however, and you see an absolute show-stopper.
Pink Pearls are, unsurprisingly, notable for their distinctively pink flesh. The colour you see in the photo is not enhanced – they really area pink apple. Pink Pearls are descended from another pink apple called Surprise, which in turn is the result of crossing a standard domestic apple with the bold, ruby-fleshed Asian crabapple known as Niedzwetsky’s Apple (Malus niedzwetskyana). This makes the Pink Pearl one of the delightfully named ‘applecrabs,’ or domestic apples with a degree of crabapple parentage.
Pink Pearls are said to have a finer flavour than their Surprise parent. They’re a sweet/tart apple with a nice, perfumed character (some suggest that the fruit has a subtle raspberry flavour). They can be a little bit mealy, but not overwhelmingly so. They have a fairly short season, arriving early in the fall and lasting for a few months at most. Pink Pearls were developed in California, and tend to grow best up and down the Pacific Coast (up to and including British Columbia).
The Pink Pearl’s exceptional colour is obviously worth showcasing, and makes for beautiful sauces, juices, and desserts. Because they’re relatively tart, they’re a good apple for both sweet and savoury applications. They do become fairly soft when cooked, so don’t expect them to hold their shape terribly well.
Pink Pearl Apples with Charcuterie
When you’ve got beautiful apples, sometimes simple is best. This is all about some of the finer, simpler things in life – like bresaola, manchego, and smoke salmon.
Pork Neck Steaks with Apple, Sage Brown Butter & Roasted Radishes
That’s right, TWO Pink Pearl Recipe! Pork and apples are great together, but this simple-yet-elegant take on that classic pairing brings a whole lot more to the table.
How Do You Like Them Apples?
References & Further Reading
- Orange Pippin – https://www.orangepippin.com/ – a spectacular resource, characterizing many of the features, flavours, availability, and ratings for an ever-growing number of apple varieties from around the world.
- Saltspring Apple Company – https://www.saltspringapplecompany.com – A wonderful apple orchard with 333(!) varieties. Because they’re near me, they’re also a wealth of information on local availability and growing conditions.
Variety-specific Notes and References
In addition to individual varietal entries on Orange Pippin (see above), supplemental information came from the following sources, and sources contained within them.