You know autumn is just around the corner when apples start dominating the stands at local farmers markets. Over the next few months, farmers such as Mike Cirone will be harvesting dozens of different apples ranging from heirloom favorites to new varieties to sell at various markets.
“We grow over 50 varieties of apples,” Cirone said during a recent visit to the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Cirone’s farm is located in See Canyon, near San Luis Obispo. “It’s a place historically known for apple growing.”
Cirone offers over a dozen varieties at any given time at his market stand; in addition to selling at the Santa Monica Farmers Markets on Wednesdays, he also sells at local markets around San Luis Obispo.
Though many of the apples you may find at your local supermarket are frequently stored — sometimes for several months or more — before selling, Cirone pointed out that all of his apples are fresh off the tree.
“We sell them when we pick them,” he said, adding that he may harvest apples from the same tree several times over the season.
Although storing apples isn’t necessarily harmful to the fruit, they can lose nutrients over time and long-term storage can deplete the fruit’s flavor and soften its crisp texture.
With all the varieties available, what apples should you look for? In short, it’s always best to ask. Farmers often offer samples, and you can ask them for flavor characteristics and suggestions for use. One of Cirone’s favorite apples at the moment is the Mollie Delicious. “It’s an early-season apple, lightly sweet with a great crunch,” he said.
When it comes to baking or cooking, Cirone noted that some shoppers prefer apples that break down while cooking.
“I think a good cooking apple should be able to hold its shape when it cooks. That, and it should be semi-tart — not pure sugar,” he said. “You want a complexity of flavors.”
Cirone currently recommends Jonagold apples for cooking, noting their crunchy texture and sweet-tart flavor. “It’s also easy to peel,” he said.
He offered one last helpful hint for bakers: “A lot of times, cooks will blend varieties. They’ll combine two or three different apples to make that perfect pie.”
In addition to farmers markets, you can also pick your own heirloom apples at a number of U-pick farms in Southern California's own Apple Country, Oak Glen, where September is usually peak apple season.