When the air turns crisp, does your mind turn to apple pie?
At farm stands, farmers markets and pick-your-own orchards, West Michigan apple growers offer a wealth of locally grown heirloom varieties and modern hybrids. Their textures, flavors and juiciness are all over the map, and they’re harvested at different times between August and October.
In Fennville, for three generations the Crane family has been tending extensive orchards — so they really know their apples! Individually, brothers Rob and Gary operate Crane Orchards and Gary Crane U-Pick. Together, sisters Rebecca Crane and Laura Bale own Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant & Winery. There, cooks wait until December to start preparing the coming year’s supply of frozen apple pies, so the tart, snappy Ida Reds they use can rest in cold storage for a few months first and become less firm.
“To make an apple pie in a hurry in the fall, I would take great care about what apple I use,” said Rebecca Crane.
Those that ripen early are excellent for eating out of hand or making applesauce, but they tend to be softer and don’t keep very long (even when refrigerated). Better for pie are crisper apples that ripen later in the season. But sliced fresh from the tree, some are too hard for a pie, Crane explained — “it seems like it never gets done.” Pro tip for home cooks: Leave Ida Reds on the counter for a few days before baking (or let them ripen slowly in the fridge).
Here’s her time-tested advice about some lakeshore-grown varieties to bring home as they hit the market and use in recipes in which each type will really shine. Shall we begin with pie?
1. For apple pie and crisp Braeburn, Fuji, Ida Red, Jonagold, Northern Spy
2. For applesauce Jonagold, Jonathan, Macintosh, Transparent
3. For baked apples Jonagold, and later in the season, Ida Red
4. Super in salads Honeycrisp (because when cut, they do not brown)
5. Fabulous for eating “out of hand” Braeburn, Fuji, Jonagold