Apples are grown in all fifty states and there are about 2,500 different varieties in the U.S. alone (and about 7,500 in the world!). Apples can be sweet, tart, crisp, crunchy, juicy -- and are almost always delicious. You can buy apples at the grocery store all year long, but chances are that they are only sourced locally in the fall and early winter months. And trust me; a local apple tastes way better than one that was flown in from halfway around the world.
One of my favorite fall activities has always been going to a local apple orchard for an afternoon of apple picking. If you're not sure where to find an apple orchard near you, consult a site like Local Harvest to find a list of local farms. I haven't made it out to an orchard yet this season, but in the meantime, I've been able to find a great selection of apples at my local farmers market.
I picked up a mixed basket of apples from Masonville Orchard, which is located in Fort Collins, Colorado. The farmer from Masonville was kind enough to tell me about all six varieties of apples that he was selling, which included some that I was familiar with and a few that I had never heard of before.
The six varieties of apples that I purchased were Sansa (super sweet), Akane (sweet and tart), Honeycrisp (sweet -- the most popular seller), Opalescent (sweet, tart and super crisp), Jonathan (tart) and Gala (sweet). I generally go for apples that are a mix of sweet and tart, but liked each and every one of these types of apples.
One of the great things about apples is that most keep for a long time. If you stock up in the fall, you can enjoy them all winter long.
Apples are especially great for baking, and varieties that are more tart are generally best (like Granny Smith or Jonathan). As much as I love making apple pie, apple sauce and pretty much any baked apple dessert that I can think of, there's one thing that I've been obsessed with making this fall: apple chips.
If you buy a bag of apple chips (dehydrated apples) from the store, the first thing you'll probably notice is the hefty price tag. Since I love snacking on apple chips, I decided to start making my own (which is just a fraction the cost!).
You can make apple chips with any variety of apples. I tested out all six varieties that I purchased from the farmers market, and each one was distinctively delicious. You don't even need a food dehydrator to make them; they can be dehydrated right in the oven! You also won't have to worry about heating up your whole kitchen, because the apples dehydrate at a low temperature.
To make your own apple chips at home, you need just a few things: apples, a mandolin slicer (or sharp knife) and a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. There's also no need to core your apples (and the core provides a pretty star shape in the center of the apple chip!). Just scrape out the seeds on slices as needed.
I really like plain apple chips (with nothing on them), but also make a few batches with various flavors by sprinkling various spices on top of the apple slices before going into the oven. Cinnamon but itself is great, but here are some of my favorite flavors.
Apple Chips Flavors
Vanilla Maple: Mix together one tablespoon of maple syrup + 1/4 tsp vanilla extract and brush over one side of apple slices.
Sweet + Spicy: Combine one tablespoon of raw sugar + 1/2 tsp ginger and sprinkle on top of one side of apple slices.
Apple (or Pumpkin) Pie: Sprinkle apple or pumpkin pie spice on top of one side of apple slices.
Apple Chips Recipe
-2 large apples, any variety
-Cinnamon and other spices/flavorings, if desired
Position the racks in your oven to the top half and pre-heat to 200 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a super-sharp knife or mandoline slicer to create slices that are 1/8" thick. Place each slice onto the parchment paper of both baking sheets (each apple should cover about one baking pan). If desired, sprinkle on cinnamon or other spices/flavorings. Place baking sheets on the top two racks in your oven and bake for two hours. Remove sheets from oven and flip apple slices. Place back in the oven and bake for about two more hours. Cook for 30-60 minutes less if you prefer your apple chips to be more chewy than crunchy. Remove from oven and let sit for 30 minutes (apples will harden up a bit). Store in an airtight container.
Photos courtesy Lauren Martin.