Please enable JavaScript to properly view our site.

Our food writer samples 12 varieties of Lancaster County apples

Apples in basket

12 varieties of apples grown in Lancaster County.

The apple is in town for its annual pageant, showcasing a riot of lipstick shades and a flavor palette to suit everyone who’s interested.

Last year, Pennsylvania produced more than 500 million pounds of apples and consistently is among the top five apple-producing states. In Lancaster, apple lovers have access to more than 50 varieties over the course of harvest, which runs from late July until November.

Botanically, the apple is a member of the rose family, which explains the intoxicating perfume that hangs in the air at local orchards.

We tasted a dozen varieties currently available from growers across the county, including Cherry Hill Orchard, Kauffman’s Fruit Farm, Brooklawn Farm and Kissell Hill Fruit Farm. The best part: More varieties are ripening on trees as you read this, including the Winesap and the Stayman, two personal favorites.

Our tasting notes follow. Recipe: Apple Coffee Cake.


Akane

The Akane apple.

Akane

A cross of Jonathan and the Worcester Permain.

Look/feel:

Rosy blush in the skin with a little yellow mixed in. White flesh with a yellowish tinge. Not mealy soft but definitely lacking crunch. Kinda sorta firm. But memorably juicy.

Flavor:

“Aunt Gertrude’s unsalted veal cutlet” is how my husband described this apple. Although I think those are fighting words, I agree that the Akane feels underseasoned and underwhelming in a lean-meat sort of way.

Best for:

Its juicy quotient and somewhat firm flesh makes this a good candidate for baking, so long as it’s paired with something more flavorful. I also might use this for applesauce or partnered with a hunk of cheddar or a spoonful of peanut butter for an afternoon snack.


Autumn Crisp

The Autumn Crisp apple.

Autumn Crisp

A cross of Golden Delicious and Monroe.

Look/feel:

Slightly dimpled skin, with a red blush and occasional yellow streaks. Pale yellow with wisps of white. Soft landing on first bite; in fact, the skin dominates.

Flavor:

Slight tang, which saves this apple from its one-note sugar-cube personality.

Best for:

If eaten out of hand, I want a knife to cut into small pieces. Not a great apple to bite right into while you’re walking down the street. A good candidate for applesauce.


Blondee

The Blondee apple.

Blondee

Look/feel:

Sporting a shade of banana —or is it mango? — yellow with noticeable pores and maybe some markings up by the stem. Looks like a yellow Gala. The flesh is a soft lightbulb white. Firm in the hand, crunchy on first bite. Delightfully juicy.

Flavor:

There is a lot going on — a little bit pear, maybe some water chestnut and honey — versus sugary sweet.

Best for:

Eating out of hand and taking on a hike or picnic; topping a pizza with caramelized onions and rosemary. Chopped with walnuts and yogurt for breakfast or with a strong blue cheese on crackers.


Cortland

The Cortland apple.

Cortland

A cross of Macintosh and Ben Davis.

Look/feel:

With its smooth, somewhat glossy skin decked out with red and green pain-like swirls, the Cortland could easily be mistaken for a Macintosh. Snowy flesh that delivers a fair amount of crunch.

Flavor:

Leans more tart than sweet but is missing depth.

Best for:

Salads or as part of an ensemble going into the oven.


Crimson Crisp

The Crimson Crisp apple.

Crimson Crisp

Look/feel:

Dense flesh in an off-white shade, surrounded by a red-blushed skin with very light green or yellow swirls.

Exceptionally crunchy, almost snaps in the mouth. Very satisfying for hard apple lovers.

Flavor:

Tangy with a little bit sweet. Very well balanced and has the potential for wine and cheese pairings.

Best for:

People who do not have dentures. This is a really crisp apple. Equally suited for eating out of hand as well as for baking. I'm thinking about a Crimson Crisp pie this fall, with a cheddar-thyme crust.


Ginger Gold

The Ginger Gold apple.

Ginger Gold

A cross of Golden Delicious and Albemarle.

Look/feel:

Pale yellow skin with cream-colored flesh. Firm in the hand. Looks crunchier than it is on first bite, which veers soft versus hard.

Flavor:

Compared to the other yellow apples in this tasting, the Ginger Gold is less complex and less assertive. There is a slight tang and some juice but it is not memorable. Despite its name, there is no noticeable hint of ginger.

Best for:

Apple sauce, apple pancakes, smoothies or for apple lovers who want an uncomplicated eating experience.


Golden Supreme

The Golden Supreme apple.

Golden Supreme

Look/feel:

Pale yellow, with some red or maybe even pink swirls. Off-white flesh. Feels substantial in your hand.

Flavor:

Neither decidedly sweet nor tart and yet very pleasing, with a decent juicy quotient. The first thing that came to mind: This is the sedan of apples; it’s reliably juicy, has decent crunch and will take you safely on your apple journey.

Best for:

I would eat this out of hand any day of the week. Its firm structure makes it a good candidate for baked apples.


Jonamac

The Jonamac apple.

Jonamac

A cross of Jonathan and Macintosh.

Look/feel:

Snowy white flesh is set against a smooth light green and red swirly skin. First bite is on the soft side.

Flavor:

The husband-taster and I agreed that despite its family ties to the Jonathan, the Jonamac lacks kapow in the flavor department. Its attempt at tartness comes off more like a sour lemon and does little to impress.

Best for:

Applesauce; as part of an ensemble in pie, in salads or slaw.


Jonathan

The Jonathan apple.

Jonathan

Look/feel:

Its signature crimson red skin stands out like nail polish, coating its very snowy white flesh. Its texture varies between somewhat soft to pleasingly firm. There is ample juice in each bite.

Flavor:

This is why the Jonathan has a cult following. It is unabashedly tart, capable of puckering lips. “Vinegar!” my husband exclaimed, and yet he went back for more.

Best for:

Stellar for baking, from whole baked apples to pie. Terrific with cheese eaten out of hand, or in a grilled cheese sandwich. Sorbet, perhaps?


Red Rubin

The REd Rubin apple.

Red Rubin

Look/feel:

Yellow with plenty of red splashes. Compact size. Pale yellow flesh that delivers a respectable crunch.

Flavor:

“Like a sip of a really good rosé,” declares the husband-taster. When I asked him to explain, he said “tangy but in a good way.” I agree. The Red Rubin is tangy — or is it spicy? — but it also is pleasantly sweet and juicy. Think of this as a bubble-gum Gala but with a lot more personality.

Best for:

Raw preparation, either out of hand, in salads or with walnuts.


Smokehouse

The Smokehouse apple.

Smokehouse

Look/feel:

With its glossy light green skin (and occasional swirls of pink), this heirloom from Lancaster County could be mistaken for a Granny Smith. Even its moderately crisp and somewhat juicy flesh is similar.

Flavor:

Think Granny Smith but slightly less tart. It is refreshing, but I get bored after eating the first half.

Best for:

As happy as I am to eat it out of hand, the Smokehouse shines when cooked — in pie, as baked apples or in applesauce. It plays nicely with other apples and will not dominate.


Sweetie

The Sweetie apple.

Sweetie

A Gala-Braeburn hybrid.

Look/feel:

Compact like a Gala with yellow and red blush tones and a pale yellow flesh. Respectable crunch without working out your jaw.

Flavor:

This is a fun apple, with lots of floral notes — a reminder that the apple is related to the rose. Mildly sweet and pleasantly juicy.

Best for:

Eating in the moment. I think the floral notes would disappear with cooking.