For apple lovers, the cool mornings and clear days of autumn mean one thing: It's time to head to the orchard, farmers' market, or roadside stand to stock up on the season's crisp, juicy harvest. Apples are available year-round thanks to controlled-atmosphere cold-storage chambers that keep them fresh for months (some varieties even develop better flavor over time). But the Braeburn you buy in February could never rival the one you bite into or cook with in the fall. Plus, locally grown, highly coveted varieties such as Jersey Mac, Paula Red, and Northern Spy are only available a few weeks after harvest because they don't keep well in storage.
Two factors should be taken into account when selecting apples: how you'll use them, and which varieties grow best in your area. A tart heirloom can be too firm and sour for some tastes, while a sweet apple that's perfect for snacking may turn to mush baked in a pie. Climate differences can cause an apple type that's delicious grown in upstate New York to taste bland and mealy when picked farther south. Your best bet? Ask the grower how best to enjoy each variety, taste as many different types as you can (most farmers' market vendors offer samples), then try them in recipes such as the ones featured here.
To prevent fresh, raw apple slices from browning before they're served, toss them in a little fresh lemon juice.