Growing up in the Midwest in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the only apple variety commonly available for eating — as opposed to baking — was Red Delicious. As apples go it was mediocre, but because it was the only variety commonly available we didn’t know that at the time. If you wanted to eat an apple you were going to eat a Red Delicious, and that’s just the way it was.
The main selling point of the Red Delicious seems to have been its stable shelf life. If you had a Red Delicious apple on your kitchen counter in September, you could count on it being palatable in January if you suddenly developed a hankering. Which of course you didn’t do very often because Red Delicious apples were also relatively bland and a bit on the pulpy side, but still.
As for the preferred method of eating an apple back in the day, it was pretty much the same as it is now. Fussy people peeled their apples, or cut them into slices, or both, but most people just palmed the fruit and gnawed away like a beaver. That too had its drawbacks, however, because the skin of a Red Delicious is hardy, and the geometry of the first few bites were such that you often ended up with a bit of skin impacted between two teeth. It wasn’t usually painful so much as distracting at an inopportune time, and by the time you lathed the apple to its core you forgot about it until next time — unless it was particularly bad and you had to floss.
The Golden Delicious was another venerable variety, and compared to the Red Delicious it almost seemed like a delicacy, but I don’t remember it being widely available until the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. By the mid 1980’s, however, more and more exotic varieties were appearing in markets around the country, and from a flavor perspective they were distinctive and delectable. Where the Red Delicious was blunt apple, these new varieties had nuance and sophistication.
When it came to eating apples, however, I still ate them from the hand, and bought them mostly for portability and utility. An apple is hardier than an orange, much hardier than a peach, and less prone to staining than a cherry, blueberry or strawberry. And don’t get me started on what happens to a ripe banana under even moderate pressure.
Over the decades I flirted with various varieties at different times, always appreciative and interested, but never enamored. Among them were Braeburn, Cortland, Empire, Fuji, Gala and Honey Crisp. Only in the past few months, however — after more than a half-century of preparing my own food — did I start cutting my apples prior to eating, and I am here to tell you the difference is revelatory.
What used to seem like a relative disinterest in apples turns out to be a relative disinterest in hyperextending my jaw to eat food. (I cannot think of any equivalent to the hydraulic first bite of an apple, and that includes the mechanics of eating corn on the cob.) Instead, I am now cutting my apples in half along the core, removing the bisected core in each hemisphere, then cutting the halves into slices along the same axis. And as absurd as it sounds, this has vastly improved my enjoyment of any variety. (Full disclosure: I have not tried this with Red Delicious, and I do not intend to.)
While there is some prep time, it’s on the order of minutes. There are also minimal knife skills involved, and if you don’t have a knife that’s a problem. Other than that, however, apple slices are still a great impulse food, because you can prepare and eat them inside whatever window of sloth typically prevents you from doing anything other than (re)heating something in a microwave.
For maximum taste I recommend not refrigerating your apples. Most varieties will last for weeks on your counter until you are rested and in the right mood. Or you can try it both ways and decide which you prefer — in neither case will you be disappointed.
As you may already know, sliced apples are prone to a form of oxidation called enzymatic browning. That doesn’t affect taste so much as appearance and perhaps texture, but if you only prepare your apples when you’re ready to eat them it’s not a problem. You can also limit the effect to some extent simply by cutting thicker slices, which reduces both the exposed surface area and number of bites. (Of the apples listed above, most of which are regularly available in larger markets, Cortland, Empire and Gala tend to be less susceptible to enzymatic browning.)
When I cut my apples I end up with between sixteen and twenty slices. If I’m just having a snack I’ll eat the slices by themselves, but if I’m hungrier I will add either cheese alone — a classic accompaniment — or cheese and crackers. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and when plated it doesn’t look like a lot, but I find it filling and also satisfying, and good rations for writing.
— Mark Barrett