It is I, known applefluencer, Churk Wigdog, back again to bring you another round of vital rankings of grocery store apples.
(You can find Part One, from last year, here.)
It is further known that my favorite apples are of course heirloom apples. They are weird. They are curious. They are oddities. And they are routinely some of the most interesting apples I have eaten. I recognize however that I’m fortunate to have access to such interesting apples — I live at the nexus of many wonderful orchards, chief among them being North Star Orchard in Chester County, PA. Wanna see their whole weird list of available apples? Go for it. You’re gonna think half of those are made up, or that they’re strange hobbit sex moves. “Ah, give ’em the old Coe’s Golden Drop, eh? I prefer the Scarlet Crofton, but Pippin over there really likes the Canadian Strawberry.”
But, heirlooms are not always readily available.
Not for me.
Not for you.
From time to time I sample the apple wares of local grocery stores. Now, even here I admit privilege — I live in the opposite of a food desert, with probably a dozen grocery stores within a 20 minute drive, and because of our proximity to farmland, even the grocery stores get a good variety of apples.
I also thought, well, it’s the year of the shiny new apple, The Cosmic Crisp, and I was fortunate enough to receive some in the mail courtesy of… well, the Cosmic Crisp people. (See? See? I’m a real-life applefluencer.) Though I promise of course my review and ranking here are not affected by this very nice gift.
Two caveats, before I begin:
Apples can vary apple to apple, store to store.
And my experience with an apple is not going to be your experience with an apple, because our tastes are subjective. So please know that if we disagree here, it’s not because I’m right, it’s because you’re wrong, and because I’m right. I’m an applefluencer and I’ve trained for this for years, WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO PREPARE FOR THE APPLEOCALYPSE, HUH? *cuts to training montage of me punching apples into sauce, and then eating them off my fists* Ahem.
Apples, ranked bottom to top, starting now.
I’m going to offer a big caveat here — the bottom five apples on this list were all from one store: Wegman’s. And except for the Ginger Gold, they were all watery, bland messes. Which I really can’t believe that they all had similar problematic flavor flaws, unless Wegman’s is just sourcing shitty apples. The Cortland, a classic New York apple, may just be because it’s not a keeper. It’s good off the tree, reportedly, and that’s it — so, you find one in a grocery store, it may already be past its prime, especially if it’s fucking January. Either way, this one sucked the most. Too tart, and had the texture of an old toe. It’s an apple you sit there chewing and thinking, “What mistakes have I made in my life to lead me to this point? What god did I offend? Yet here I stand. Here, I chew.” Chew, chew, chew. A cow with cud. Chew, chew, chew.
I’ve always heard good things about the Macoun — another New York apple, it’s also not a keeper apple. Maybe a few weeks off the tree, and then it’s game over. If they drop Oct/Nov, then me buying one in January is not ideal. Still. Fine. Whatever — this was watery. Wasn’t sweet or tart — just bland. Had a strong floral component, which was nice: rose and elderflower. Had the trademark butt-white flesh of, say, a McIntosh, but I don’t think the latter is a parent of the former? They must be rivals. Or surly exes. Or grumpy former roommates. Anyway. I’d love to try a Macoun off the tree this coming season, but fuck these ones I got from Wegman’s, bleah.
Big name, fairly small apple. Just slightly more aspirational than the Macoun: almost precisely the same flavor, just sweeter, with a hint more complexity. Also, yup, another New York apple. Also, yup, another apple that doesn’t keep well. Why the fuck is it in a grocery store then? Do you people hate apples? You do, don’t you. This is the heart of some kind of anti-apple conspiracy and I have found it. Whatever. Disappointing apples should be a crime. A CRIME.
And so we enter into the “Attack of the Honeycrisp Clones” portion of the list. You will frequently see a new apple enter the world and when that apple reaches shelves a bevy of articles like this one: “[Apple Name]: The New Honeycrisp!!??” The Honeycrisp is popular. Too popular. It’s a fine apple, don’t get me wrong, it’s just — it’s not a really interesting apple. It’s sweet and juicy, cool, fine, whatever, not a lot of complexity, and is subject to bruising. So, everyone’s always wanting THE NEXT HONEYCRISP. The Pazazz I ate wasn’t even fit to sniff a Honeycrisp’s underwear. Okay, that’s maybe a little dramatic — and it’s not that this apple was terrible. It sprayed juice when I cut into it. And there was a pleasant tartness you don’t find in a Honeycrisp — but it was also, like the other Wegman apples, watery and a little bland. Good crunch, tho.
10. Sugar Bee
Is it Sugarbee? Or Sugar Bee. I dunno. Yet another Honeycrisp market grab — this one, by literally crossing a Honeycrisp with, I dunno, a bag of cane sugar. It, like the Kiku (below), is just a crisp bite and then sugar sugar sugar. Unlike the Kiku, it has at least flavor for days — it’s like chewing bubblegum, this apple. Not a whiff of tartness of complexity — somehow, they bred what little was in the Honeycrisp right the hell out. What sets this as worse than the Kiku is that though the flavor remains, so does a woody texture, and after that, a lingering taste of chlorinated funk. Which is, as you suspected, nasty business. I do not like this apple, Sam I Am.
9. Ginger Gold
I don’t know that this is a great apple, but I admire it. It’s… odd. It’s not gingery, and yet, it tastes like a piece of apple that would go well in a sushi roll. A bit yuzu? It’s vaguely savory. Was crisp and juicy. Feels like this would be banging in a salad. Not an apple I want to just bite into, though.
Another aim at Honeycrisp, I think — “Kiku: The Sweetest Apple!” Except sweet isn’t the same as flavor — it’s just sugar. And that’s mostly what you get here. But it doesn’t even really earn its own marketing plaudits, as though it was sweet, it was more syrupy, and the flavor didn’t last. It faded pretty quick, ghosting your tongue in your mouth like a spurned Tinder hookup. It’s fine? It’s fine.
Jesus Christ with the Honeycrisp copypasta. I ate this alongside a Honeycrisp and… it didn’t taste much different. This is reportedly a Honeycrisp x Fuji cross, which, okay fine, but there’s not a significant difference here that earns any reason to buy this. There’s maybe, maybe a hint more tartness than you’d expect in a Honeycrisp, but it’s down to microns of tartness, which is how tartness is measured. Microns. I know this because I am an applefluencer. I had to take a test. Shut up.
I’ve always kinda lumped the McIntosh in the “old-timey who-gives-a-shit” apple, something a Grampaw would eat and be surly about, but I shouldn’t have. I don’t know that this is a thrill-a-minute kind of apple, but it’s actually pretty solid. Softer flesh than I was expecting, the McIntosh yielded a lemonbright kick to the teeth, a bit of rose in the nose, and a late dose of sweetness. I can see why a lot of apples are bred from the McIntosh. A classic for a reason.
5. Golden Delicious
Here’s another apple I summarily dismissed in part because the Red Delicious has so poisoned the apple discourse with its Judas Deception of that word, DELICIOUS. Liar! Liar apple! Golden Delicious is… is a pretty tasty apple. Not as tart as I’d like, but pleasantly weird. Has depth. The one I ate had a banana-pineapple tang to it, with a honey-on-the-tongue follow-up with a final, almost-grassy finish. It tastes… golden? Does that make sense? It doesn’t, I know, but there it is.
4. Stayman Winesap
Winey (or “vinous”) and rich, the juicy, crisp, and coarse-grained Stayman Winesap is a pretty dang beautiful apple. Got that Berry Sangria color to it, and then you bite into it and catch a whiff of spice — like the distant promise of cinnamon and honeysuckle. You can see it doing well in cider, or sauce, or even pie. But works too right out of hand. Can’t go wrong with it if you can find one.
3. Cosmic Crisp
I wanted to hate this apple. Because it’s another “Crisp” apple — so desperate to be like the Popular Kid, Honeycrisp, even though the Popular Kid is never the most interesting kid. And it had a big marketing push and, while I’m certainly not mad at people getting excited to eat fruit, I’m also naturally dubious of anytime anything seems overly pushed-to-market. It felt shoved-in-my-face. Everyone asking, DID YOU TRY THE COSMIC CRISP, DID YOU, DIDJA, IT’S SUPPOSED TO CURE ACNE, IT SAVED MY DOG FROM CANCER, IT’S A SPACE APPLE THAT THEY BRED ON THE MOOOOON. Well. I tried it. They sent me a box. And godfuckingdamnit, it’s a really good apple. I daresay it is my favorite standard grocery store apple. Yes, it’s got that sweet Honeycrisp thing, but it’s also balanced by equal tartness — and bonus, it’s crisp like a carrot slice. Satisfying to eat. I like it as much as one of my other faves, the Pink Lady. I can see this becoming a fast favorite for folks.
2. Arkansas Black
Black like the Devil’s own buboes! Not really. It’s just a really really dark red — blood-and-bruise-dark. Now, this isn’t a standard grocery store apple, but I did find it at my local store for just one week. And I was geeked to find it because it’s not easy to find around here. I can tell you now, it’s a great apple. Strongly tart, with a honeyed-vanilla kick to the sweetness. A bit funky, in the best way. It’s a beautiful apple to behold, and hard as a rock. You could break somebody’s jaw with one of these. Don’t fuck with me. I might be armed with a sack of these chonky motherfuckers. I’ll split your kneecap in half like a communion wafer, motherfucker. Kachow.
Honestly, I didn’t find this at a grocery store, but it’s not an heirloom. But it is the very best apple, and you will not disagree. I mean, don’t eat it right off the tree — haha, it sucks right off the tree. But a couple weeks, even months, in storage, and it becomes weird and sweet and tart, compelling in a way where you feel like a starving man on a desert island eating a mango after weeks without food or water. It’s clearly got that Golden Delicious parentage, but then kicks in with a pleasing lemon tartness. It’s dense and firm. Holds up real well to cooking — the apple sauce and pies I make with it are legendary. (Er, legendary in my house, anyway. A small legend.) I buy them by the sack. Then store them forever. I just used the last ones yesterday, after getting them in October. Cold storage does them wonders — they might start to look a little weird, like your fingertips after they’ve been in bathwater for too long, but the flesh and flavor remains. Hie thee hence to a GoldRush apple.