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Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vermont, is one of many New England orchards with outstanding Cortland apple crops this fall. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vermont, is one of many New England orchards with outstanding Cortland apple crops this fall. (Russell Steven Powell photo)

THE INFLUENCE of McIntosh on the world’s apple supply extends well beyond the McIntosh itself. Its exceptional flavor, juiciness, and aroma have made McIntosh a favorite of apple breeding programs for more than 100 years, and Macs are parents of some of New England’s most celebrated varieties, especially Cortland, Empire, and Macoun.

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Like McIntosh, Cortland has been a New England favorite for more than a century, and it excels in every use. A large, juicy apple with a sweet-tart flavor that is a little sweeter than a Mac, Cortlands are excellent for fresh eating. They are outstanding in pies for their flavor, size, and because they hold their shape well when baked. Their white flesh browns slowly after slicing, so Cortlands are excellent in salads, too.

Cortland is the product of a cross between McIntosh and Ben Davis, an heirloom apple from Virginia dating back to the early 1800s. Much of Cortland’s distinctive flavor comes from McIntosh, while its crisp texture, red skin with green striping, and large size are characteristic of Ben Davis. Cortlands can develop a slightly greasy look and feel in storage, another quality of Ben Davis. Cortlands were developed in 1898 at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Empire is a cross between two of America’s most popular varieties: McIntosh and Red Delicious. Red Delicious, a chance seedling discovered in Iowa in 1880, provides Empire’s predominantly deep red color and sweetness, but McIntosh gives it a complexity and measure of tartness, as well as a green or yellow blush.

Empire’s juicy white flesh resembles a Mac, but it is firmer and does not bruise easily, like Red Delicious. Empire is great for fresh eating, but is a good cooking apple as well. Developed by R.D. Way at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in 1945, Empire was introduced commercially in 1966.

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Macoun was also developed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, by crossing McIntosh with Jersey Black, a variety from New Jersey also known as Black Apple, dating back to the early 1800s. The resulting apple is named for Canadian horticulturalist W.T. Macoun, and it was released in 1923.

Many consider Macoun to be the finest fresh-eating apple available, in large part due to its sweet-tart, McIntosh-like flavor and powerful fragrance. But Macoun has a firmer, crisper flesh than McIntosh, and a distinctive, spicy taste, with a hint of strawberry.

Macoun is red and green like McIntosh, and its darker, wine-red tones and irregular, boxy shape are attributes of Jersey Black. Macoun is good for cooking, too, but rarely gets that far, coveted as it is for fresh eating. Macoun is pronounced as if spelled “MacCowan,” although some people say “MacCoon.”

Other varieties that owe their existence to McIntosh include Brock (crossed with Golden Delicious, developed in Maine in 1933), Jonamac (crossed with Jonathan, New York, 1972), Milton (crossed with Yellow Transparent, New York, 1923), Spartan (crossed with Newtown Pippin, British Columbia, 1936), and Spencer (crossed with Red Delicious, British Columbia, 1959).

RubyMac is one of several newer strains of McIntosh, and it is distinguished by its deep red color and firm, light-green flesh.

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FOR INFORMATION about where to find McIntosh and other New England apples, click here.

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WITH THIS FALL’S EARLY HARVEST, mid-season apples like Empire and Jonathan are already available at farm stands and stores. There will be plenty of apples throughout the fall, but if you want to pick your own, you should plan to go this weekend or next, at the latest, except for parts of northern New England (call the orchard to see what is being picked).

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Empire apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

The Empire apple is a cross between McIntosh and Eastern Red Delicious. The result is a variety whose flavor is sweeter and less tart than a McIntosh. Empires have juicy, firm white flesh that does not easily bruise. They are high-quality dessert apples and good for all culinary uses. They have a deep red skin brushed with gold and green.

Empire is a newer variety, raised by R.D. Way in 1945, and introduced commercially in 1966 by the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York.

Jonathan apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonathan apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)

Jonathans are a popular cooking apple, with a spicy, tangy flavor. Their flesh is crisp and juicy, and they have a deep red skin. Applesauce made with Jonathans turns a rich pink from the brilliant red skin color.

Two cautionary notes about Jonathans are that they have a relatively short storage life, and they are not considered especially good for baked apples.

From Ulster County, New York, the Jonathan dates back to the mid-1800s, from an Esopus Spitzenburg seedling.

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THIS RECIPE for “Juniper and Apple Soup” comes from Massachusetts native Bea Ruggles Dobyan, now living in Missouri, via Michigan (she found it at a Spice Merchants shop in Ann Arbor).

“It sounded different,” Bea writes, “and that’s the kind of cooking I like.” She will serve it as the first course at a dinner party this weekend, and says it is a great opener for a fall day.

“You can take the girl out of New England, but you can’t take New England out of the girl,” says Bea, who grew up in the central Massachusetts town of Brookfield. “I’m crazy about using herbs and spices in my cooking. That is what I’m known for here in the Midwest.”

Juniper and Apple Soup

1 T juniper berries (cracked)

4 cardamom pods

3 whole allspice

1 cinnamon stick

1 bunch fresh parsley

2 T olive oil

3 New England apples, peeled, cored and diced, such as McIntosh, Empire, and Jonathan

2 celery stalks, finely chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 inch piece of fresh ginger root, finely chopped

4 c chicken or vegetable stock

1 c apple cider

1 c cream

3 T Armagnac or apricot brandy (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Put juniper berries, cardamom pods, allspice, and cinnamon stick in a piece of cheesecloth and tie together with string. Tie the parsley together with a string.

Heat oil in a pan, add apples, celery, shallots, and ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan, and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Add the stock and apple cider and stir well. Add the spices and parsley. Bring slowly to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 40 minutes. Remove the spices and parsley.

Pour the soup into a blender and purée. Then pass it through a sieve (strainer) into a clean pan. Bring to a boil and add the cream and the Armagnac/brandy. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Serve hot, garnish with fresh parsley.

Optionally, you can add cooked ham and crispy bacon, as well.

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