Google “Big Three Apples” if you want to read about rivalries between Apple, Microsoft, and Google. But here on the farm at least, “Big Three Apples” refers to our three most prized pick-your-own varieties: McIntosh, Cortland, and Macoun. If we’re lucky, for a couple magical weekends each year, these apples ripen simultaneously. This happens to be one of those magical weekends!
These three apple varieties have more in common than their popularity and their harvest dates. Genetically, McIntosh is a parent to both Cortland and Macoun, and indeed, McIntosh’s unbeatable tangy flavor escapes neither hybrid. It’s worth mentioning that there have been over a hundred McIntosh cultivars since their original discovery in Ontario during the early 1800’s – Cortland and Macoun just happen to be two of the best.
Appearance-wise, each of the Big Three varieties looks distinct. McIntosh are perfectly round, Cortlands are large and a bit flat, Macouns are medium-sized and angular in shape. Macouns turn a dark burgundy shade when ripe (thanks to their other parent Jersey Black), while Cortlands inherited striations from their parent Ben Davis. McIntosh, of course, have classic spring green skin that remains prominent underneath a shiny red blush. At their peak, this blush intensifies to an almost purple hue. If you catch a glimpse of this purple while picking, do not mistake it for a bruise. What you’ve stumbled upon is a perfect McIntosh apple, and you won’t want to pass up the opportunity to experience that!
The Big Three apple combo conveniently covers all your bases in terms of usage. You wouldn’t want to use McIntosh for salad, or Macoun for apple sauce, but if you manage to pick all three, you can enjoy apples in all their forms. Cortlands brown slowly and are crunchy – perfect for salad. Macouns are sweet and complex – one of the best fresh eating apples you can find. McIntosh’s soft flesh breaks down easily – practically begging to become delicious apple sauce. And for pie? … Any combination of the three will do!
A warm apple vinaigrette (made with any of the Big Three apples) makes for a great way to enjoy salad even when there’s a chill in the air. Perfect to carry you through this strange not-quite-fall, not-quite-summer, weather we’re having.
1 large apple, cut into cubes, skin left on
1/4 cup honey
1 clove garlic, chopped into slivers
1 sprig fresh herbs (or a big pinch of dried herbs) – I like thyme or sage
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Simmer the cubed apples in just enough water to coat the bottom of your pan over medium-low heat until the apples become very soft. It should take around 15 minutes.
Next, add the honey, garlic and herbs-of-choice to the pan along with the cider vinegar. Let the mixture keep cooking at a low simmer for about 10 minutes.
Pour the contents of the pan into your blender and blend until it is smooth. Whisk in the olive oil, or add the olive oil to the blender and let it blend until the vinaigrette is completely emulsified.
Season with salt and pepper as you wish!