Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The best of the early Macs

Left to Right: McIntosh, Novamac, Paula Red
By the time summer rolls around most of us have been living on a diet of supermarket apples for half a year, and it feels like forever. We are ready for the real thing.

The iconic McIntosh, that vinous, crisp apple native to the Northeast, does not ripen until September. Its fans are wooed in July and August by apples with the promise of Mac goodness, as with Jersey Mac or the various generic "Early Macs." Many of these fall short.

The best to my taste buds are Paula Red and Nova Mac, and last year these two varieties overlapped briefly with the true McIntosh.

Paula Red ripens in August, though green fruit picked in July can still be a boon to the Mac-parched. I like these more than the alternative early Macs, though McIntosh is better (no surprise) and there are other August apples that are really good, if not so Mac-like.

Novamac, a new variety, is more Mac-ish than Paula, but since Nova does not ripen until a week or two before McIntosh the window to enjoy this variety is short. Nova is the tartest of the three and if you like that you might prefer Nova to McIntosh.

McIntosh is a true classic beloved by many. It's ready to eat by early to mid September.

The three apples are physically similar, though Paula usually has more-prominent lenticels, Nova's blush is a bit less purple, and McIntosh can be slightly larger.

In a three-way comparison, Paula is the juiciest and Nova the least. Jersey Mac comes off as dull and unremarkable, though it's really not bad on its own. All have crisp white flesh. Nova is tartest, Paula sweetest.

My eating advice to the Mac-deprived is to start with Paula Red and switch to Novamac when it ripens a week or so before the real thing. I also like branching out and enjoying Gravenstein, Yellow Transparent, Willams Pride, and other excellent, if not so Mac-like, summer varieties. These apples scratching the itch for authentic local fruit.

True Mac lovers with a sense of curiosity may also be interested in my "so you like McIntosh" guide to other varieties, some Mac-like, others less so. Who knows? You may even find a new favorite.


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