Monday, September 5, 2011

So you like Honeycrisp

Introduced in 1991, this sweet, crisp apple has taken the fruit world by storm.

If you read these words in September, now is your chance to enjoy Honeycrisp at peak.

But, may I interest you in some other crisp, sweet apples? Variety is the spice of life.

Besides, how do you know you like Honeycrisp best if you never try anything else?

Honeycrisp is freshest in September and October. Though it is increasingly available in supermarkets off-season, storage leaches away many of this apple's appealing qualities. So, what do you eat while you wait for the next harvest?

Two early-season apples may please the Honeycrisp-deprived in August. Gingergold is a light, crisp apple that is sweet and juicy. She has modest tart accents as well, but Gingergold's flavors are so light that even tart-averse palates can enjoy this variety.

I commend another August apple to the adventurous Honeycrisp fan: sweet, crisp Mollie's Delicious.

Mollie's suggests an exceptionally good Red Delicious, with superior crisp texture and better flavors though still in the sweet-and-easy bandwidth. Try one and tell me what you think.

Why, once the Honeycrisp season begins, would you eat anything else? If you've read this far I hope you are at least curious about the many apple varieties.

Mutsu is another light, crisp, and sweet apple that, like a Honeycrisp, is huge and goes down easily. The flavors are a bit different than Honeycrisp's but are exceptionally light and delicate.

Honeycrisp lovers should also take advantage of the short season and sample Melrose and, if that pleases, its slightly more balanced sibling Melrouge. Holly is another sweet crisp variety worth trying.

At the end of the season, if a bit further off on the Honeycrisp spectrum, sturdy, crunchy Enterprise is sweet and easy, and keeps very well.

I also like to introduce my friends to the fine vinous qualities of traditional New England apples. McIntosh and Macoun may be too assetive for some, but have you tried Spartan or Empire?

Of the two, handsome Spartan is sweeter, and harder to find. Both are easy to take and have very pleasant flavors.

Once the harvest is over, there is a small cohort of apples available year-round in supermarkets. Most of these are selected for their sweetness, firm crunch, and durability in shipping and storage.

You probably have your own favorites, but two of these varieties are particularly light in the same way that Honeycrisp is: Fuji and Ambrosia.

You may also try any of the modern varieties with confidence that you will find good texture and plenty of sugar. I especially like the flavors of Piñata and Pacific Rose.

These varieties are not really like Honeycrisp, but I think you will agree they have at least a few of the qualities you appreciate.

The above comprise only sweet apples that have at least some of Honeycrisp's characteristics. Do not fear, therefore, to bite into any of them. Odds are you will like them to some degree, and maybe a great deal.

Finally, if the above has piqued your appetite for other varieties, consider some of the milder heirlooms, particularly if your love of Honeycrisp is based on aversion to apples that are too tart.

Opalescent and the wonderfully named Westfield Seek No Further are not really very much like Honeycrisp, by they are mild and sweet and delightful. Even dense Blue Pearmain, Thoreau's favorite apple, has easy, delicate flavors.

There are many other in that line, including Swaar, Washington Royal, and Rienette Simirenko, but alas you are not likely to find them. If you do, seize them with both hands.

Update: Honeycrisp aficionados should try five apples that are vying to be the next Honeycrisp.


  1. I have a real love/hate relationship with the honeycrisp apple. It's not as bland and boring as some might have you think. but it isn't the greatest apple ever created. i'm guessing that those who can't think of any other variety of apple (and justify paying top dollar for honeycrisps) aren't in the same league as apple snobs (i consider myself a budding one) who are looking for apples with a more interesting lineage. unfortunately, apple hype forces people to overlook the rich and noble history of this most humble of fruits.
    pomaceously yours,
    paul s.

  2. i forgot to mention that i love the blog. i have bookmarked it and shall follow along.

  3. Paul, thanks for stopping by! Honeycrisp does not top my list of favorites, but there is no denying it does some things very well, and anyway there are no "wrong" apples to enjoy.

    I do think that anyone who does not try some of the other great varieties is missing out. So I am just trying to make some helpful suggestions.

    Based on your experience, what other apples do you think a Honeycrisp fan would enjoy?

  4. I am a Honeycrisp fan. I would suggest a Williams Pride apple early in the season when waiting for H.C. to ripen. As for a mid-season contendor I like Sweet Sixteen. It is also super sweet but has some aromatics in there too, most notably an anise flavor.

  5. Matt--Williams Pride is one of my summer favorites, and so amiable and accessible an apple that I'd like to think everyone would enjoy it.

    Yet so different from Honeycrisp that I did not consider suggesting it here.

    Maybe I am on the wrong track, sticking to varieties that are either super crisp or sweet and not too highly flavored, or all of the above, since that is what Honeycrisp lovers seem to prize.

    I've never had Sweet Sixteen, but perhaps I will find some this fall.

  6. Hi Adam,

    I agree that Williams Pride is a great summer apple. It is quite different from Honeycrisp but as you stated, W.P. really should appeal to most all tastebuds. Sweet Sixteen is at it's prime at the same time as Honeycrisp. It is very similiar in all respects to the Honeycrisp but adds some aromatics. I just tasted some for the first time this past week as I picked a few up at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, WI. Some people report Sweet Sixteen as having vanilla, cherry and bourbon flavors also. My samples so far have yielded intense sweetness, maybe even more than Honeycrisp, and a mild anise flavor. Better still is that these trees are easier to grow than Honeycrisp, so for all of your backyard orchadists out there, give this one a try if you live in the Northern half of the U.S. or even Canada.

  7. you know adam, i wish i could suggest an apple, but i'm not there yet. i'm still developing my palate. i can see why honeycrisp is a popular apple. my mother-in-law planted a tree in her yard a few years ago (because she liked them so much). we picked about a dozen decent ones. they're crisp, juicy and just a bit tart. what's not to love. i've since learned from an orchardist that they are terribly difficult to grow (everyone and everyTHING seems to love them)
    i can't recall an apple i've tried that had all that going for it.
    however, i visited a nearby orchard a few years back and tasted a few old varieties (golden russet and calville blanc d'hiver, among others). i just loved them and realized i couldn't confine myself to the newer, flashier varieties without trying some of the time honored varieties. i am a novice student of the apple's history. there are those who would suggest that the honeycrisp is some kind of phony trying to pass itself off as a "legitimate" apple. all apples are "created" with the hope that they will appeal to people's tastebuds. some just have a better marketing team. i won't quit eating honeycrisp, but i will also continue tasting as many apple varieties as i can. sorry to be so long-winded. time for an apple. cheers!

  8. Paul ("Lollygagger")--Did not mean to put you on the spot! Since Honeycrisp is not my favorite (don't hate me please), I'm just curious to know what fans of the big guy also like, if anything.

    As for your tastes: They are yours and by definition can't be wrong. Try stuff, let your palate be your guide, and you will be rewarded.

  9. i didn't feel you put me on the spot. i'm just beginning my adventure. i spent one summer working on an orchard 13 years ago (turns out i was better at running the cider press than picking quickly). it started there. i've rekindled my obsession this fall after a visit to a family orchard in michigan (on my wife's side). of all the obsessions i could have, this is probably the healthiest. as for apples ... today i had first crop cortland and early liberty from ela orchard in rochester, wis. both fit the bill for sweetness, tartness and crunch that i have come to love in apples. i also tried a tolman sweet for the first time. definitely an interesting flavor. sweet, not tart at all. i'll try to come up with some better adjectives after i work my way through the 6 that i bought. again, thanks for maintaining a blog devoted to something i'm actually interested in. cheers!

  10. Cheers to you too, Paul! It's a great time of year.

  11. You might want to try SweeTango. It is the most recent apple out of the same breeding program at the U of Minn that produced the honeycrisp (the Honeycrisp is its mother; the Zestar is its father). It is as sweet and crisp and the HC but it also has a very citrusy tang. Not sure if this equals the 'complexity' the apple snobs are looking for, but it does make for a damn fine apple. Available in higher end grocers all over right now.

  12. John: I'll watch for it, but typically this variety has not been available in New England.

  13. The apple has a Facebook page (naturally). You can ask if they are in your area and the apple generally gets back to you pretty fast. You can also see what people are saying about them

    they're in fairways, tops, stew leonards, and wegmens in the mid atlantic states, and maybe some others.

    A friend described the flavor as "photoshopped" which I thought was good. It's over the top. But they are friggin good. Once you have one it's hard not to think about them....

  14. So good, in fact, that I had to write a piece about them. Unfortunately you have to subscribe to the New Yorker to read it...

  15. John, I do subscribe, though not online—until now.

    I enjoyed Crunch very much as it touches on some fascinating issues. Some of my thoughts here.

    I also envy your access to really good examples of Sweetango. Things that you and others have said make clear that the Sweetangos I got last month are just not up to par.

    I've delayed publishing my review (Nutshell: good but not great) in the hopes of a better sample, but I think the season is over.

    Thank you for writing that great piece (and to the New Yorker for publishing it), and also for your comments here.

  16. Have you had the heritage apple Nittany? It's crispy like Honeycrisp, but with a far richer, more varied flavor, and it keeps better. Better for baking too (Honeycrisp makes for a watery two-dimensional pie). I get Nittanies in the DC area both from a Shenandoah farmer who sells at local farmer's markets and from local orchard Heiser's.


    1. Lynn, I have not yet had the pleasure of trying this apple, which seems to be a product of Penn State's breeding program introduced in 1979.

      Perhaps Penn needs to take some marketing tips from Honeycrisp's UMinn! I'd buy some for sure if I found any.

  17. Nothing taste better than McIntosh. It's my top favorite. Royal Galas, Spartans, Cortland, Empire, Williams Pride, Nova Spy, Northern spy, Gravenstein, Sweetango, Ambrosia, Paula Red, Novamac, Suncrisp, Piñata, Russet apples and Honeycrisp are all good choices too.

  18. I just smile at a discussion about apples! I'm a big Honeycrisp fan (I'm a Golden Gopher)! I'll take any opportunity to try some good food. What's that similar Wisconsin apple? One of my Badger frenemies introduced me to it, but I can't remember its name.

  19. I like the Granny Smith in pie. Beyond that I have never been a big fan of apples. That is until I started eating Honeycrisp, I love them so much I plan to start a couple of trees. However, I need to plant one or two other species to make the Honeycrisp trees sing. Granny Smith is an obvious choice since I like pie, but I'd like to find another that compares to the Honeycrisp. It's been a tough, fruitless search.

    1. Pun intended?

      You'll need a second apple variety not just to sing, but to pollinate your Honeycrisps, which are not self-fertile.

      Golden Delicious is a popular pollinator, and decorative crabapple trees are often reliable.

      But you should find out what pollinators are best for Honeycrisp. The people who sell you your budwood or trees should be able to advise you.

      Good luck with the trees! And a happy new year.

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