Tuesday, September 27, 2011

So you like McIntosh

If you read this in September and are enjoying McIntosh, you are in good company. This quintessential New England apple, crisp, flavorful, and juicy with plenty of sugar and tart, is a classic.

But what do you eat in October or August? And what other apples might you like?

If you don't know, or would like to broaden your horizons, here are my suggestions.

From the start of the apple season in July, many early varieties vie for the McIntosh crown: Jersey Mac and innumerable generic "Early Mac" apples. In my experience these do not live up to their promise. Of the very early varieties, Paula Red probably evokes McIntosh best.

Novamac, which is half McIntosh itself, is an even better early Mac variety, but does not mature until about a week before you can get the real thing.

Consider, too, Jonamac, another Mac hybrid available around the end of August.

You may also appreciate Vista Bella, often the first apple of the year, and Gravenstein, a really excellent summer variety. Click the links for descriptions.

McIntosh is more than 100 years old and sits at the head of a whole family of vinous, Mac-like apples. I particularly prize Macoun, a daughter of Mac; click for a head-to-head comparison of the two.

But you might also like Brock, Burgundy, Cortland, Davey, Empire, Empress, Enterprise, Fortune, Freedom, Hampshire, Liberty, Shamrock, handsome Spartan, Spencer, and Tydeman's Early. Mac descendants all.

Hampshire is particularly attractive and a bit later; Enterprise, later still, is a great keeper. Hard-to-find Davey is a wonderfully balanced apple with great texture and flavors that could (maybe) give Grandpapa Mac a run for his money.

Of historical interest is Fameuse, also known as Snow. It is sometimes named as McIntosh's parent and has many of the same crisp vinous qualities.

McIntosh is grown in sufficient quantity for the wholesale market, and is for sale in supermarkets through June in some parts of the country. But though controlled storage preserves Mac's crunch, it loses flavor over time.

Sadly, there isn't a really good substitute for the Mac in the off season, though Empire, and its generic vinous and berry qualities, are widely available most of the year in supermarkets.

If your mouth loves the Mac, congratulations! You can probably enjoy almost any eating apple, and I encourage you to be adventurous. The above picks are at least a little Mac like.

But don't be limited by that! Try some of the great heirlooms, such as Esopus Spitzenberg and Cox's Orange Pippin. Feast on some of the russets in October, November and (if you put some away) December.

Let this blog be your guide, or just follow your nose. Learn more about what you like. Give your sophisticated palate its head and it will lead you on a real adventure.


  1. I had a 'Snow' or Fameuse apple I picked from an orchard in Mercer, ME- that is a nice fresh eating apple with beautiful white flesh and a nice snap to it!

  2. I think Snow is a very fine apple.

    There are some great orchards in Maine, and some great varieties that began there.

  3. I grew up in Pennsylvania, where we had 12 Macintosh apple trees on our property. Forget trying to find a decent Macintosh in California! By the time they are shipped here from wherever they come from, they are mushy and disgusting! The closest I have been able to find is a Pink Lady a.k.a Cripps Pink. It is close enough that I am not so desperately homesick for the apples of my childhood.

    1. I love the vinous apples, and miss them very much this time of year. To be without them completely would be a blow. But California has many fine varieties of its own. I hope you find them!

  4. I'm grateful to read this blog and all comments. Mac is my very very favorite and here in Illinois I have not been able to find a good one to fill in the months while waiting for the next Mac season. Thanks for the suggestions.

    1. Things do get a bit thin this time of year! We still have some Macouns where I live, though the quality is iffy.

      Once they give out, I expect to include a few Empires in my weekly apple diet.


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