Five years ago, I planted the first fruit trees in a young orchard. The trees have grown a lot since then, and many of the apples trees produced fruit this year.
In celebration, I hosted an apple-tasting party for family and friends. A hay ride to the orchard was followed by the tasting of a dozen different apple varieties—about half from my young orchard and half from old or wild trees scattered around my farm. Cutting up each apple and debating the merits of taste and texture made for a wonderful afternoon.
Generally, the wild apples weren’t very tasty. Some of the older-named varieties weren’t popular either. Wolf River apples are large and beautifully striped, but they’re better for cooking than fresh eating. The same goes for Northwest Greening, a striking green apple that’s a bit … tart? I’m being nice—let’s just say it’s not my favorite.
So which apples were the best? I’m happy to say that everyone agreed the young trees in my orchard produced better fruit than the old or wild trees. This is what you would hope, since I specifically planted varieties that would be good for fresh eating.
The following is my personal ranking of the five best-tasting apples from my taste-testing party. This is by no means a definitive ranking of all apple varieties. Some popular varieties aren’t hardy enough to grow in my region, and some of my trees (like Honeycrisp and KinderKrisp) didn’t fruit this year.
That said, I would be happy to snack on the following five apples every day for as long as they’re in season, so I hope that speaks to their quality:
Prairie Magic tops my list because it’s delightful sweet and juicy—the perfect combination for fresh eating. I hesitate to use Prairie Magic apples for cooking because I would rather save their deliciousness for snacking!
Hazen apples are a prime candidate to win any apple beauty contest. When they’re fully ripe, their dark red color is rich and striking. They have the taste to match, too—perfectly sweet for fresh eating.
I’ve found that the early-ripening State Fair apple has a softer texture than many apple varieties. This can be a nice change of pace for those who prefer an easier bite. It’s also sweet and tasty. In fact, some members of my apple-tasting brigade ranked State Fair as the apple with the best flavor.
Wodarz apples aren’t necessarily the most attractive apples at first glance. They’re mostly yellow with a tinge of pink, and they tend to grow unevenly in shape. But they’re beautiful inside, with firm flesh and a mild, pleasant flavor quite unlike the other apples on this list.
One of the parents of the Prairie Magic apple is Goodland, which lives up to “good” part of its name. Goodland apples are attractive with their yellow and pink skins. While the flavor is not quite as sweet as that of Prairie Magic or Hazen apples, the apple is still excellent for snacking.
Which apple varieties are your favorites?