Get Your Apples: Good to the Core

Although the Minnesota apple harvest begins in August, for a lot of folks apple season goes hand in hand with the changing and falling of leaves. Apples are a fantastic late summer treat, but there’s nothing like a crisp, freshly-harvested apple (or a hot apple crisp!) on a brisk autumn day.

Walk into a typical supermarket and you’ll see several shades of these sweet treats proudly taking up some serious real estate in the produce aisle. Yet this is a mere smattering of the 7,500 varieties grown around the world. According to Rebecca Wood, author of The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, “Because every apple seed contains unique genetic material, you can plant ten seeds from a single apple and get ten different kinds of apple trees. However most of our commercial varieties lack genetic diversity.”

Originating in Central Asia, apples are the most popular temperate-zone fruit, and while they can grow in just about every state in the U.S., often the cultivars you’re seeing in grocery stores are trucked in from Washington State, where twelve billion-odd apples are harvested by hand. Unfortunately, they frequently arrive at their destination road weary, mealy, and tasteless, having been harvested before their time.

The University of Minnesota is revered throughout the world for its apple-growing expertise and extensive fruit breeding program. Some of their heavy hitters are: SnowSweet®, Zestar®, Honeycrisp (undoubtedly the most popular), SweeTango®, and Frostbite™.

Get Pickin’

Now is the time to venture out and locate a pick-your-own apple orchard or farmers’ market where you can choose your own tasty treasures that aren’t jetlagged. The Minnesota Grown Directory is a great resource for all things grown in Minnesota and I advise calling ahead or checking websites to ask if the orchardist uses chemicals. Other national resources include Apple Journal and All About Apples.

Find a local orchard that grows several varieties and buy directly or ask where they sell their juicy goods. The Twin Cities have many orchards within a short drive and it’s fun to quiz to your grower about the varieties produced and how they vary in taste. And luckily, most of our Twin Cities co-ops proudly purchase from local orchards. Once you experience the difference in flavor and texture compared to typical supermarket apples, you’ll proclaim, “Wow, so this is what an apple really tastes like!”

Wood continues, “Antique apples have a vast flavor range, often a mottled skin, a less than symmetrical shape, and they have sex. With the help of bees and breezes, they beget diverse offspring. In contrast, most of today’s sugary sweet, cosmetically perfect apples are grafted - rather than grown from seed - from the same parents.” According to Michael Pollan, this uniformity “…makes the apple a sitting duck for its enemies. In the wild, a plant and its pests are continually coevolving, in a dance of resistance and conquest that can have no ultimate victor. But coevolution freezes in an orchard of grafted trees, since they are genetically identical. The problem is that the apples no longer get to have sex, which is nature’s way of testing out fresh genetic combinations.”

The Gentle Cleanser

One medium-sized apple contains more fiber than a serving of oatmeal. They are more easily digested than some fruits, as they contain acids that hinder digestive fermentation. They also contain pectin, which removes cholesterol and toxic metals from the body and promotes friendly intestinal flora. Green apples are especially cleansing to the liver and gallbladder, actually softening gallstones. And apples can clean your teeth to boot! Nicknamed “nature’s toothbrush,” they are very toning to the gums and can cleanse your pearly whites in a pinch.

Polyphenols, the compounds that are the major source of antioxidants in apples, are five times more prevalent in apple skin than in the flesh. According to Marissa Coutier, author of The Mediterranean Diet, “Most of the fiber in apples is soluble fiber, a substance demonstrated to lower cholesterol levels. But the benefits don’t stop there. A daily apple may indeed keep the doctor away, especially if that daily apple remains unpeeled. Recent research out of Cornell University has uncovered a host of phytochemicals in apple skins.”

Wax Off

It is therefore essential to purchase apples that haven’t been sprayed with chemicals and pesticides. If not grown pesticide-free, a gentle vinegar and water scrub will remove some of the residue. Avoid apples that you can see your reflection in; that brilliant shine means that the apples have been coated in wax, a practice that traps pesticides.


Apples possess a cooling thermal nature, and according to Ayurvedic medicine, it’s important to remove the summer’s heat before the heavier foods of winter are enjoyed. If heat is held in the body as we gear up to insulate ourselves with heavy stews, meat, and dairy, sluggishness and lethargy can come about. Just as Mother Nature so beautifully provides us the berries, greens, roots, and sprouts of spring and summer to cleanse our bodies of winter’s heavy residues, she also offers apples to help us cool off, cleanse, and prepare us for winter’s cravings.

So as the rich and hearty meals of the holidays start swirling in our minds, incorporate apples (and other cleansing fruits and vegetables) into your festive meal planning. Apples are a hardier fruit and will keep well for months if stored in a cool, dry place. They’re light, sweet, and refreshing and will help keep you on your toes during this upcoming holiday season.

Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Shallots (from Whole Foods Recipes)

1 pound Brussels sprouts

2 large shallots, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rings

2 medium crisp, firm apples, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1/2 cup water, divided

1/4 cup cider vinegar, divided

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 sprigs fresh thyme

Rinse Brussels sprouts well and pull off any loose or yellowing leaves. Trim the stem ends and then quarter each sprout. Set aside. Heat a large high-sided sauté pan over high heat. Add shallots to the very hot pan and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Add apples and 1/4 cup water, scraping any brown bits from the bottom as the water sizzles. Cook until the liquid reduces by half, about 2 minutes. Add Brussels sprouts, remaining 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons vinegar, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until the sprouts and apples are tender enough to be pierced all the way through with a fork, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.

Uncover, stir in remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar and the leaves pulled from sprigs of thyme. Scrape any bits from the bottom of the pan as liquid sizzles and reduces until nearly gone. Transfer to a serving bowl with any of the remaining liquid and serve immediately.


Jill Grunewald is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor, health writer, and passionate advocate for sustainable agriculture. Her practice, Healthful Elements, focuses on bio-individual health and whole-foods therapy, with specialization in the endocrine system and hormones, particularly thyroid and adrenal health.