Kitchen Witch - Crunch bunch

Have you ever met anyone who doesn't like apples? They're hard to come by, these genetic anomalies. I found out only last week that my boss is one of these people. I am still rattled by the news that he turns his nose at one of nature's simplest treats. Seriously, what else is a combination portable snack, nutritional powerhouse, gesture of goodwill (think your first grade teacher) and ubiquitous counter item, from airports to mini-marts? Even the universal bag of chips, with all of its virtues, doesn't come close.

Maybe these apple haters have only the Red (un)Delicious to blame. With its mealy flesh, soggy bite and waxy, chemical-flavored skin, the lamest excuse for an apple could be wreaking more havoc than we imagine.

The good news is that orchards are full of apples that blow the Red Delicious away. Below, a subjective guide to apples likely to show up at a market near you. Hopefully, your own notes will soon replace mine. Chomp, chomp.

Empire: A cross between Macintosh and Red Delicious.She's sweet-tart, this one. Her white flesh, set against a green-scarlet thin skin coating, is not too soft, not too hard on the tooth. A great candidate for applesauce or pie. With that plump, flying saucer shape, however, I'm thinking how fab she'd be dipped in caramel.

Fuji: A perfectly nice apple, with a pretty pinkish blush, a medium crunch and a delicate sweetness. Not boring, but not the most exciting variety, either. I've heard it called "less assertive" and "laid back." A favorite among kids and less adventurous eaters.

Gala: Another winner for the kids; in fact, it's so sweet, I'd liken it to pink bubble gum. Fruit forward, soft/medium bite and lunch bag-friendly size. Would I cook with her? Maybe in apple pancakes for Saturday morning cartoons.

Jonagold: A cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan. She's a modern girl, who doesn't want to be characterized. She offers a crisp bite, but none too hard. Her perfume is a bit like honey, and in the mouth, she feels like a pear. Her skin, aglow with red and golden yellow, evokes a special, complicated experience.

Jonathan: A tomboy apple. On the outside, she's a beautiful scarlet red, and her skin is delicate and easily bruised. On the inside, her flesh is firm and strong. Take a bite, and you'll get citrus at the tip of your tongue. Pick her as a palate cleanser. Apple sorbet, perhaps?

Mutsu (aka Crispin): A cross between Golden Delicious and Indo. The most distinctive characteristic is its size; Mutsus can be large enough for a meal — for a family of four. Light green in color, with a yellow/off-white flesh, you think you're on your way to eating a Granny Smith, but one bite will bring you back to reality. It's far from tart, but it's not really sweet, either. With eyes closed, I get watery, savory, meaty chunks that remind me of jicama, a vegetable popular in Central America. Although the Mutsu could hold up well in pies, it needs to be mixed with a more assertively flavored apple for balance.

Winesap: She's the mean girl at school who also happens to be the cheerleading captain. You love to look at her beautiful mahogany skin, complemented by her almost snow-white flesh. You take a bite, and you can't believe you've bitten into a lemon. Her flesh is so tart it almost makes you want to pucker. Her firm bite and acidic nature could make her a feisty date for fatty fondue.

Kim O'Donnel, the host of What's Cooking on washingtonpost.com, tests all the recipes so you don't have to. Send questions and comments to kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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