Versatile Cortland a Great Choice for Apple Brownies

It's time to pick Galas like these on young trees at Doe Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts. (Bar Lois Weeks photo)
It’s time to pick Galas like these on young trees at Doe Orchards, Harvard, Massachusetts. (Bar Lois Weeks)
Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks photo)
Cortland apple (Bar Lois Weeks)

MANY APPLES are described as “all purpose,” meaning that they are equally good eaten fresh, baked, cooked, or pressed into juice. But few can rival Cortland when it comes to versatility.

Cortland gets much of its juiciness and rich, tangy flavor from its McIntosh parent. It is a little less tart than a Mac, and tends to grow larger, a feature of its other parent, the heirloom Ben Davis.

Cortland is a favorite in salads, as its white flesh is slow to brown when cut.

A pie made with just crisp Cortlands is outstanding. It is also good mixed with softer varieties like McIntosh, or to add a little complexity to a sweet apple like Gala. In addition to holding its shape when baked, fewer apples are needed to make a pie because of Cortland’s large size.

Cortland has always been in McIntosh’s shadow, but it has been around for nearly as long. Developed at Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York in 1898, Cortland was released commercially in 1915. By the mid-1930s, it joined McIntosh as New England’s most popular apples.

Cortland is a mid-season variety, ripening a few days after McIntosh in early September, with harvesting continuing for several weeks. It is available in most New England orchards now. Visit our orchard finder at to see where Cortlands are grown, and call ahead to see what is available for picking.

In addition to being flavorful and versatile, Cortland is a beautiful apple, with deep red striping on green skin. Its skin can get waxy in storage, a harmless, tasteless film that can be eaten or easily rubbed off. It is the apple’s way of retaining moisture.

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Apple Brownies (Russell Steven Powell photo)
Apple Brownies (Russell Steven Powell)

ACCORDING TO Merriam-Webster’s, it is hardly a brownie — “a short, square piece of rich, chocolate cake that often contains nuts” — at all. But at a recent party featuring four baked apple goods, our version of Nancy Black’s School Brownies was the first to go.

Brownies have a strong New England history, yet chefs at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel are credited with first making what eventually came to be called brownies, in 1893. Bertha Palmer, wife of hotel owner Potter Palmer, was asked to create a dessert for boxed lunches at the women’s pavilion at that year’s World Columbian Exposition. She had the hotel’s pastry chefs create a dessert that was smaller than a cake and easier to eat than pie. The result was a brownie-like confection made with chocolate and walnuts, topped with an apricot glaze.

The first published recipe for brownies was by Fanny Farmer in the 1896 The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. It contained no chocolate; Farmer’s recipe was more like a blonde brownie. So are apple brownies, with pleasing bites of apple.

(The chocolate brownie also has New England origins: a recipe for Brownie’s Food first appeared in a Machias, Maine, community cookbook in 1899. It calls for chocolate, flour, milk, and baking soda.)

The recipe for Apple Brownies was adapted from Olwen Woodier’s 1984 classic Apple Cookbook. Woodier writes that she got the recipe from her daughter’s first-grade teacher.

Apple Brownies

1 c sugar

½ c butter, softened

1 egg

¾ c flour

¼ c whole-wheat flour

1½ t baking powder

½ t baking soda

½ t cinnamon

¼ t nutmeg

1 large Cortland or other sweet-tart New England apple, unpeeled, cored and diced

1 t vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch square pan.

Cream butter and sugar together in medium bowl.

Beat in the egg.

In separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Stir into batter.

Add apple and vanilla.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into squares.

The original recipe called for ¾ c walnuts, mixed in with the apples. I did not have any on hand, so made the recipe without. The brownies were moist, soft, and chewy, and the lack of nuts did not appear to diminish their popularity.