WITH THE ARRIVAL of classic mid- to late-season apples like Cortland, Macoun, and McIntosh, and newcomers like Gala, Honeycrisp, and Mutsu, Empire can sometimes get overlooked. It is worth seeking out.
Empire is a child of the 1960s, developed at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, New York in 1945, released commercially in 1966. It was a time before apples were mass marketed with trademarks or fancy names. In today’s world, Empire is a weak name; it does not describe the apple, and the reference to New York’s vague nickname is similarly vague.
It is a shame, because a lot can be said about this apple. For one, Empire is beautiful, mostly the deep red of its Red Delicious parent, with occasional yellow or green highlights, from its other parent, McIntosh.
The sweet Red Delicious and the sweet-tart McIntosh give Empire outstanding flavor, milder than McIntosh but still with a pleasing tang. Empire is juicy as a McIntosh, with crisp white flesh. It is good eaten fresh, baked, or cooked.
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Back in April, we served period refreshments after my talk at the celebration of the reinstated Dickinson family orchard at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. (The full text of my remarks is at From off my father’s tree! Searching for apples in Emily Dickinson.)
Among the baked goods were Gingerbread with Applesauce (made by Bar Lois Weeks), Apple Brown Betty and Apple Bread Pudding (both by Jan Ruby-Crystal), and Apple Pandowdy. Kathy Kurtz made Apple-Pear Cobbler with Cheddar, based on a recipe at epicurious.com. It is somewhat labor intensive, but it was so good that we recently prevailed upon Kathy to make it again.
Apple pie with cheddar cheese is a classic combination, the sharp cheese contrasting with the fruit’s sweetness. In the cobbler, the cheddar flavor is baked in.
Pears and apple make a great combination, but a tart apple would overpower the milder pear, making Empire a good choice for the cobbler.
The recipe takes a lot of fruit — about a dozen medium-sized apples and 15-16 pears to make four pounds, more for the smaller Seckel variety — and effort. Leaving the peels on the fruit saves time and makes the cobbler more nutritious.
Apple-Pear Cobbler with Cheddar
6 T butter
4 lbs Bartlett, Seckel, or other pear, cored and cut in ½” pieces
4 lbs Empire, Gold Delicious, or other New England apple, cored and cut in ½” pieces
¾ c sugar
2 T flour
1 t cinnamon
½ c whipping cream
½ c fresh apple cider
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Melt 3 T butter in large skillet over medium heat. Add half of pears and half of apples. Sauté until fruit is soft, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Transfer fruit to large bowl.
Repeat with remaining 3 T butter and remaining pears and apples.
Mix sugar, flour, and cinnamon into fruit. Stir in whipping cream and apple juice. Transfer to 15x10x2-inch glass baking dish. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes before adding topping.
1½ c flour
½ c whole-wheat flour
2 T sugar
1 T baking powder
¼ t salt
10 T chilled butter, cut in ½” cubes
1 c shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 c milk
Whisk flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheese.
Beat milk and egg in small bowl to blend. Mix into flour mixture with wooden spoon (dough will be stiff).
Drop dough by heaping tablespoonfuls onto fruit, spacing evenly. Bake cobbler about 45 minutes, until filling is bubbling and toothpick inserted into crust comes out clean. Serve warm. Like many apple baked goods, cobbler is good with vanilla ice cream.