Difference between: McIntosh and Empire

Empire apples are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious. So, in checking out the difference between McIntosh and Empire apples, we’ll naturally have to briefly touch upon Red Delicious as well.

McIntosh apples:

  • Season is in September.
  • Are both sweet and tart.
  • Are red in color, with green easing in.
  • Earlier season apples have more green color; later season have more red.
  • Also, later season apples tend to be a bit sweeter.
  • Uses – best for eating fresh or with applesauce.

In the apple pie experiment, McIntosh were only rated a 3 out of 10: “It holds up better than say, Red Delicious in pies, but still turns quite brown and mushy.”

Indeed, McIntosh are not ideal for baking. If you do decide to be brave and give a McIntosh apple pie a try, the Apple Association recommends using thick slices, and/or adding a thickener. 

McIntosh apple trees:

  • Are self-fruitful.
  • Have some resistance to cedar apple rust.
  • Have some susceptibility to fire blight.
  • Thrive in colder climates.
  • Are highly sturdy; can withstand storms better than other trees.

The parentage of McIntosh is unknown.

The apple was discovered by a man named, appropriately, John McIntosh. He came from a Scottish family and lived in New York State during the late 1700s and early 1800s.

At the age of just 20, McIntosh ran away to Ontario, Canada, with a girl whom his family did not approve of. There, they gave the farmer lifestyle a try.

In 1811, McIntosh found a variety of unknown tree seedlings growing – he transplanted them to his property. By 1830, only one tree remained, trucking along in Canada’s cool climate: the McIntosh.

In 1894, the original McIntosh tree was damaged by fire, making its last harvest in 1910, when it finally perished. Since then, McIntosh trees were spread around Canada and the northeastern United States.

If we are being really honest here, McIntosh apples are not the most popular apple, in large part because of their sheer abundance.

I live in upstate New York, where McIntosh enjoy the colder atmosphere. When looking at places to pick apples, it seems McIntosh are always an option – I must sift through various orchards looking for honeycrisp (my favorite), gala, or really any other variety would be acceptable. But everywhere it’s McIntosh, McIntosh, McIntosh.

They’re not the most fun to pick, because they bruise very easily when being handled. McIntosh apples “fall to the ground if you even look at them the wrong way.”

In addition, McIntosh apples can store for a long time, but they do lose some flavor after awhile. With these attributes, it’s easy to see why McIntosh is not the most beloved apple type out there.

However, it does serve its purpose: McIntosh apple trees can be grown in colder areas that other apples wouldn’t stand a chance in.

And, when purchasing, you can assure yourself a fresh, tasty McIntosh that hasn’t been sitting around awhile if you choose ones with the stem still in tact. Also, look for shiny skin – dull skin is another sign the apple fell from the tree a long time ago.

Empire apples:

  • Come about early to mid season.
  • Are both sweet and tart.
  • Are crisp on the outside, with soft flesh on the inside.
  • Uses – best for eating raw or in salads; decent for applesauce and apple butter; not great for pies.

As with the McIntosh, Empire apples only received a 3 out of 10 with the apple pie experiment: “When baked they have a nice texture, but become cloyingly sweet. The acid is still present, but it’s not enough to fight against the sugar level.”

Empire apple trees:

Empire apples were created by the Agricultural Experiment Station of Cornell University in Geneva, New York, during the 1940s. They were ready for commercial use in 1966. Of course, they’re named after the state they were born in – the Empire state.

As mentioned earlier, Empire apples are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious. While the McIntosh apple is not most loved variety, Red Delicious is quite popular; it was in fact the most popular type at one point, but now Fuji and Gala have inched ahead.

Red delicious apples are described as being firm, but juicy. They’re undoubtedly a pretty apple, looking like what an apple “should” look like: a crisp, red color, with clean, smooth skin. You can just picture the fruit being used as a table centerpiece.

Empire apples combine the hardiness of the McIntosh with the sweet flavor of Red Delicious. These apples tend to have that richer, red color derived from Red Delicious. And, they’re less susceptible to bruising, in contrast with the McIntosh.

The advantages continue: Empire apple trees are highly productive, compared to McIntosh trees, which are described as having average growth. Furthermore, Empire apple trees can be planted farther down south than the ever cold-hardy McIntosh.

As I mention on occasion, I don’t intend to go after a “winner” with my Difference Between posts, but inevitably sometimes one emerges. Here, it’s clear Empire apples beat out McIntosh.

But, don’t discount the McIntosh. When harvested later in the season, and not left in storage too long, they can be a decently flavorful eating apple.

1 thought on “Difference between: McIntosh and Empire

  1. Although I mention here that McIntosh is not a popular type, when I did a quick Facebook poll on people’s favorite apples and why, the McIntosh did come up. Here were the results:

    -6 people love Granny Smith, the most popular answer
    -2 people cited McIntosh as their favorite, with 1 tying with Granny Smith
    -3 people love Gala, although one was just because “it sounds like a good time”
    -2 people love Honeycrisp (my fave), but mentioned it being too expensive; 1 person named it as a close second favorite
    -2 people love Pink Lady
    -1 person mentioned Golden Delicious
    -1 person cited Cortland as the favorite for cooking
    -1 person loves Macoun, but admitted they don’t store well

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