Empire Apples: A Shiny Red American Heirloom Apple

Looking for a shiny dark red apple with creamy white flesh and a satisfying crunch? Look no further than Empire Apples!

The Empire Apple is a shiny red American apple cultivar known for its attractive appearance and satisfying crunch. This type of apple sets itself apart with its unique sweet and tart flavor combo, and it has a remarkable ability to withstand bruising, making it especially perfect for a lunch on the go! Empire Apple was bred at the Geneva NY at Cornell University in the 1940s.

Empire Apples have a fun story behind them, and they have a lot to offer in several different ways. Let’s take a deeper look into the ins and outs of Empire Apples!

Empire apples
Empire apples: a shiny red american heirloom apple

Empire Apples: The Basics

The Empire Apple was bred by Dr. Roger Way in the 1940s at Cornell University. This variety was bred from two famous parents: the McIntosh Apple and the Red Delicious Apple. The Empire has combined the gorgeous peel color of Red Delicious with the tart crunch of McIntosh to create a truly delicious apple.

Empire is a cultivar from the famous New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY. Other favorites from this horticultural institution include Macoun. Even though this cultivar was bred in the late 1940s, it didn’t fruit until the mid-1950s and was not released until the year 1966. It was decidedly named the Empire Apple as a reference to the state it was created in, the Empire State: New York!

The combination of the sweet and tart flavors in an Empire Apple really sets it apart and makes it incredibly unique from other types of apples. Most other apples don’t have the dynamic duo of the sour and sugary flavor blend. The satisfying crunch was another unique characteristic of this apple when it was developed.

The Empire Apple also happens to have a really pretty appearance. The Empire Apple is medium in size when compared to other varieties of apples. The majority of its skin is a rich dark red, but there is usually a section that is green in color. Diagonal from the green section is where the red color of the apple is the darkest, deepest, and richest. There are little elements of green seemingly underneath the red.

“Empire combines the fire-truck sheen of Red Dlicious with a zippier flavor. It’s still a middle-of-the-road sweetness, but the overall package has been enough to vault Empire into the top ten sellers in the United States in recent years.”

Apples of Uncommon Character: Heirlooms, Modern Classics, and Little-Known Wonders, by Rowan Jacobsen
Empire apples
Empire apples

What Do Empire Apples Taste Like?

On a scale with one side representing a super tart flavor (or in other words, the rating of a 1 on the scale would mean incredibly tart and bitter) and the other side taking the stance of sweet flavor (meaning placing the rating as a 10 on the scale would imply and suggest a sweet taste), the Empire Apple would probably score around a 4 or possibly a 4.5.

It isn’t overly bitter but has a distinct tartiness to it, and, although it has some sweetness, it certainly isn’t as sugary as some of the sweetest apples available. However, even though it has a bit of a tart flavor to it, the Empire apple still manages to be juicy, ripe, and crisp.

Where Empire Apples Are Grown

Empire Apples are mainly grown in the northeast part of the United States, particularly in New York. In fact, New York has a fairly large apple production system, and roughly sixty percent of the apples it sends out are Empire Apples. When looking at national apple production as a whole, Empire apples account for only about two percent of apples produced.

Empire apples - cost at the market
Empire apples: a shiny red american heirloom apple

The Cost To Purchase Empire Apples

Empire Apples cost about 50 cents each in bulk or up to $1-$2 each in a deli or coffee shop. Ten pounds of apples sell for about 20 dollars. Empire Apples are usually available for purchase in the months of fall and through early winter.

Harvest Season For Empire Apples

Depending on the location where they are being grown, the harvest season for Empire Apples is typically in the early-mid fall and reaches its prime at the end of September and early October.

Empire Apples are at their best when freshly picked as they retain that famous “crunch” while the flesh is firm. Look for them in late September or October. Later on, these apples can still be used in pie or applesauce after storage.

Empire apples on the tree
Empire apples: a shiny red american heirloom apple

How To Grow Empire Apples

Another nice perk with Empire Apples is that they are incredibly easy to grow. The trees that Empire Apples grow on are really sturdy and don’t require heavy labor for their upkeep.

Empire Apple trees grow best in Zones 4-9. Plant them in an area with full sun exposure and soil that drains out excess water easily. Water newly-planted trees quite regularly until their root systems become established.

Empire Apples were bred to avoid falling before becoming ripe enough to pick and eat. They are also resistant to Fireblight (a common apple tree disease). The apples develop their best peel color when late summer and autumn nights are cooler when compared to daytime highs.

Empire apples
Empire apples: a shiny red american heirloom apple

The Best Recipes With Empire Apples

Empire apples are most commonly used in baking (particularly baking apple pies), added with salads, used as an ingredient in sauces (namely, applesauce), or munched on as a solo thing for a tasty treat and snack. Where Empire Apples can be dried, sautéd, or roasted, there is a wide variety of cooking options with them!

A fun tip when adding Empire Apples to a salad is to place the apple in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice and water. That type of apple already has the remarkable ability to resist bruising, and utilizing the lemon juice trick with salads will keep the inner part of the apple slice white for even longer!

As for other fresh options, some pair them with cheese, pumpkin, coleslaw, pears, or chicken salad. The best spices to pair with Empire Apples are nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.

The Empire Apple is especially handy for a child’s school lunch. They enjoy the crunch, the sweet and tart flavor combination, and the bruise-resistant design. These apples also freeze pretty well so you can use them in the future.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also an engineer and certified permaculture garden designer. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.