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! The Empire apple was bred in Geneva, NY at Cornell University in the 1940s.

Empire apple 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 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 result.

Empire is a cultivar originally grown at 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.

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

Flavor profile

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 tartness to it. It has some sweetness, but it certainly isn’t as sugary as many other apples available. Even though it has a bit of a tart flavor to it, the Empire apple still manages to be juicy, ripe, and crisp.

Growing regions

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

Empire apples - cost at the market

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.

These 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 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. They are usually available for purchase in the months of fall and through early winter.

Empire apples on the tree

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.

Most varieties of apple, including Empire, require a nearby apple or crabapple tree of a different variety for successful pollination. Within about 100 feet of your Empire tree, plant a pollinator partner with a similar blooming time, such as Honeycrisp, Liberty, Jonathan, or even an ornamental crabapple.

Empire apples were bred to avoid falling before becoming ripe enough to pick and eat. They are also resistant to fireblight and cedar apple rust (but are susceptible to scab). The apples develop their best peel color when late summer and autumn nights are cooler when compared to daytime highs.

Empire apples

The best recipes with Empire apples

Empire apples are most commonly used in baking (particularly baking apple pies), added to salads, used as an ingredient in sauces (namely, applesauce), or munched on fresh for a tasty treat

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a quintessential Canadian gardener. An engineer by trade, she tends to an ever-expanding collection of plants. In her world, laughter blooms as freely as her flowers, and every plant is raised with a dash of Canadian grit.

Mary Jane is a certified Master Gardener and also holds a Permaculture Design Certificate. She's also a proud mom of three, teaching her little sprouts the crucial difference between a garden friend and foe.

When she's not playing in the dirt, Mary Jane revels in her love for Taylor Swift, Gilmore Girls, ice hockey, and the surprisingly soothing sounds of bluegrass covers of classic hip-hop songs. She invites you to join her garden party, a place where you can share in the joy of growing and where every day is a new opportunity to find the perfect spot for yet another plant.

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