New York is the second-largest apple producing state in the country. Only Washington State produces more apples than the Empire State. The state has generally had favorable weather for bloom and during the growing season, so apple fans will find ample supplies of all their favorite New York state apples and cider this fall.

Look for firm flesh, full color for the type of apple and lack of bruises. Refrigerate in the crisper section. Cool air maintains quality, juiciness and crispness. Apples stored at room temperature deteriorate ten times faster than refrigerated apples. Handle apples gently to prevent bruising.

Store apples in a ventilated plastic bag away from foods with strong odors. For example, do not store apples with broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, leafy greens, lettuce or spinach. Apples give off a gas that can damage these vegetables. This same gas will speed the ripening of bananas, kiwis, peaches, plums and pears. Place these fruits in a paper bag with an apple to ripen quicker.

Whenever possible don't peel the apple. Two-thirds of the fiber and many antioxidants are found in the peels. A standard-size apple has only 80 calories since it is high in water content. Apples are also naturally fat free and don't contain sodium. They do have a lot of fiber—- both soluble and insoluble kinds. Fiber helps promote a healthy heart and maintains regularity.

Always wash apples before eating or cooking them even if they are pre-bagged. When using sliced apples in a cold dish, dip the exposed apple flesh into a mix of lemon juice and water to prevent browning. Lemon juice is also an excellent accent in recipes that call for non-tart apples. Also, Cortland apples don't turn brown quickly when cut, so they are ideal for kabobs, fruit plates, and garnishes.

While apple juice and cider provide nutrients, if consumed in excess, juices can be a major contributor to extra pounds both for children and adults. Because eight ounces of juice or cider contain about 120 calories, enjoy juices in moderation. Naturally present sugars can make calories add up quickly. Limit fruit juices and eat whole fruit instead — you’ll also get the added fiber and other nutrients that are discarded in the juicing process.

Try these quick and easy ways to make apples part of your menu:

• Apple slaw (or salad) — Grate or dice crunchy apples and add them to your favorite tossed lettuce salad or cabbage slaw for a hint of extra sweetness.

• Grilled apple skewers — Thread apple chunks and other firm fruit such as pears and pineapple on skewers. Grilling releases the juice which will combine with the sugar naturally present to result in a delicious caramelized flavor.

• Fresh apple crisp — Toss unpeeled, diced red and green apples with lemon or orange juice. Top with your favorite crunchy granola and chopped nuts for a quick treat.

For more information on New York state apples, check the industry’s consumer website at www.nyapplecountry.com.

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Linda Robbins, CDN, is assistant director and nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County.