An apple a day provides respectable amounts of both insoluble and soluble fibre (including pectin), some vitamin C, and potassium. Apples are also a good source of quercetin, a flavonoid that may help protect against heart disease. The fruit is fibrous, juicy, and nonsticky, making it a good tooth cleaner and gum stimulator (although you should still brush your teeth or rinse your mouth with water after eating an apple because of the acids in the juice). Apples are widely available and they store well if refrigerated; keeping them chilled preserves their crispness and conserves their nutrients.

Shop where apples are kept cold, or they may be mealy and insipid. Apples should be firm to hard—if you can dent them with your fingers, they'll make disappointing eating. Large apples are more likely to be overripe than smaller ones, so pay extra attention to firmness when buying them. Apples should also be well coloured for their variety. The skins should be tight, unbroken, and unblemished, although brown freckles or streaks (russeting) are characteristic of some varieties and do not affect flavour.

Cold temperatures keep apples in "suspended animation," preventing them from ripening further after they are picked. Since most apples are picked at peak ripeness, additional "ripening" actually means "decaying"—and this process speeds up tenfold when the fruit is left at room temperature. Place apples in plastic bags and keep them in the refrigerator. If they were in good condition when you bought them, they should keep for up to six weeks. Check them often and remove any decayed apples, since one rotten apple can indeed spoil the whole barrel.

Wash apples before using. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to peel, if desired, removing the thinnest possible layer of skin. To core apples, use an apple corer or quarter the fruit and then cut out the semicircular wedge that contains the seeds. To prevent browning, rub cut or peeled surfaces with a mixture of lemon juice and water, or drop sliced or peeled apples into cold water with some lemon juice added.

Bake: Cut cone-shaped "caps" from tops of unpeeled apples and remove cores without cutting through bottoms. Pare a ribbon of peel from around "waist" of each fruit (to keep skin from splitting during baking). Fill apples with raisins, or chopped figs, some brown sugar, maple syrup, honey, and spices, and replace the caps, Set the apples in a baking pan small enough to just hold them in a single layer, pour in some apple juice or cider to keep apples from drying out. Bake at 350°F/ 180°C / Gas mark 4, basting frequently with the juice in the pan for 40 minutes or until tender.

Microwave: For a quick breakfast fruit, snack, or dessert: Place cored apples, stuffed if desired (see above), in dishes; pour 1 tablespoon water or cider over each. Cover with waxed paper and cook until tender. Approximate cooking times: for 2 apples, 4 minutes; for 4 apples, 8 minutes.

Sauté: To accompany poultry, beef, veal, or pork: Saute unpeeled apple slices, using an assortment of red, yellow, and green varieties. Core and slice apples, then saute in apple cider or apple juice; add just a touch of butter for flavour. For a German-style side dish, saute shredded cabbage along with the apples. Cooking time: 3 to 5 minutes.

Apple sauce: Sweetened commercial apple sauce may have 75% more calories than unsweetened varieties. Homemade apple sauce is simple to prepare and needs no added sugar if sweet apples are used. Core peeled or unpeeled apples (unpeeled red apples produce rosy apple sauce, but the sauce must be passed through a mouli after cooking). Cut the apples into slices or chunks; place them in a saucepan with very little water, apple juice, or cider about 68ml to 1 Kg of apples (just enough liquid to prevent the apples from sticking to the pan). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft. (If using unpeeled apples, put them through a mouli at this point to remove the peels.) Mash the apples—leave them slightly chunky, if you like—then taste and add spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or ginger), vanilla or almond extract, lemon zest, or grated fresh ginger, and cook for another minute or so to blend the flavours. Cooking time: about 15 minutes.

To make applesauce in the microwave: Place cored, peeled or unpeeled, sliced apples in a microwavable baking dish, cover and cook until tender. Remove apples from the microwave, push through a mouli if you've used unpeeled apples or mash if you've used peeled apples, and season them. Cooking time: 20 minutes.