Looking around our markets, you might be forgiven for thinking only about six varieties of apples are grown. Actually, though, there are thousands, many of which can be found in extremely small quantities in whatever country they are native to. The types produced for commercial purposes are not necessarily the best for eating. Growers like specific varieties because they keep well on the shelves, can be transported without bruising too much or because they have a perfect shape that appeals to buyers. Season: they're harvested in the autumn but by keeping them in controlled environments, growers and shippers are able to make them available year-round. Freshly picked apples tend to be juicier and crisper, though. Varieties: as mentioned above, there are thousands, but in Hong Kong we have to be satisfied with a few: Golden and Red Delicious (they can be mealy), Granny Smith (a tart variety that's good for baking) and the pretty, variegated Royal Gala (great for apple sauce and apple butter). Small, sour crab-apples are sometimes available in the winter - these make a lovely pink jelly. How to choose: look for firm fruit without bruises. The bruises aren't harmful to eat but they make the flesh soft and, of course, they don't look good in either their raw state or in cooked preparations (they turn darker). Although a shiny skin looks more appealing, it doesn't mean they taste any better; it usually means they've been well-polished (often using wax). Storage: keep them in a cool pantry area for short storage; if you want to keep them longer, place in a plastic bag and put them in the fridge. To peel or not to peel: it depends. Many of the nutrients are in the skin or just below it, but some varieties have thick, tough skins (apple pears, for instance) that are unpleasant to eat. What else? Apples turn brown when the flesh is exposed to air. To avoid this, put the apples in cool water mixed with fresh lemon juice. Also, apples can vary in sweetness, so if you're following a recipe, adjust the amount of sugar according to their taste. How to prepare? Endless ways ... they make great pies, tarts, cobblers and crumbles. Apple sauce is a classic accompaniment for western-style roast pork. Apples can also be dehydrated into 'chips' (sprinkle thin slices with sugar and put in a very low oven overnight).