How to Harvest, Store, and Preserve Apples
Do you have an apple tree that you aren't completely sure how to harvest? Or maybe you're planning on heading to your local orchard to get your bounty's full in apples this year? Read along for the best methods for harvesting, storing, and preserving the delicious fruit.
Nothing signifies the end of summer and glimpse of fall peeking around the corner to me more than seeing the produce aisles fill up with apples in August and September. Its quintessential of cooler days and all things cozy coming up. Who else is excited for FALL, starting with all things apple?! If you are lucky enough to have an apple tree in your yard and you are new to the concept of harvesting or storing your apples, don't fret, its quite simple!
I've had an affinity for apple trees since I was a young girl; my grandma always had an apple tree in her yard (until recent years when it was killed by an early frost:() and my great-grandma had one as well which we got to enjoy when we lived on her property when I was young. My grandma has always made the BEST apple pies, with a buttery, flaky crust, and the most delicious filling made with apples from her tree. When we moved back to that same property a few years ago, I was so excited to be able to harvest apples from my great grandma's apple tree that I had enjoyed as a child. Our apples are just about ready to pick and I can't wait to do some apple picking, gift a few bags to friends and family, and make a winter's worth of canned apple pie filling. YUM!
If you don't have your own tree, you can consider trying out the different storing and preservation techniques on a harvest of apples from your local orchard, a friend's apple tree, or even your grocery store. Apple picking is a fun and inexpensive activity that is great for kids! Letting them help with the storing and preserving is also a perfect opportunity to spend time together while teaching them invaluable skills. So, grab your kiddos, or even your girlfriends or family, and get to picking!
Some Notes on Caring for Your Apple Tree
Before you even consider harvesting your apples, its important to make sure you are doing everything you can to ensure a healthy, abundant, and delicious harvest . The better you care for your apple tree, the better the apples will be. Proper care will also help to prevent "alternate bearing" which is when the tree is inconsistent every year with the amount and quality of fruit it produces. You may have an overload of apples one year and hardly any the next. Proper care will help the bounty to be more consistent.
Thinning Your Apple Tree
Just like most plants and other fruit trees, thinning an apple tree is the process of removing some of the fruit from the trees or plants while the fruit is still small in size. Thinning your apple tree will help the tree itself to remain strong and healthy and will reduce the chance of branches or limbs breaking from an overweight of fruit. In addition when you thin your apple tree it will help the remaining apples to grow large and be of better quality. It will also help to even out the production of the tree.
Pruning Your Apple Tree
Another measure you can take to care for your apple tree is to prune it yearly. You'll want to do your pruning in the late winter months when your tree is dormant. Cut away at any dead or weak branches and twigs. The goal is to help the tree and all of the branches within it get more air circulation and light. Any branches that are growing inside toward the base of the tree can be removed as well.
When to Pick Your Apples
Take note that different apple trees in different areas will mature and be ready for harvest at different times but its usually between August and October depending on where you live. When you know the perfect time to pick your apples you'll be sure to harvest only the best tasting, most delicious apples to share with your friends and family.
Because the timing may be different for each variety of apple trees, there are a few key things to look for that will help you to know when to harvest apples from any variety of apple tree. When you pick the apples at the right time it will help ensure a higher quality fruit and allow you to have apples that will keep for longer if you are planning on storing them.
Here are the most common things to look for as an indication to maturity, or in other words, time to pick!!
The apple comes away easily from the tree when twisted and pulled.
You should be able to gently pull the ripe apples away from the tree without tugging too hard. If it is difficult to twist and pull the apple off, its most likely not ready! Be patient if they don't pull away easily at first, you'll be enjoying apple everything soon enough.
Full size apples are falling from the tree
Though smaller or damaged apples may fall from the tree from time to time, when you start to see a few un-damaged full size apples on the ground below the tree, its likely time to harvest!
The color is consisent with the proper color for that variety.
Depending on the variety of tree your apples will be a specific color at maturity. Its helpful to know what variety you have so you can assess the color changes at maturity, whether it be yellow, green, pink, red or a combination of any of these.
The apples have a good, ripe flavor.
Pull one off and taste it! Does it taste ripe and consistent with the flavor it should have depending on its variety? Or is it still very bitter and sour? Some varieties are naturally more sour, but if it tastes very bitter, even if its a sour variety, its probably not ready. A mature apple will also be the slightest bit softer.
The seeds are brown.
With some varieties of apples that mature in the later months, you can tell if the apples are ripe by taking a look at their seeds. Brown seeds will be an indication of maturity while light green or white seeds indicate the apples may need a few more days or weeks.
Harvesting and Storing Apples
Pull each apple away from the tree with a gentle tug. Sort through your apples and get rid of any that have been damaged by insects or birds. You can choose to keep the damaged apples if you use them right away after cutting off the affected portion. There are so many different recipes that you can make with fresh apples if you aren't able to store them or use one of the preservation methods below. Apple pie, apple cake, apple butter, apple cider, etc. Just make sure you are not keeping any damaged or bruised apples with the apples you plan to store or preserve.
The cooler temperatures you are able to store your apples at the better they will keep; a root cellar would be ideal, though any space that is cool and dark will work. One of the quickest ways apples can spoil is if they come in contact with other apples that already have rotten spots. Check your apple storage regularly and discard or use any apples that are starting to show signs of rotting. You may also consider wrapping each individual apple in a piece of non-toxic newspaper, or storing them in boxes or baskets with shredded newspaper or straw. Another thing to keep in mind if you choose to store your apples in a root cellar, is to not store them too closely to potatoes, as the gasses emitted from the potatoes can speed up any rotting taking place on the apples.
Different Preservation Options for Apples
Now that you've harvested all of your delicious apples, what are you going to do with them?! If you are not eating them fresh and you don't plan to store them as is, you can try one of the preservation techniques below. These are fun techniques to try even with a bundle of apples from the store or from a local orchard. Freezing and drying are the easisest, but if you are interested in learning how to can, canned apples may be the perfect place to start!
Apples can be canned using the traditional water bath method, steam canning, or pressure canning. You can choose to can them in a simple syrup, or in a blend of spices to make a canned, apple pie filling. Ask around in your family to see if anyone has a favorite canned apple recipe! I am planning on trying out a canned apple pie filling recipe; the apples from our tree are nice and tart, perfect for pies. Canned apples can also be enjoyed as an easy snack, or you can opt to make canned apple sauce which would be delicious as well!
When my grandma had her apple try she would usually freeze her harvest. Because freezing can alter the texture quite a bit, you'll want to save your frozen apples for use in baked goods rather than having them as a quick snack. Be sure to prep the apples in a way that will be most convenient for you when it comes time to bake. If you usually choose recipes that require sliced apples, then slice before freezing.
Sliced apples should be dipped in water and lemon juice before freezing in an airtight container or bag. You can also freeze them on a cookie sheet individually and then place in a container together to prevent clumping.
Side Note: Canned apples and dried apples would be wonderful as gifts! Tie a pretty ribbon around your can and put your dried apples in a homemade, linen gift bag, and you'll have a beautiful and thoughtful gift your friends and family will love. These would be perfect for the holidays coming up!
Have you ever tried apple chips?! What a fun and healthy snack, especially for young children. There are a few different ways that apples can be dried. You can dry them into crispy chips or make a chewy, fruit leather. Dried apple chips would be delicious in a homemade trail mix. Though you can buy apple fruit leather or apple chips from the store, making them yourself will help you to control the flavors and keep them free from any unnecessary additives.
Hopefully you feel ready now to take on the challenge of picking your own apples and trying out your hand at storing or preserving them. Its a wonderful skill to be able to care for the earth's bounty and to learn how to preserve it through the winter months. Though its not usually necessary in today's day and age to know how to harvest and preserve, what an empowering and positive thing to know?! We hope to inspire women everywhere to embrace a more sustainable and resourceful lifestyle like that of our grandmothers and the grandmothers before them and to continue to pass on the knowledge and skills to the children. Picking fresh apples and preserving them into delicious concoctions is a step in the right direction!
Let us know in the comments below if you have an apple tree or if you know anyone who does. Happy apple picking!