Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Preserving Apples

It's that time of year again!  Pretty soon beautiful bushels of fresh, locally-grown apples will start filling every corner of my house, just waiting to be preserved.

Apple season is usually extremely busy in our household.  I spend approximately two whole weeks in the kitchen washing, peeling, coring, and preserving them because they are some of my family's favorite treats.

Did you know that even the organic apples and pears sold in the grocery store are sprayed with antibiotics?  Apples and pears are the only two foods in the United States that are allowed to be full of antibiotics and still display the organic label.  This is a huge problem that is being widely debated and the hope is that by 2016 it will no longer be allowed.  These antibiotics play a role in gut health and antibiotic resistance, so it is really important that we stop this practice, especially among organic growers.

Since apples and pears are so vulnerable to bacteria and infections that can kill the trees, it is almost impossible to grow them without spraying.  There are alternatives, but they are too costly for the average farmer.

Because of this, whenever I get my apples, regardless of the organic-labelling or not, I do a thorough washing in vinegar.  Water alone is not enough.  The vinegar will kill 98% of bacteria, pesticide residue, and anything else that may be on the peels.  Just fill your sink (sanitized with vinegar) with the apples, cover with water, and add two cups of vinegar.  Let them soak for about ten minutes (apples obviously want to float, so just make sure that you push them under and mix them around every few minutes), drain the sink, and then rinse them before eating or preserving.

Here are my essential tools for apple preservation:

Apple Peeler
Apple Corer
Large Stockpot
Large Wooden Spoon
Food Processor*
Canning Supplies (water bath canner, mason jars/lids, tongs)
candy thermometer
Freezer Bags/Containers

*some people prefer to throw their apple in with the peels and then use a food mill when they cook down.  I prefer the consistency of the applesauce when I peel them first and then puree with a food processor after they have cooked.

To can my applesauce I use my peeler to peel and core, and then throw the apples into my stockpot with a small amount of filtered water to prevent sticking.  Once the apples have cooked down a little and have softened, I run them through the food processor until they are completely pureed.  My children prefer a very smooth applesauce and this method seems to work best for obtaining the desired texture.  After it is pureed it goes back into the stockpot until it reaches a boil.  Then I fill my jars with 1/2 inch headspace and process them for twenty minutes in the water bath.

Toward the end of my preserving marathon I sometimes get lazy and stop peeling apples.  I will simply cut the apples using my corer and throw them, peels and all, into the stockpot to cook down (make sure you used the vinegar wash if you're going to do this).  When you put the apples into the food processor they will still blend down to a nice puree, but it won't be as smooth as without the peels and you will see little slices of peel in the jars.  My kids don't really notice a difference, but I definitely prefer the sauce without the peels.  We can go through 2-3 quarts of sauce each week (100+ each year), so when you're canning in those quantities you sometimes have to cut corners to get it all done!


Apple Juice is another favorite of mine.  When I get to the end of my canning session it's a really easy way to use up apples and preserve them.  I just throw my halved apples straight into our juicer (we have the Jack LaLanne) and then heat the juice that comes out to 190 degrees (I use a candy thermometer to check).  You are not supposed to boil the juice.  Once it reaches the temperature I ladle it into my jars with 1/4 inch headspace and process for ten minutes in the water bath.

If you don't have a juicer you can do it the old-fashioned way - throw your chopped apples into the stockpot with water (1 quart filtered water per 12 pounds apples) and once they have cooked down you can strain them through something like cheesecloth to get the juice.

Freezing is a wonderful way to preserve your apples.  Most canning books will tell you to treat your apples with a produce protector before freezing to prevent darkening, but I've never done it and haven't had a problem.  The frozen apples do discolor a little bit, but since you're usually using the frozen apples for things like pies and cobblers, the discoloration doesn't really matter.  My favorite use for frozen apples is in stove-top potpourri.  I throw a cup of the apple slices in a pot with some water, cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and dehydrated mint, and put it on simmer.  The smell is amazing and a great alternative to chemical-filled candles and air-fresheners.

Dehydrating apple rings is another great way to preserve apples.  If sliced thinly enough they will turn crispy like a chip - a favorite for my children.  If the slices are a little thicker they will be somewhat chewy, but still tasty.

The best way to ensure thin slices is to use an apple peeler.  When you're done you get nice apple rings that are uniform in size and fit nicely on your dehydrator tray.  I usually fill my dehydrator in the morning and by dinner they are ready (every dehydrator is different).

I've made my apple chips both with the peels and without and they are both equally delicious.

I hope you have a wonderful apple preserving season!  There is so much you can do with this delicious fruit to ensure that you will enjoy it all through the winter months.  If you are interested in recipes for things like apple butter, apple pie filling, or other sugary treats, I've always had good luck with the Ball Blue Book.  I like to use tried and true recipes to ensure that what I make will be preserved safely.

Happy (almost) autumn everyone!  And remember - an apple a day keeps the doctor away!