It’s a sad day when the local farmer’s market shuts down for the season. During the last few weeks of November, I try to scoop up as much fresh, seasonal produce as possible. Apples are abundant in fall, and many vendors sell them by the bushel, for a steep discount. I was about to purchase a bagful from our favorite market vendor, Spring Valley Farm and Orchard, when they clued me into the fact that if I spent $5 more I could fill up an entire crate. Before bringing home enough apples to last all winter, I had to be sure I’d be able to store and use them. Luckily, apples are versatile ingredients, with a very long shelf life.
How To Store Apples
Apples continue to ripen in storage, becoming sweeter with time. Some varieties store for up to 10 months. It’s unlikely we’ll have them around for that long, but storing them properly is critical. The ideal temperature for apple storage is between 30-34 degrees, with 90% humidity. Refrigerators tend to have low humidity. Placing the apples in plastic bags in the bottom area of the fridge helps ensure the proper climate. Apples can also be stored in crates in a garage or basement that averages around 40 degrees, as long as there is plenty of air circulation. Apples kept at room temperature ripen 10 times faster than if they’re kept around the freezing mark. Higher temperature may shorten the shelf-life of the apples, but hopefully they’ll go to good use long before their freshness date expires.
Picking the Right Apples
Everyone has their favorite apple variety, and there are seemingly more choices on the market every year. There are over 7,500 known apple cultivars produced each year. ‘Red Delicious’ is the most commonly grown cultivar in the U.S., but I personally prefer the more crisp, sweet-tart ‘Pink Lady,’ ‘Fuji,’ ‘Goldrush,’ and ‘Gala’. Virginia is a top apple producing state, so luckily we have plenty to choose from. A combination of different types of apples makes the most flavorful applesauce and pie. I’ve tried different combinations throughout apple season, beginning with ‘Honeycrisp’, ‘Gala’, and ‘Gingergold’ in August, and moving on to ‘Winesap’, ‘Fuji’, and ‘Cameo’ in late fall. ‘Jonagold’ is supposedly the best for baking, but I always mix it up with a few others for well-rounded flavor. For an excellent list of apple cultivars, flavors, and seasonal availability, check out the Apple Works website.
How To Make Applesauce
Applesauce is one of the easiest, tastiest desserts around. Fresh, warm, cinnamon-flavored applesauce tastes nothing like the mass produced school lunch staple some of us grew up with. Once again, I rely on my trusty crockpot to make this divine, seasonal treat. Not only does it scent the whole house with fall holiday cheer, it serves as a healthy side dish, dipping sauce, or dessert. Here’s the recipe:
2 T. fresh lemon juice
3 T. apple cider or water
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. cardamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
- Peel and slice the apples. An apple slicing tool is handy for this. (You may chose not to peel the apples, since most of the fiber and anti-oxidants are found in the apple skin. I happen to prefer applesauce without the peel.)
- Layer the sliced apples in the crockpot, sprinkling each layer with the spices.
- Add the fresh lemon juice and apple cider or water.
- Cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 7 hours.
- While still in the crockpot, stir the apples until smooth.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze the applesauce in plastic freezer containers for up to 3 months.