Preserving the Apple Bounty
By Bill Lubing | Photo By Bill Lubing 0
When the raspberries are finished, the strawberries are put to bed, and the blueberries and cherries are a distant memory, apples begin coming on strong. Starting in late July with varieties such as Lodi, Pristine, Duchess and Zestar, our Wisconsin apple season doesn’t end until autumn colors have passed, there is a hint of flurries in the air, and the last Winesap, Golden Russet, Candycrisp or Braeburn have been picked from the tree.
As the season progresses we have our favorites: Lodi because it’s the first fresh apple of the season. Honeycrisp because they’re just so darn good. Rome because they work so well in pies.
Accessibility creates much of the beauty of our Wisconsin apples. Scattered across the state, there are close to 100 orchards that open their doors to the public. You’re invited to come pick right off the tree or buy freshly bagged apples, just-pressed cider and other treats. These orchards make a wonderful day or weekend destination (see Notable Edibles, "Escape to Apple Country"). Buying directly from the grower assures you’re getting the highest quality and variety available. That’s important, whatever your intended purpose for your apple purchases.
The Perfect Apple Pie?
“You want to use at least two or three varieties in a pie,” says Vivian Green, who, along with her husband Dick and son Justin, operates Pleasant Springs Orchard near Stoughton. “Throughout the season, you select depending upon what’s available,” she continues. “For pies you want ones that are a little sweeter, some that mush a little bit, and some that don’t mush so much.”
Like many growers, Pleasant Springs Orchard sells at several farmers markets in their area. Whether you visit the orchard or the market, Vivian recommends talking with your grower about the varieties of apples they sell. She also picks up great ideas from her customers.
“We have a customer we call Paul the Pie Guy,” Vivian says. “Paul is combining apples for pie almost every week. He selects at least two varieties, slicing one variety one way and another the other way so he can actually tell how the apples act in the pie.”
Vivian says a number of diabetic customers use gala apples in their pies “because that apple is sweet enough without adding sugar.”
The Mixology of Cider
While there is no widely accepted legal distinction between apple cider and apple juice, the general public distinguishes cider as the unfiltered liquid from pressed apples, while juice has been filtered. Hard cider has been fermented.
If mixing two or more apple varieties for a pie seems daunting, then hold on to your cocktail shaker. Vivian’s husband Dick uses 10 to 15 varieties in his cider.
“I want my cider to have a tangy start followed by a sweet aftertaste,” Dick explains. “It’s a ratio.”
With years of experience making cider, the apple combinations come naturally to Dick and Vivian. For those of us who are juicing to produce two or three gallons, it’s a matter of choosing a few of this, a few of that, as we become familiar with the characteristics of the different varieties available during the season.
Let's Get Saucy!
While cider is delicious, especially partially thawed from the freezer, Vivian notes that, “You can make a really nice applesauce using a blend of apples and cider—no water and no sugar.” (See Vivian’s Easy Homemade Applesauce recipe).
Dan Aultman, owner of The Summer Kitchen—well-known locally for their jams, jellies and other canned goods—says he uses at least four varieties in their applesauce.
“I like to use a tart apple, a sweet apple, one that is denser and one that is between sweet and tart, like a Red Delicious,” Dan says.
He also shares two of his special secrets when it comes to making applesauce:
- Use apples that, surprisingly, have not been freshly picked off the tree, and
- The apples will cook faster if washed in warm rather than cold water.
A Local Apple at Thanksgiving?
Storing apples is straightforward, though not necessarily what you’d expect. Apples should be “washed within eight hours of picking,” says Dick, “then they should be stored ideally at 33 degrees.”
Vivian notes that the basement is “not the best choice” during fall months since basements tend to be warm with running furnaces, water heaters and other appliances.
Dick suggests putting your apples in an insulated cooler and storing them in an unheated garage. If you’ve got room, the crisper bin of that second refrigerator is ideal. “Take them out of the bag,” he warns. Apples emit ethylene gas, which is what causes them to ripen. Bags trap the gas, so the apples don’t last as long.
Whether you visit your favorite farmers market, travel to a nearby orchard or shop local at your grocery store, apples are one of the few fruits that can be purchased fresh when so many others have long retired for the season. With a little TLC (and a good cooler) many varieties will stay fresh deep into the winter months.
We hope you enjoy this apple recipe by Vivian Green of Pleasant Springs Orchard:
Pleasant Springs Orchard: Located near Stoughton, 13 miles southeast of Madison.
Visit their website for directions and hours. You can find Pleasant Springs Orchard apples at the Saturday and Wednesday Dane County Farmers’ Markets, at the Sunday Monona Farmers’ Market, and at the Saturday Westside Community Market during the summer.
The Summer Kitchen (no website): 18931 Centerville Road, Highland, WI 53543.
The Summer Kitchen’s specialty jams and jellies can be found at the Saturday Dane County Farmers’ Market on the Square.