Sep 22, 2015

How to Preserve Apples: Canning, Freezing, Dehydrating, and Root Cellaring

Apple trees are a huge blessing. A single tree can provide a whopping 420 lbs. of filling, healthy food! As I walk around my suburban town, I always feel gratitude toward earlier residents who planted an abundance of apple trees. Some are still in private yards, but many are in public areas where we can forage. Plus, we have our two little columnar apples (which produced about 9 lbs. this year). But whether you have large or small apple trees in your yard, or you forage for apples in public areas, or you buy apples from a local farmer, fall is the time when you're faced with the question: What should I do with all these apples?

Fortunately, there's a lot you can do with apples. They can be stored in a root cellar - or stored well into winter without a root cellar. You can dehydrate them, or freeze them, or can them. So many possibilities!


Apples ready to be pressed into cider. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Root Cellaring

A root cellar is a cool, underground location designed for storing fruits and vegetables so they last many months without electricity or any special treatment, like canning. If you are fortunate enough to have a root cellar, take advantage of it!

Not all apples store well for many months, so if you're planting new trees and know you want to root cellar them, choose an appropriate variety. Generally speaking, thick-skinned apples store better, as do those that ripen late in the growing season (October - November), including Jonathans, Ida Red, Red Delicious, Winsape, Stayman, Crispin, Spur Winters Bananas, Northern Spy, and Rome. If you're unsure what variety you have already growing in your yard (or wherever you forage), a little trial and error is probably your best bet to determining whether or not your apples will store well through winter.

To store apples for months in a root cellar, first make sure your root cellar has the right conditions. The ideal temperature for apples is 30 - 40 degrees F. with an ideal humidity of 90%. Check several locations within your root cellar, because some may have the right temperature while other locations do not. Apples will rot quickly if they freeze, and will ripen very quickly past 40 degrees F., so do stick as close to those ideal temps as possible.

Next, sort through the apples and store only those without bruising or other blemishes. (Blemishes hasten the ripening - and rotting - of apples. Eat apples with blemishes right away, or use another method of preservation.) In addition, larger apples don't store as long as smaller ones, so it makes sense to separate the large, medium, and small apples, choosing the largest to eat first.  Also note that different varieties of apples ripen more or less quickly, so be sure to separate out varieties and store them separately, first eating those that ripen quickly.

Now, wrap each apple in black and white newspaper. A lot of people don't do this; instead, they just put the apples in a box or basket and store. However, if one apple in that box rots, the rest will rapidly follow. By wrapping each apple in newspaper, you protect it from rotting quickly - even if a nearby apple is going bad. A good method for wrapping each is apple is to lay it in the center of a single sheet of newspaper, pull up the edges, and twist the ends to "close" them off. Store wrapped apples in a cardboard box or basket..
Jonathan apples are a good storage apple. Courtesy of Sven Teschke and Wikimedia Commons.

More tips:

* Store apples as soon as possible after harvesting.

* Don't store apples near potatoes or onions, because the apples will take on the flavor of both. In addition, aging potatoes release an otherwise harmless gas that encourages apples to ripen more quickly, leading to quicker spoilage.

* Tart apples that are stored over winter sweeten over time.

* Root cellar apples should store well into February - or perhaps even later.

 

Storing Without a Root Cellar

If you don't have a root cellar, you may still be able to store fresh apples for many months. For example, you could dedicate a refrigerator toward their keeping. (According to the Purdue Cooperative Extension, 1/4 of the volume of the fridge should be left as air space for circulation.")

Although you can wrap the apples individually, just as you would for root cellar storage, you can also put them in perforated plastic bags.
Northern Spy apples. Courtesy Red58bill and Wikimedia Commons.

If you don't have an extra fridge, another method for storing apples is to put them in any cool location that won't freeze and remains dark - like a garage, basement, or in the closet of an unheated room. For best results, wrap them individually in black and white newspaper and place them in a box or basket. Also, try to ensure the location is as close as possible to 30 - 40 degrees F.

You can expect apples stored appropriately in a fridge or other cool, dark location may last into February.

P.S. If you really want to go old school, dig a pit and line it with straw, fill it with apples, then cover with a thick layer of straw.


Dehydrating
Apples dried in the warming drawer of an oven.


Dehydrated apple slices or rings are easy to make, and last at least a year. They make an excellent snack, especially when you're on the go.

If you have a food dehydrator, simply wash and slice the apples. I like to keep the peel on because they add nutrition - but you can remove and compost them, if you wish. For me, the easiest method of preparing apples for dehydrating is to use an apple slicer; if you have large amounts of apples, this is definitely the way to go. Otherwise, you can do the slicing and coring by hand.

If you don't want your apple slices to look brown, sprinkle diluted lemon juice over them. (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water). Honestly, though, I usually skip this step because, as far as I can tell, it's purely about aesthetics. (I've heard some people say lemon juice also helps preserve the apple's nutrients, but I can't find any scientific evidence to back this up.)

Now, lay the slices in a single layer on the trays of the dehydrator and set the temperature to 135 degrees F. The slices are done when you can tear a slice apart and not squeeze juice from it. Let the slices cool completely, then place in glass jar with an air tight lid and store in a cool, dark location.

If you don't have a food dehydrator, you can create dehydrated apples using your oven's warmer drawer - or you can dry them in the sun.


Freezing apple pie filling.
Freezing

There are many ways to freeze apples. Two of the most popular are to freeze applesauce or apple pie filling. But you can also freeze apple slices and use them for baking - or making applesauce at a later date.

Begin by washing the apples, and peeling them, if desired. To prevent browning, sprinkle them with diluted lemon juice (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water). Place the apple slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet; don’t let the pieces touch. Place in the freezer. After 3 hours, transfer to freezer safe containers.  

For a sweeter recipe for freezing apples, click here.


Canning

There are also many ways to can apples. Applesauce, apple pie filling, and apple butter are popular choices. You can also can slices or rings in simple sugar. To do so, wash, peel (if desired), and core apples. Sprinkle with diluted lemon juice (1 tablespoon of lemon juice per 1 cup of water) to prevent browning. Pour into a pan and add 6 1/2 cups water and ¾ cups granulated sugar. Bring to a boil and stay there for 5 minutes; stir from time to time, to prevent scorching. Pour into hot canning jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Process pints or quarts for 20 minutes in a water bath canner.


Juicing
An apple press. Courtesy Anne Dirkse and Wikimedia Commons.


Another way to can apples is to turn them into juice or cider. Yes, the traditional way to do this is with an apple press - and if you have a large amount of apples to process, it's a good idea to save up and invest in one. But you may also make apple juice or cider other ways.

To make apple juice using a kitchen juicer, choose apples of at least two or three varieties, experts suggest mixing tart and sweet types. Wash the apples and cut into pieces of the correct size for the juicer (usually halves or quarters). Run through the juicer and refrigerate juice for 24 - 48 hours. Pour off the clear liquid and toss the sediment (if any) into the compost. Strain juice through double layers of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Pour into a large pot placed over medium high heat, stirring once in a while. When the juice begins to boil, turn off the heat and ladle into sterilized canning jars (pints, quarts, or gallons). Leave 1/4 inch headspace. Using a water bath canner, process pints or quarts for 5 minutes, gallons for 10 minutes.

To make apple cider,  follow the same procedure - though many experts suggest using only sweet apples. Also, don't strain the liquid or refrigerate it before heating and canning.

Don't have a juicer? You can still make cider or juice! Just chop up clean apples, and put about 4 inches of water on the bottom of a large pot. Add the apples, cover, and turn the heat to medium high. Once the water boils, turn down the heat to medium and allow the apples to turn completely soft. Be careful not to scorch them! Pour the contents of the pot through a colander (catching the liquid in a bowl) and heat and can. If you're making juice, strain the liquid first, then refrigerate for 24 - 48 hours, and strain again before heating and canning.

WARNING: Any cider or juice must be heated to a boil before ladling into jars and canning.


More Posts about Apples

What to do with Crab Apples

Picking Unripe Apples for Making Apple Pectin

Apple Skillet Cake Recipe

Apple Spice Bread Recipe 

Apple Butter Oatmeal Crumb Bars Recipe

Canning Apple Pie Jam

Freezing Apple Pie Filling

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

Making Dried Apple Rings in the Warmer Drawer


Title image courtesy of Spirtu and Wikimedia Commons.

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