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TREES AND SHRUBS
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HARVESTING AND STORING APPLES
There are two key pieces of generally given advice about harvesting and storing apples which are significantly incomplete and can lead to harvesting at the wrong time and storing in far from optimum conditions.
The first commonly given advice concerning the timing of harvest is about how easily the apple comes away from the tree at the stalk. That's not all the story. The second advice is to store your apples at the correct temperature, again that's correct advice but it misses out a key aspect of apple storage. Our article tells you exactly how to harvest apples at the correct time and store them to ensure maximum life.
WHEN TO HARVEST YOUR APPLES
Before you start trying to harvest your apples it's essential to have an approximate idea of when your particular variety is likely to be ready according to already known harvest times. For example the variety Discovery will produce ripe fruit on average towards the end of August in the UK. Compare that to the equally popular variety Braeburn which produces ripe fruit in early November, a difference of nine to ten weeks.
If you know the variety of an apple tree, with only a small amount of research you can make a very good guess when to start testing apples for ripeness. If you don't know the variety of your particular apple tree then you will need to rely on experience. In general, start testing unknown apples for ripeness two weeks or so before the first apples started to fall naturally from the tree in the previous year.
As with all things in life there are exceptions! Although average dates for ripe apples can be given, each year is slightly different depending on weather conditions. In general, if blossom is delayed (because of adverse weather) then so will fruit ripening. In some years the harvest can also be earlier than average. To complicate matters more, different areas of the UK have different average dates for harvesting because not surprisingly, different areas of the UK have different average weather conditions.
To help you gauge approximate dates for harvesting specific varieties of apple trees in your area of the UK we have listed the top twenty or so apple tree varieties with their average harvest dates. Click here to go to that page now for the information.
HOW TO TEST AN APPLE FOR RIPENESS
The above section will give a good approximate idea when to start testing your apples for ripeness. To test an apple cup it in the palm of your hand and give it a light twist. If the apple comes off the tree into your hand then it's for eating. Effectively what you are doing is testing if the apple will drop from the tree in a few days time. Of course, high winds aside, if an apple drops from a tree of its own accord it's ripe. The exception to this is when apples drop their fruit, typically in June, to lessen their crop.
Some apple tree varieties produce ripe fruit over a short period of time, even as little as a week or so. But others produce fruit over a longer period of time, some over a month or more. Therefore don't expect that just because you find one ripe apple all the others will be ripe as well.
As a general rule:
- Apples at the top of the tree will ripen before lower down ones
- Apples on the sun-facing side of the tree will ripen earlier than
those in more shade
- Apples on the outer edges of the tree will ripen earlier than those inside the tree.
When harvesting apples, do it with some care, any bruising will reduce their potential storage time considerably.
There are two types of apple storage for the amateur gardener. The first is storing temporarily for eating or cooking in the next week or so, the second is storing for a month or more for eating or cooking later on.
Some apples won't store well at all, Discovery is one particular variety which should be eaten fresh after picking and at the most a week after that. In general, the earlier the tree produces edible fruit in the year, the shorter will be the time it remains edible. This is a general, but not an absolute rule. For more specific details on how long apples store by variety, click here.
Short term storage of apples is probably best done by placing them in small to medium sized paper bags and placing them in the fridge. Clearly, your fridge will be used for other items as well but for a short time this can work well for many people. Never freeze apples unless they are cooked.
Long term storage requires a bit more planning but is quite possible without a specialist storage area. Success with long term storage is most reliably achieved by pre-cooking apples and then freezing them. By pre-cooking them you will effectively reduce the apple flesh to a pulp (with the addition of some sugar). This pulp is ideal for apple pies, cobblers, crumbles and apple sauce. For a very quick and simple recipe to cook apples see lower down this page.
Cook the apples, let them cool fully and then pour into freezer bags and then place in the bottom of the freezer. Frozen apples will keep in the freezer for 4 months or so if unsweetened and six to eight months if sweetened.
We pack ours into two portion sizes, 120g (4oz) and 240g (8oz), with the plastic storage bag labeled. These are good sizes for a variety of cooking uses.
To store apples long term without freezing, first identify a cool place which is relatively dry and dark. Unheated garages are a good choice. Those conditions are often mentioned as being important for storing apples but just as important is to choose an area which doesn't have changes in temperature. Apples will not store well if the temperature is going up and down frequently.
Take a trip to your local greengrocer and ask for some free low-sided cardboard boxes, they will have lots of them and will happily offload a few to you for free. Place the apples in the containers so that they are not touching. You can use paper wrapping to separate the apples but it's best not to cover them completely. Don't stack one apple on top of another. When in storage treat them gently and avoid bruising them.
If you store more than one variety then store different varieties in different containers and label clearly. The cardboard containers can be stacked but not too high - three or four layers at the most. The reason for this is that a quick weekly inspection will be needed to remove any apples which show signs of deterioration.
HOW TO COOK APPLES FOR FREEZING
There are many ways of doing this but our favourite for speed, convenience, long term storage and taste is to stew them with a little sugar.
Wash the apples in water first then peel them. Cut them into quarters removing the core and any pips you see. Only peel as many apples as you can fit into your largest pan. Have a bowl of cold water to hand before starting to peel and quarter the apples. After you prepare each apple drop the quarters into to the cold water to prevent them browning whilst peeling the remaining apples.
Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the large pan, add the apples (but not the cold water) and sprinkle in sugar to taste. One level table spoon of sugar to a kilo of apples does us fine, your taste may require more or less. Different apple varieties require more or less sugar so don't add too much sugar at the cooking stage. More sugar can be added when they are defrosted if you want.
Cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for an hour or so until the apples are softened. Stir every ten minutes to stop any apples sticking to the base of the pan and just to check that there is enough moisture. Leave the apples to cool thoroughly in the covered pan. Pour into plastic freezer bags, flatten them for ease of storage and then place in the bottom of the freezer.
Defrost the apples before using them. This will take around 2 to 3 hours in a kitchen or about half that time if you place the bag in a bowl of lukewarm water.