One of the delights of fall is the fresh apple crop. With the exception of summer apples, they take their time ripening and provide a crunchy sweet snack. Unlike other fruits apples can be stored away for good fresh eating through the fall and into the winter months.
Fresh storage is the time-honored method to keep apples for winter weather. As long as apples are not bruised, nicked, or damaged in any way, they will store well for several months. Consider saving them dried, frozen or bottled as fruit, applesauce, pie filling, preserves, jam, jelly or apple butter.
Nippy fall evenings and warm days help develop sweetness in apples but if they are hit too hard with frost, they develop a condition called water core. The area around the seeds becomes somewhat translucent.
Apples with water core are not suitable for storage because they will spoil faster. They can, however, be preserved through bottling or freezing.
Some of the apples are ready to pick now and others need more time. As apples ripen, the seeds turn brown. If you are in doubt, cut the apple in half crosswise and check the seed color to see if the apple is mature. Once that is determined, taste them and determine if they are ready to pick. You can pick and store apples according to when they taste best to you. If they are still on the trees when we are in danger of a heavy frost, pick them to store.
Apple quality and flavor does not improve after harvest with the exception of red delicious apples. They are unique because their sugar develops in storage and they become sweeter over time. They are often chosen for fresh eating raw or in salads, but they are not the best choice for cooking or baking.
Start with good quality apples for a good quality final product. Sort apples for quality and store unblemished ones for later use. Do not try to save those that are damaged by worms, bird damage or nicks.
Ideally, apples should be stored at a temperature near freezing but above the critical 29-degree level that damages fruit. A working refrigerator is ideal to provide the right temperatures for storing apples. If you don’t have that refrigerator, anything you can do to chill your apples will increase their storage life.
Stored fruit also requires the right humidity. If the moisture is too low, the fruit will shrivel and if it is too high, it will spoil faster. Help keep humidity up by keeping apples in boxes lined with plastic sheets or perforated plastic bags. The perforations allow air circulation to retard spoilage.
An old refrigerator that does not work can also be useful. Bury it on its back with the door at ground level. The soil provides extra insulation to keep the temperature at about 40 degrees. Provide a way to ventilate the cabinet for the fruit to breathe and for safety.
You can also store apples in an insulated basement room with a window to allow cool air inside. Alternatively, you can place one cardboard box inside another and fill the space between them with wadded newspaper. Cover the top the same way. Thus insulated, apples will generally keep in the garage unless temperatures drop and linger below 10 degrees.
Don’t store fruits and vegetables together in root cellar storage. Cellars tend to be a little too damp for fruits causing quicker spoilage. Apples stored with potatoes, beets or other root crops tend to take on the flavor of those crops. Strong flavored vegetables like turnips, broccoli, cabbage and kohlrabi may transfer odors to apples and pears.
Conversely, as fruit ripens, it gives off ethylene gas, which encourages faster ripening. Ethylene gas can cause potatoes to sprout and carrots to taste bitter. If you plan to store both fresh fruits and vegetables, it is best to keep them separated.
The old adage that one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch is true, so don’t allow your fruits to touch each other. Apple boxes with dividers in them are ideal for storing apples or lay them in layers with sheets of newspaper between to protect them. For years, gardeners have kept apples and pears stored by wrapping them individually in newspaper to keep them separate. The problem with this method is that you cannot easily inspect them to find and remove those that are spoiling.
Check fruit regularly for spoilage. The time you can store apples depends on the storage conditions, apple condition and the apple variety. Jonathan, macintosh and golden delicious don’t keep as long as delicious, rome or winesap apples.