It’s raining apples. I knocked on a neighbour’s door last weekend to ask if I could pick some of the crop from his loaded trees. He thrust a long handled fruit picker into my hands and pleaded, “Take as many as you can. They’re hitting the garage roof at the rate of one every five minutes.”
This year, English Apples and Pears Ltd (EAP) have announced, the commercial English apple harvest will reach 160,000 tonnes – the highest for 20 years. So even if you don’t have access to a tree, there should be plenty of good value apples in the shops. All in impeccable condition too.
This year, the commercial English apple harvest will reach 160,000 tonnes Credit: ALAMY
According to EAP, each of their apples is photographed more than 50 times to check for its size, shape, colour, blemishes and other irregularities (rejects go for juice), while simultaneously, an infrared system is used to check the inside of each apple, without penetrating the skin, to ensure there are no internal defects.
No such luck with my hand-picked haul, which required a fair amount of gouging out of insect holes and bruising. But hey, this is free food (thanks to my neighbour) so who’s complaining?The real challenge is what to do with a seemingly unlimited supply of fruit. Here are some ideas for making the apple-storm last.
- Apple juice to keep: Wash the apples, cut out any wormy bits and bruises and use an electric juicer to extract the juice. Or – if you have a huge amount – invest in an apple scratter (available from pressfruit.co.uk) to pulp the apples and then a press to extract the juice. Either way you’ll want to blend sweet and tart apples to get a good balance of flavour. Store the juice for up to three days in the fridge or freeze in thoroughly washed plastic milk bottles (it’ll be good for at least six months). If you want to store it at room temperature, then you’ll need to sterilise glass bottles, fill them with juice and then stand them in large pans of simmering (77C) water for at least 30 minutes to pasteurise them, before sealing.
- Apple crisps: Good for both eaters and cookers. Use a mandolin to slice apples thinly (they need to be of an even thinness to dry evenly, so only do it by hand if you have a razor sharp knife and a surgeon’s precision). There is no need to core them first, but flick out any pips. Spread the slices on a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment, with none touching, sprinkle with ground cinnamon or cardamom if you like, and bake for about 20 minutes to an hour at 110C/230F/Gas ¼, turning the slices over halfway. Cool and store in an airtight container.
- Pickled apples: Best for eating apples. Put 100ml cider vinegar, 100ml water and 50g sugar in a pan and bring to the boil. Add a good grinding of black pepper, ¼ tsp salt and 1 tsp mustard seed. Cut two small apples (Discovery, with their pink-flushed flesh, are very good) into matchsticks with a mandolin or slice thinly down the middle. Pile into a 500g/1lb jam jar and pour over the hot liquid. Use the same day or cover and store in the fridge for up to a month.
- Apple purée for freezer: Best for cooking apples. Peel and core apples. Pile into a pan with just 1cm/½in of water at the bottom. Add a scrap of lemon zest if you like. Cover tightly and cook on a medium heat until soft and collapsing. Stir in sugar to taste, or freeze unsweetened. Eat with yogurt and brown sugar, or roast pork.
- Dried apple rings: Best for eating apples. Core your apples (no need to peel them unless you want to). Cut into slices, about 5mm/¼in thick, using a mandolin if you have one. If you want to keep the colour pale, dunk the slices in a bowl of water with the juice of a lemon, then drain and dry with a tea towel. Lay the slices on the oven rack (not touching each other) and dry at the lowest possible temperature for two hours or more until leathery – at 60C/140F/Gas 1, it’ll take a good eight hours.
- Apple leather: Take two mugfuls of apple purée (see above), puréeing it in the blender if not completely smooth. Stir in 2 tbsp sugar and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Add 1 tsp ground cinnamon if you like. Spread on a baking sheet lined with non-stick parchment, so it is about ½cm/¼in thick. Dry in the oven set at the lowest possible temperature, the warming oven of an aga or in a dehydrator set to 80C/175F/Gas 1 until set – it should feel tacky but not squidgy. Cut into strips and roll up. Store in an airtight container.
- Backyard Apples
- Join list.
- 12 Ways to Preserve Apples
- Why does apple fruit drop prematurely?
- Makes apples fall from trees
Essential apple harvest kit
Peels, cores and slices apples into a neat spiral. Great for large quantities of apples, even if the floor does get covered in peel. £6.99, andrewjamesworldwide.com
Not cheap, but this is the brand favoured by chefs for its large trays and adjustable temperature. £149.99 for the four-tray model from energiseyourlife.com
Traditional Polish lidded pottery dishes specially for baking apples. Not strictly necessary, but very pretty.From £18 from polkadotlane.co.uk
Oxo good grips apple divider
There’s something very satisfying about the way a divider cores and slices with one push. £6.40 from John Lewis
Not all backyard apples are equal, and not all growing seasons produce perfect apples for all purposes. Some are great for eating on their own, but mostly they’re ideal for cooking and baking, where any inadequacies in the apples’ texture or sweetness can be overcome with time in the oven and an extra spoonful of sugar.
Before embarking on any large kitchen project using your backyard apples, it’s important that you get to know your apple tree. What do the apples taste like? Do you know what variety of apples you have? Are they firm or mushy, sweet or tart? Also, find out how well they’ll cook by whipping up a quick apple crisp or apple pie before you do any more baking.
Here are some of our favourite things to do with backyard apples, along with tips for managing your home orchard’s crop:
- First and foremost, don’t use the fallen apples as they will spoil quickly and can contaminate your canning or ruin the taste of your baking. It doesn’t take long for bruised apples on the ground to start attracting ants and other critters.
- Try picking apples daily and storing them in the refrigerator or cold room depending on the type of apple you have. Some backyard apples soften and over ripen quickly if not refrigerated.
- Ideally, you should store backyard apples in single layers in a paper bag or cardboard box in the fridge or in a cold room, preferably arranged so that the apples aren’t touching each other. They’re not the same as supermarket apples, and they must typically be used quickly or they’ll spoil.
- Applesauce is a quick and easy way to use up apples and crabapples. Applesauce can be frozen, which is a quick way to preserve.
- Cooking down the apples, extracting the juice and freezing it to make jelly in the winter is another option.
- Apples can also be frozen for later use in crisps, cobblers, pies and our Apple and Parsnip Soup. Just be sure to use an anti-darkening agent when preparing the apples for freezing. (For a quick and easy homemade anti-darkening solution, stir 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice into 4 cups cold water, then add the sliced apples. Leave apples in this solution for a maximum of 20 minutes to prevent flavour changes.)
- Making apple pies and freezing them un-baked is a wonderful way to stretch your harvest into the dead of winter. Just remember to use quick-cooking tapioca as a thickener (not corn starch, which loses its thickening properties when frozen) and bake from the frozen state until the pie filling is bubbling through the vents.
- Many of us love making apple crisps and crumbles, but the Baked Apples with Caramel Rum Sauce recipe on our website is a great alternative.
- Waldorf Apple Slaw, also on our website, is another great way to use up some apples and is a very refreshing change from plain salad greens. Note that this only works with apples that taste good uncooked.
- Apples are also an ingredient in many chutney recipes.
If you have an apple tree in your yard, then you probably have a whole lot of apples that you don’t know what to do with every fall. If you have several apple trees, then you are swimming in apples! We had an amazing apple season this year, and our tree was absolutely loaded. It was hard to keep up with at times, and many ended up going in the compost pile. Some were eaten fresh of course, and the rest we were able to preserve by using several of the methods that I talk about here. These 12 ways to preserve apples will keep you busy during apple season, and you’ll be reaping the rewards all year long!
12 Ways to Preserve Apples
One of the first things that might come to mind is canning apple slices. You can either can crisp apples slices as they are, or make up an apple pie filling to can. This will make apple pie making super easy when the time comes. If you have small and tart crab apples, you can even try canning them whole.
Turning your apples into applesauce is one of the more common ways of preserving apples. You can make homemade applesauce for canning or fresh eating. This easy to make chunky applesauce recipe sounds delicious, or you can try this caramel applesauce recipe that uses coconut sugar for that caramel taste. There is also this crockpot applesauce recipe if you just want to set it and forget it.
Apple Jelly or Jam
The only apple jelly I have made is hard cider jelly, and it is so good! This spiced apple jelly with no added pectin sounds right up my alley, as does this apple pie chai jelly. If you have access to crabapples, you can make this homemade crabapple jelly. Then there is this apple jam recipe, which I think I might have to try!
This is one of my favorite ways to preserve apples. My Mom made apple and pear butter when I was a kid, and boy was it delicious! The recipe that I like to make is my homemade spiced apple butter, but this maple apple butter also sounds wonderful.
Apples are very high in natural pectin. This makes it possible to process them into a concentrated homemade natural pectin that you can use in your canning. How cool is that?
Apple Salsa or Chutney
I’ve never made apple salsa, but I like the idea of it! This apple salsa verde is made with tomatillos, or you can make a regular tomato based apple salsa. Apples are a natural ingredient for chutneys, and this apple and caramelized onion chutney sounds delicious!
There are many ways of fermenting apples, and they all sound like something I would like to try! These probiotic rich fermented apples are a good place to start, as well as these sweet and sour cinnamon apples. These Russian brined apples sound like an interesting traditional recipe. You can even make fermented applesauce!
This is something new that we’re trying this year. I’d love to be able to use apples from my tree for apple pies during the holiday season. To freeze apples, it’s best to put them in a lemon juice or salt water bath first, which will keep them from browning.
I like to leave the skins on, but peel them if you wish. Then strain the slices, put them into a freezer bag, and pop them into the freezer. Super easy! You can even freeze apple pie filling, and if you freeze it into the shape of your pie pan then you can have an apple pie ready to bake in no time!
Using a dehydrator (Excalibur brand is my favorite) is a great way to preserve produce for long term food storage. Besides that, dehydrated apple chips are super tasty! These dehydrated cinnamon apple rings sound amazing. You can make apple fruit leather in your dehydrator for a healthy snack, or try making dehydrated apple sugar!
Making your own apple cider is a bit more work than most of these other recipes, but it’s so worth it! It’s a great way to use up a whole lot of apples, too. We made about five gallons of juice using apples from our tree this year with our DIY apple press. It is absolutely the best apple cider I’ve ever had!
Hard Apple Cider
Of course, if you have five gallons of apple cider sitting around, you might as well turn it into hard cider! If you’ve pressed your own juice, you can try my wild hard cider method, which uses no added yeast. Or, I also have a regular recipe for how to make hard cider. Either way, it will be delicious for the holiday season! Hard apple cider is wonderful as apple cider jelly or when it is mulled.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Another great way to use up apples is to turn it into apple cider vinegar. This is taking hard cider fermentation one step further, and it creates a product that is very healthy for you. It can be used just like any other vinegar around the house. There are several methods for doing this, but probably the easiest is to make vinegar from apple scraps. You can also leave your hard cider open to the air and it will continue to ferment into vinegar.
Tell Me Your Ways to Preserve Apples!
That is all that I can think of for ways to preserve apples, but I’m sure that I’m missing something! If you have a tried and true way to preserve apples, please let me know. I’d love to hear about it!
Why does apple fruit drop prematurely?
Unexpected apple drop just prior to harvest is a serious threat for some varieties grown in Michigan. There are some tools to help prevent premature apple drop (NAA and Retain), but this article will go over some of the reasons for premature drop. All apple cultivars have some fruit drop as they move through the ripening process. Some varieties, such as McIntosh, are very prone to pre-harvest fruit drop. This problem is exasperated when fruits are left to hang for better red color to meet market demands and fruit drop often occurs when waiting for red color to develop.
As apples begin to ripen, they produce large amounts of ethylene, the ripening hormone. Ethylene stimulates softening of fruits and the formation of an abscission layer in the stem. Ethylene enhances the production of enzymes that break down the cell walls and the complex sugars that hold cell walls together in the abscission zone of the stem. As these glue-like substances break down, they leave the fruit connected only by the vascular strands, which are easily broken.
The role of ethylene is well-understood by commercial apple growers. There are other stress factors that might come into play with pre-harvest apple drop and can be related to the severity of drop from one year to the next. These include orchard and climatic factors such as fruit load, nutrition imbalance, summer pruning, insect or disease issues, and water and weather extremes during the growing season.
A large crop of a short-stemmed apple variety, particularly those that set in clusters, will “push off” each other close to harvest. Good, early season thinning, especially reducing clustered fruits, will help prevent this type of drop. When fruit are pushed off, it stimulates ethylene, which can cause even more pre-mature drop in fruits remaining on the tree.
Tree nutrition and soil type
Drop is often worse in orchards where soils have incorrect nutrient levels – in particular, low magnesium (Mg), high potassium (K) and high boron (B). Also, the variations in soil type can play a part, for instance, sandy areas will ripen early and drop ahead of heavier soil types.
Pre-harvest drop can be more severe in orchards that are heavily summer pruned. It is thought that this problem is likely associated with a limitation or deficit of carbohydrate supply from too many leaves being removed, especially younger, more functional leaves. Drop will be increased if pruning reduces the leaf to fruit ratio below 20:1.
Insects and mites
When leaf-infecting insects are high in numbers, they can reduce the photosynthate produced by leaves. This limits carbohydrate availability and can lead to pre-mature fruit drop.
Pre-harvest drop is more severe in dry seasons, where irrigation is not available.
Growing season temperatures
Some apple varieties are affected by hot temperatures more than others, particularly in the early formation of ethylene that promotes early drop.
Harvest season weather and cultivar characteristics
Windy weather close to harvest also impacts fruit drop and can be worse in some varieties, especially those naturally prone to drop. Table 1 is a summary of some varietal characteristic when it comes to drop.
Table 1. Apple variety tendency to pre-harvest drop.
Alone, each of these factors can influence pre-mature drop to some degree. However, when they occur in combinations, severe drop can be the result. This is especially true in very drop-prone varieties such as McIntosh.
Every grower knows their own blocks best, including those that tend to have a history with early drop. Perhaps looking a little more closely at some of the other factors mentioned above can also help prevent early apple drop from occurring.
For more detailed reading, please consider these sources which were used for this article:
- Factors Affecting Preharvest Fruit Drop of Apple, Daniel Lee Ward, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
- The Physiology of Apple Pre-harvest Fruit Drop, Terence Robinson, NYSAES, Cornell University
Read other articles and related resources on apple maturity.
Home gardeners often become concerned when their fruit trees begin dropping fruit prematurely. In some cases, fruit drop is nature’s way of reducing a heavy fruit load. In other cases, premature fruit drop may be caused by pests and diseases, adverse weather conditions or poor cultural practices.
Apples may have a couple of periods when fruit drop occurs. The first is often after the flower petals fall off and may last two to three weeks. The very small dropping fruits are the ones that were not pollinated, so will not develop further. Many fruit species need to be pollinated by bees. Lack of pollination may be the result of cold or wet weather during the bloom period, or by a lack of honey bees. Also, if there is freezing weather just before the flower buds open, more fruit drop may occur.
Other adverse weather conditions may also contribute to fruit drop. For example, persimmons may drop if the weather turns suddenly hot in spring, just as the small fruits begin to develop. Trees not receiving adequate irrigation water would be more prone to dropping fruit.
Pests and diseases may contribute to the problem of premature fruit drop. Cool wet weather during the bloom period of walnuts often results in infections of walnut blight, a bacterial disease that damages catkins, leaves, and newly-pollinated nuts. Infected nuts may drop prematurely. Premature ripening and fruit drop often occurs in apples and pears that are infested with codling moth larvae.
In apples and pears, a second drop occurs once the fruits are about the size of marbles, usually in May or June. This is commonly referred to as “June drop.” Fruit drop at this time of year is thought to occur as a result of competition between fruits for available resources.
Some fruit tree species, such as plums, may experience a mid-summer fruit drop. Proper fruit thinning can help to prevent this. How much to thin depends upon the tree species. With peaches and nectarines, it’s important to make room on the branches for each fruit to grow to 2 ½ to 3 inches in diameter. Thin by pulling off ¾ to 1-inch long fruit in April and May, leaving one fruit every 6 inches. This results in more fruit on the ground than on the tree, but it’s important to produce large, flavorful fruit and to minimize limb breakage.
Thin apricots when the fruit is about ¾ inch in diameter, leaving 1 apricot every 3 inches. Thin plums when the fruit is ¾-inch-long, leaving 1 plum every 4 to 6 inches. Thin apples after the usual May or June drop. Leave 1 apple every 6 inches or allow only 1 apple to remain per spur. Asian pears should be thinned to leave only 1 fruit per spur.
When mature fruit begins to drop, it’s a sign that the fruit is ready for harvest.
Ed Perry is the emeritus Environmental Horticultural Advisor for University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Stanislaus County.
Fruit trees sometimes shed or drop fruit well before the fruit is mature. This is most common in apple trees but other fruits are affected too. There are many reasons a tree drops fruit prematurely.
Sometimes a fruit tree naturally sheds fruit – especially in heavy bearing years – because it does not have the nutrient resources to support a large amount of fruit. This typically happens in early summer and is sometimes called “June drop”. Apples also give off a gas called ethylene which causes fruit to ripen. This ripening effect extends to the natural detachment of the stems of apples. When there is a heavy fruit load, more apples mean more ethylene and so apples drop early.
In heavy bearing years, thin fruit to reduce competition and encourage the tree to put more energy into producing fewer numbers of larger, higher quality fruit.
Environmental stresses such as wind, drought, hot/cold temperatures and summer pruning may contribute to early fruit drop. Other stresses such as nutrient deficiencies, salt toxicity and herbicide drift damage can also be causes.
Early fruit drop could also be a symptom of insect infestations. Examine the fallen fruit and the tree for signs of insect problems such as apple maggot or sawflies. If you don’t want the fruit, go ahead and put it in the compost.
Makes apples fall from trees
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I returned home from my vacation in mid-August and was surprised to see apples on the ground.
Why are those apples on the ground in August?
While it is close to apple harvest season, most of our crop doesn’t start to ripen until late September. This was a full month ahead of schedule. A quick check confirmed it wasn’t just one tree either. It seems every tree in the orchard (over 20 trees) were losing their loads.
It’s been a funny summer, hot and desperately dry. Was it possible the apples had actually matured earlier than normal and were dropping off due to ripeness?
These apples are bright red and LOOK ripe
Taste tests revealed otherwise. They are hard and bitter and suitable only for the compost heap. Close inspection revealed a few other details.
If you take a close look at the photo above you’ll note some issues. This apple is small and lumpy with odd blackish streaks on the skin. Others were mishapen.
So why are almost full size unripened apples falling right before harvest time? and why do they look so deformed?
I had a suspicion but I needed to check the internet first to be sure. I have noticed other plants, most obviously the dahlias, were not producing flowers this year. The only difference from other years is lack of water.
And sure enough the internet confirmed my instincts.
Apple trees often drop their fruit in June (see my post on June Drop), dropping any excess fruit the tree cannot support throughout the season. Back in June this year things were proceeding along quickly but normally. The trees had bloomed in May and by June fruit was forming. The weather was warm but there was still some rain in the forecasts.
Blooms in May
That changed though. By July the temperatures were consistently in the mid to high twenties (celsius) and no rain was coming at all. That got worse in August as the temperatures climbed higher and humidity set in, still with no rain.
What has happened to our flowering plants and our apple trees is that flowers and fruit require water to form. In the case of fruit it requires a lot of water. When you bite into an apple what is it you first taste? Juice. Juice that is derived from water. But plants also require water in order to survive. Similar to June Drop, the trees have chosen to keep water sources to save themselves and are dropping fruit they cannot support.
Cleaning up the fallen fruit
But why is this happening so late in the year? What the internet confirmed for me was that apple drop, just before harvest, is common on trees affected by water stress. The trees don’t know when it will rain again so they hold out, producing fruit and only dropping it when it becomes clear they can no longer support it.
As for those small, awkward looking, lumpy apples. I discovered that orchardists check fruit circumference and condition throughout the season as a measurement of water stress. Had I bothered to look earlier I would have noticed this as a clear indicator of water stress. Something for me to note in future years.