Well, folks, another apple season has gone out with a bang—or, more literally, with a “snap!” Here in Palermo, Sunday's blizzard pounded our apple trees with over a foot of snow in a very short time. With the leaves still there to catch all that snow, large branches snapped off with the snow's weight, and many of our young trees were bent all the way to the ground. Thankfully, with the help of the neighbor's plow—and with the melting power of the sun on Monday—we were able to get our buildings and driveway cleared just enough to pack the apples in time for this final distribution. As much as we lamented the inconvenience of moving all the apples in the snow and slush, we were lucky that the storm didn't come a day later!
We're grateful that it all worked out, because we're featuring some of our all-time favorites in this week's share, and most of them are good keepers as well. We sincerely hope that you've enjoyed sharing the apple season with us, and that you're inspired to go Out On a Limb in search of many more interesting fruit experiences!
This week's picks:
Our apples come to you straight from the tree, so, as with all fresh produce, please be sure to wash them thoroughly before eating. Unless otherwise specified, the apples are grown using Integrated Pest Management by the orchards we collaborate with throughout Maine.
by John Paul Rietz
Because this seems to be the most frequently-asked question among our shareholders, we decided that this week's article should be devoted entirely to a lesson on apple storage. We recognize that everyone's storage capabilities are different, therefore we'll try to cover all the bases (refrigerator, root cellar, etc.) so that you are equipped to get the longest life out of your apples. If you follow the guidelines laid out below, you could be eating and/or cooking with apples well into Winter and—depending on the variety—early Spring.
- The optimal storage conditions for apples are: 30-40 degrees F, and 80-95% relative humidity (RH). Within that range, colder and more humid is the best (30-32 degrees F, and 90-95% relative humidity).
- In many cases, it will be hard to sync both temperature and humidity. If you can keep the fruit near 32 degrees, you can get away with a little less humidity (80-85% RH). On the other hand, if you can only get the storage temperature down to 40-50 degrees, then make sure to raise the relative humidity to 90-95%. Some people run humidifiers in their storage space, while others simply mist the fruit periodically through the winter.
- As a general rule of thumb, apples held at 40 degrees will age and decay twice as quickly as those held at 30 degrees. Apples held at 50 degrees will age twice as fast as those held at 40 degrees. At 70 degrees, the speed of deterioration doubles again.
- Due to the high sugar content of apples, they will freeze at a lower temperature than water. The “freezing point” of apples ranges from 27.8 degrees to 29.4 degrees. If apples do get frozen, their quality will quickly deteriorate—the flesh will soften, and rot will ensue.
- Every apple is a living organism. Once harvested, the fruit cannot obtain nutrients from the tree, and because it is still respiring (breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide, just like humans), it begins to use up the energy it stored up during the growing season. As this energy is used up while in a cellar or refrigerator, the sugar, acid, and starch content of the fruit change. At some point, these processes cause the tissue to break down, and the fruit becomes mealy or rubbery, and it eventually rots. Therefore, the goal of storage is to slow down the breathing of the apples, in order to slow down the ripening. Furthermore, cold temperatures will retard the activity of the bacteria and fungi that cause decay.
- Shriveling is caused by rapid respiration of the fruit (the apples are using up their reserves in response to an environment that is either too dry or too warm). However, shriveled fruit is perfectly fine to cook with, because the cooking process naturally softens the fruit. If you're like some of us on the farm, you may find that the altered texture doesn't bother you enough to prevent you from enjoying the raw fruit out of hand.
- If you are storing your apples in a refrigerator, be sure to keep the apples in perforated plastic bags. The plastic will help retain moisture (refrigerators are drying agents), and the perforations will allow carbon dioxide to escape. In the absence of perforated bags, you can use unperforated polyethylene bags, but do not tie them shut—once the fruit is cooled in the refrigerator, simply fold over the open ends.
- If you don't have enough refrigerator space and your cellar or basement is too warm, you can try storing your fruit in insulated containers in an unheated room or outbuilding—but be sure the temperature in the containers doesn't drop below 30 degrees!
- Whatever storage facilities you have available, try to keep the temperature consistent. Large temperature swings will cause more respiration and thus faster decay.
- It is best to store apples in shallow layers, because there is less chance of bruising the fruit on the bottom with the weight of the fruit on the top. Shallow layers are also easier to inspect and pick through!
- If any fruits are damaged with handling, be sure to use those first. Damaged fruits will give off ethylene gas more rapidly, and this ethylene causes surrounding fruit to ripen faster. Thus the saying, “one bad apple spoils the barrel!”
- Wherever you determine storage conditions are best, make sure you can access the fruit on a regular basis, in order to: a) monitor how the apples are doing, make adjustments if necessary, cull any rotting fruit, and—most importantly—procure fruit to use! Perhaps you have heard the adage, “The best fertilizers are the footsteps of the farmer.” The same principle holds true for storing apples: the apples that keep the best are those that are monitored and cared for regularly.
- Happy Storing (and Eating)!
Fresh From the Palermo Test Kitchen
Apple Cheese Pancakes (without the cheese)
That's it for this season! Thanks for joining us for our sixth year offering rare heirloom and modern apples. We hope your winter is filled with delicious apple pies, crisps, and cobblers. We know ours will be!
Until next year, The OOAL crew: John, Cammy, Emily, John Paul, Natalie, and Laura