Preserve a Peck of Apples – Part 1
Despite having lived in a relatively rural region for my entire life, last summer was my first foray into pick-your-own fruit, at The Berry Patch Farm, just 20 minutes east of Ames. It is a pretty economical way to get large quantities of very fresh, ripe and local produce, and it is a good workout to boot. (Especially strawberry picking, holy moly hard work.) I was a little overwhelmed with the fruits of my labor at the time (har har), because I had no experience whatsoever with any preservation techniques. Most of my berries ended up going into one gigantic cake and the rest went into my belly. I did a little more research leading up to this season, and ended up doing PYO for strawberries and blueberries this summer, and apples once the weather turned towards fall.
A few weeks back, we drove to Central Grove Orchard, south of Ames, to go pick apples with some friends. Said friends also had kids in tow, and spent most of their time going down the giant slide and diving into the corn pool. Yes, a pool of corn.
So we struck out towards the orchard without them, ready to pick some apples. There are a lot of things to think of before you get to the orchard (or the store) and I’m glad I did a little research ahead of time. Obviously different varieties have different flavors, but the texture also plays a big role in what apples are best for baking, freezing, or just general eating. Cakespy recently posted a apple-choosing guide from Pillsbury, and the orchard also gave us the heads-up on which varieties were extra-awesome in our region and during this particular season.
Another thing to consider is your apple usage once you get them home. It seems pretty insane to pick an entire bushel of apples with no real plan on how to use them before they go bad. (Plus you’re left hauling 48 lbs of apples back from the nether regions of the apple orchard.) I settled on a peck – a quarter of a bushel, or about 12 lbs of apples. I didn’t need a lot – a friend had promised to help me make apple butter and donate some of her apples to the cause, and I had been collecting apples over the last few weeks every time I saw a new variety on sale at the co-op. In addition to the apple butter, I wanted to make apple pie filling and freeze it for later – similar to what I had done with many of my blueberries over the summer. If you’re wondering how much fruit to pick for your own preserving projects, here is an excellent guide.
Turns out it is really easy to pick a peck of apples. Way, way easier than picking even 5 lbs of strawberries, and way easier on your lower back. Most of the time we spent wandering through the orchard and finding the varieties that we wanted – not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon if you ask me.
We picked a mix of Mutsu (Matsu?), Jonathan and Chieftain (developed right here in Ames!). All of these varieties were deemed good for baking or freezing, and we may or may not have done some quality control in the field.
Next time I’ll talk about my first experience making apple butter, freezing apples for pie, and what you need to know to get started. Even though apple season is over in this part of the country, there are still deals to be had at the grocery store or co-op, and the apple butter technique can be applied to produce such as pears and pumpkins that are still readily available right now.