There’s nothing like an abundance of apples. You pick those first few buckets of ripe fruit with glee, anticipating the delights you can make with the sweet fruit, but a few bushels later, what to do with them becomes a quandary. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to enjoy your apples until next season’s harvest.
1. Harvest Cider
Making cider is a lot of fun, particularly if you can pull a group together to make the work light and entertaining. We are talking here about the non-alcoholic kind. This is a great use for those less-than-perfect or small apples, since all you need do is wash them before tossing them into the press. You can place a cheesecloth on the inside of the barrel to filter what comes through somewhat, or you can filter afterwards if you choose.
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Many people drink the juice straight from the press, but there is a risk of E.coli contamination, especially if the apples were picked up off the ground. This is particularly true if deer, cows or other livestock are in the area. According to the FDA, to pasteurize the juice, heat it to 160 degrees Fahrenheit for at least six seconds. This shouldn’t give the juice a cooked flavor but is typically sufficient to kill pathogens. If you’re going to keep it for more than a week in the refrigerator, you’ll want to freeze or can it for long-term storage.
2. Farm-Fresh Applesauce
One of the most popular ways to use apples is to sauce them. There’s nothing like popping off the top of a jar to enjoy a taste of the fall harvest any time of the year. If you have a bushel of apples, figure you’ll be able to make about 12 to 14 quarts of finished applesauce. Sweeter apples work the best, although I’ve even used crab-apples, albeit with a bit more sugar. Whatever you have, simply sweeten the sauce to your taste.
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The first step is to wash and core the apples. You can cut out the seeds by hand or use one of those nifty circular coring tools to make quick work of the process. There’s no need to peel them since you’ll separate out the peels later, and the peels often add nice color to the sauce. I always find it easier to make batches in manageable quantities, using 18 to 20 pounds of apples at a time, which will make roughly 6 or 7 quarts of sauce.
- 18-20 pounds of apples
- 3-5 cups of sugar (to taste)
- 4-6 T. of lemon juice
DIRECTIONS: Put your chopped apples, some of the sugar, lemon juice and a couple of cups of water in a large stainless steel cookpot. Cook on medium heat, mixing the apples frequently to prevent burning. They should be soft in about a half an hour. After you add more sugar to taste, you can strain it through a Foley food mill or Victorio (victorio.info) strainer. Add sauce to cleaned and sterilized quart jars, and process in a boiling water bath according to the directions for your altitude (See USDA guidelines, which are on the internet.) Or you can freeze the sauce in plastic freezer containers.
3. Dried Apples
Dehydrated apples are the perfect snack for just about anywhere. They’re lightweight, good for you, and the homemade variety packs a lot of flavor. We always take them on our day-hike adventures.
Make sure you peel your apples. Using a nifty spiral apple peeler works great because the 1/8-inch slices it creates are the perfect size for drying. If you don’t have a mechanical peeler, do it by hand and try to slice the apples as consistently as possible.
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Dry the slices in a dehydrator or in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the apples feel dry and leathery. There should be no tackiness, and you can certainly dry them until they are crisper if that’s how you like them. Then allow them to cool.
Place the slices in vacuum-sealed bags, a standard zip-seal freezer bag or even a quart jar. As long as they’re properly dry, they’ll last in the pantry for six months. If you want to keep them longer, place them in the freezer.
4. Apple Jelly
Apple jelly is a beautiful way to preserve your apple harvest. First, extract the juice and then add sugar and pectin before pouring it into jars and processing. To extract the juice, you can cook the cut up apples (there’s no need to core and peel them) until they’re soft before straining them overnight through a cheesecloth.
Or you can use a steam juicer, which draws out the juice by using heat. If you’ve never used a steam juicer, you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life. There’s a bottom pan that holds the water to produce the steam and a middle pan to collect the juice as it pours from the upper colander that holds the fruit. As the juice collects, it runs into a hose, which you use to drain the juice into a container.
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You might want to cut large apples in half, but smaller apples can be tossed in whole. It will take several hours to cook down a batch, and be sure to keep a close eye on the water level so it doesn’t boil down. The resulting clear, concentrated juice is perfect for apple jelly. At this point, add sugar and pectin as directed on the pectin package, and process in a boiling water bath. (See USDA instructions for your altitude.)
5. Frozen Apple Pie
This is a genius move because not only are you using up apples, but you also have a delicious dessert at your fingertips. Make your favorite apple pie recipe and place it in a metal or disposable pie pan. You don’t want to use glass. As soon as you assemble the pie, wrap it up in multiple layers of plastic wrap, followed by a couple of layers of aluminum foil. This will keep the apples from exuding much juice, which they do when sugar is added. The pie should last three to four months in the freezer without losing any quality.
There’s no need to thaw the frozen pie (but remove the foil and plastic). Place it on a cookie sheet and bake it roughly 30 minutes longer than a fresh one (to ensure that the apples are cooked) and protect the edges with aluminum foil to prevent burning.
6. Sliced Apples
Apple pies are terrific, especially when you have them premade in the freezer. But sometimes I would rather have cobblers, apple pan dowdy or other delicious autumn-inspired desserts. Sliced apples can be frozen or canned, making them very convenient to have on hand and a great way to use up a lot of apples.
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I like to freeze plain apple slices. Simply slice them as you would for an apple pie and soak them briefly in lemon juice-infused water. Drain them and place them in a single layer on a cookie tray to pre-freeze for an hour before placing in a zip-seal freezer bag. If you know you’d like to make pies or another dessert that uses cinnamon and sugar flavoring, you can pre-make apple pie filling. This is the hot-pack method I prefer. Six pounds of apples will make approximately 7 quarts of filling, and a standard pie needs 2 quarts of apples.
- 6 pounds of apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 5 cups of sugar
- 10 cups of water
- 1 1/2 cups of regular Clear-Jel
- 3/4 cup lemon juice + 1/4 cup to add to the water for apple slices
- 2 tsp. of cinnamon
DIRECTIONS: Make the syrup first by adding the sugar to water and bringing it to a low boil. Add 3/4 cup lemon juice and cinnamon. Meanwhile, slice your apples and soak them in water infused with 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Drain and rinse. Boil a gallon of water in a large cookpot. Add the apples and blanch for a minute after the water returns to a boil. Drain and quickly add the hot apples to prepared jars. Ladle the syrup mixture on top of the apples, allowing 1 inch of headspace. Remove any air bubbles by running a knife through the jar. Process the correct time for your altitude. (See USDA guidelines).
7. Apple Butter
When you have a large amount of apples you want to process, the last thing you want to do is peel them. Making apple butter is another way to use a large amount without peeling them, and it’s a good project for a lazy autumn day.
Apple butter has no butter in it, nor is it really a jam or jelly, but this condiment is dreamy on toast, especially if it’s made from homemade bread. So it’s worth taking the steps that include initially cooking the apples with vinegar and water, straining them through a food mill and then cooking the mixture again for up to two hours before either freezing or canning it.
- 8 pounds of apples, quartered
- 2 cups of apple cider vinegar
- 4 cups of water
- 4-6 cups of sugar
- 2 T. of cinnamon
- Pinch of ground cloves
- Juice of 2 lemons
DIRECTIONS: Cook the apples, vinegar and water together on medium to medium-low heat until the apples are softened, roughly 30 minutes. Strain them through a food mill, discarding the peels. Add a 1/2 cup of sugar per cup of remaining pulp. Add the remaining ingredients and cook uncovered on low for 3+ hours, until the mixture is reduced to a paste-like consistency. You can either freeze or can apple butter. Follow the proper boiling water bath canning directions and time requirements for your altitude if you’re canning it. (See USDA guidelines.)
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Winter 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.