An Apple a Day?
Is it just because I am a teacher by profession that each fall has me thinking of apples? These cool crisp days have me craving an outing bundled up in my cozy sweater, jeans, and a pair of Uggs, picking apples. I love breathing deeply in that fresh clean air with just a bit of a nip in it (my favourite weather!), catching a whiff of those apples still growing on the trees as the breeze goes by. You have to admit, there is nothing like the sound of the leaves crunching beneath your feet either! So far, very few leaves are on the ground here, although I saw the first of the leaves changing colour way back in August. Still, I find myself craving a trip out to the orchard to pick some apples. Until I can make it out there, I have been satisfying my craving by poring over my books, files, and websites searching for recipes and crafts using fresh apples, learning what I can about apples and making plans for what I will do with the bushels I bring home. I share this information and these ideas with you now:
Basic Apple Information
Evidence has been found of the existence of apples back to prehistoric times – archaeologists studying ruins from Stone Age villages in Europe discovered charcoal remains of apples in the firepits. By 5000 years ago, people were known to gather and store apples and by 3000 years ago, the Ancient Greeks had begun cultivating apples. The apple tree originated in an area between the Caspian and Black Seas. Settlers brought apple seeds and trees from Europe to North America, first cultivating them in Ontario, Quebec, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Much of the apples were dried and used in making such items as cider and apple butter to extend their preservation.
Of course one of the most famous stories regarding the cultivation of apples is that of John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, who traveled the countryside planting apple seeds wherever he went. During the Gold Rush in California, apples went for as much as $100 a bushel or more because they were so versatile and because of their ability to be preserved for long periods of time.
Apple trees belong to the rose family. The trees bloom into beautiful white flowers in the spring that look like tiny roses. It takes the energy of 50 leaves just to produce one single apple! Apples come in red, yellow, and green and variations and combinations of these colours. They range in size from that of a big larger than a cherry to as large as a grapefruit. Apples also differ in taste – some are sweet, some tart, some a mix of the two. There are even apples that bear an aftertaste of pears, citrus, cinnamon, cloves, coconut, strawberries, grapes, and even pineapple! Some apple trees grow to over 40 feet high and can live to be over 100 years old.
In 2002, the average American consumed over 15 pounds of fresh apples and more than 26 pounds of processed apple products. More than half the apples grown in the world are eaten fresh. A bushel of apples weighs about 42 pounds. A pound of apples is equivalent to about 3 medium apples. It takes approximately 4 apples to make one glass of apple juice. One medium apple yields about ¼ cup of sliced apples.
As you are probably aware from experience, cut apples will quickly turn brown once exposed to the air. To prevent this from happening, brush the surfaces with lemon juice. This is a good tip to remember when cutting up large amounts of apples for making pies, apple butter, or other recipes or when putting it in fruit salad.
How to Choose Good Apples
“One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch girl….” (oops sorry…there goes that bursting into song thing again!). I am sure though that all of us have dealt with apples spoiling too quickly, being wormy or mushy. Since my plan is to head out to the orchard (weather permitting tomorrow in celebration of the first day of fall), I decided to do a little research into how to pick the best apples.
Most apples, of course, are harvested in the cool weather of fall, when they are their freshest and crispest, so this is the ideal time of year, at least in my part of the world, to be picking them. Choose apples that are firm, brightly coloured, and free of any bruises, wrinkles, or soft spots. Brownish spots that look like freckles will not affect the flavour or texture of the apples.
It’s important when purchasing fruits to sniff them. Yes you read that correctly. I know, I know, you might feel a little self conscious sniffing your way through the produce department or farmer’s market (just picture me out there in that orchard with my nose stuck up in a tree!) but isn’t that better than wasting your money on fruit that is soft, mealy in texture, lacking in taste, and which spoils quickly? Apples should be fragrant…they should give off that delightful odour of, well, apple-y goodness. Apples should be handled somewhat delicately…similarly to the way in which you handle eggs as they bruise very easily.
When you bring your apples home, if you plan to use them within a few days, they should be stored at room temperature but for longer storage, they are best refrigerated (unless you are lucky enough to have a cold cellar like me and then that will do just fine). Apples ripen 6-10 times faster at room temperature than they do if refrigerated. Personally, I prefer the taste of cold apples anyway but if you don’t just take a few apples out of the fridge at a time to come to room temp for you, allowing the rest to remain there for optimum storage. If you have a fruit crisper in your refrigerator, there is a reason it is labeled as such. Apples need to be stored there!! If your fridge is not equipped with such a drawer, then it is important to place them in the coldest part of your refrigerator (but be sure to guard against freezing unless you want to make them into applesauce…see recipe to follow*).
The Apple Growers of Ontario state that it is best to place the apples in a perforated plastic bag before putting them in the refrigerator to allow for proper air circulation and thereby prolonging their freshness. Once you have your apples home, check them periodically and be sure to remove any that are overripe or developing any soft spots. They will release ethylene gas which will spread to the other apples and cause them to ripen and thereby spoil much faster (remember the phrase “One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch”). In fact, the ethylene gas given off by apples can accelerate the ripening/rotting of all fruits and some vegetables so it is vital to store them separately. (Side note: Those combination potato and onion storage bins are one of the worst things you can use. Onions also give off ethylene gas and by storing them alongside the potatoes you are simply hastening the spoiling process.)
In this day and age of pesticide use, it is vital that you wash apples thoroughly before using. Some say this is unnecessary when using organic apples, but I question that due to the toxins present in the air because of air pollution and I wash all produce, organic or not. Some experts claim that it is necessary to use soap and water while others claim that plain water is sufficient if done thoroughly enough (in other words, a quick swipe under the faucet isn’t really adequate). Others use a scrub brush but I find apples much too delicate for that. I don’t advise washing the fruit until just before you are going to use it because I find that sometimes and some varieties of apples seem to absorb a bit of the water and become a bit softer and can taste, well, a little soggy.
*Freezer Applesauce Recipe
This is delicious and super easy! Simply cut up some apples (leave the peel on) and throw them into a Ziploc freezer bag. Sprinkle in some cinnamon and sugar and pop the bag into the freezer. When ready to serve, remove from the freezer and take off the peel, smoosh up the apples, and voila! Applesauce! Easy peasy!
The Best Types of Apples For Various Uses:
There are over 7500 varieties of apples worldwide and approximately 2 billion bushels of apples are grown yearly. China leads the world in apple production with the US coming in second followed by Turkey, Poland, France, and Italy. Apples are grown in all 48 of the continental United States with Washington producing more apples than any other state. Over 100 varieties are sold commercially in the United States with it being the second most important fruit crop there, just behind oranges. In Canada, apples are the number one fruit crop. They are grown in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Quebec. Canadian growers produce about 30 million bushels a year. Apples vary in appearance, texture, and taste and as such, different types of apples are best for different applications. Despite the 7500 known varieties of apples in the world, 15 types make up 90% of those purchased by North American consumers. Here are some of the most common varieties of apples in North America and their suggested best uses:
Rome Beauties: Great for baking (especially whole) because they hold their shape well.
Fuji: These apples differ from others in that their flavour actually improves as they age. These apples are great for snacking or cooking.
Granny Smith: Most people recognize these as the green, tart apples. Good for baking, snacking, and delicious in salads.
Golden Delicious: These are yellow apples that are best eaten raw, although does make tasty applesauce as well.
McIntosh: McIntosh apples are slightly tart. They are good for snacking but do not hold up well during long cooking (although they are great for applesauce!).
Royal Gala: These sweet apples have a distinctive appearance – a yellowy, orange skin with reddish stripes. They are delicious both raw and cooked.
Northern Spy: Excellent for pies and baked apples.
Spartan: Spartan apples are a cross between McIntosh and Newtown apples and they originated in British Columbia, Canada. Delicious for snacking and in pies.
Idared: A cross between a Jonathan and a Wagener. This tart apple holds its shape well when cooked making it ideal for baking but it’s also a good choice for snacking.
Russet: One of the more popular choices in Europe and the oldest variety of apples in Canada. It’s sweet and tangy and a very versatile apple good for snacking, pies, and applesauce.
Cortland: A cross between a Ben Davis and a McIntosh, this apple is sweet and tangy. It has a tender very white flesh that works very well in fruit salads and applesauce. It makes a lovely garnish as well.
Red Delicious: This is a sweet yellow-fleshed apple. They are best eaten raw but often the ones you get at the grocery store can be mealy in texture so these are best purchased at farm markets or picked straight from the tree.
Crispin: These apples are larger than usual. They are a cross between a Golden Delicious and a Japanese Indo. They are sweet and tart and have a firm texture making them ideal for snacking, pies, and chunky sauces.
Empire: A cross between a McIntosh and Red Delicious. They are slightly tart, juicy, firm, and crisp. Delicious for snacks and super for applesauce.
Varieties of apples grown in Ontario, Canada http://www.onapples.com/consumers/varieties.htm
The Nutritional Value of Apples
Despite the fact that apples are mostly water, they are filled with nutritional value. Apples are fat, sodium, and cholesterol free. They are rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber (containing about 5 grams of fiber in a medium apple – more than a typical serving of oatmeal), something most of us get far too little of (don’t get me started on the value of fiber…I have IBS and possibly Crohn’s disease so fiber is very important in my life) BUT it is vital to note that 2/3 of the fiber in apples is located in the peel. Soluble fiber helps to prevent the buildup of cholesterol in blood vessels and insoluble fiber provides bulk that helps food to move properly through the digestive system.
When eaten raw, apples are a good source of vitamin C (almost half of which is just under the skin) and they also contain some potassium and flavonoids such as guercetin which are believed to protect nerve cells and therefore may offer some preventative measures against degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s. According to a study done by Cornell University, though, their greatest value is in the anti-oxidants they contain. In addition, researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that drinking just 2 glasses of apple juice a day can increase brain function.
Consuming apples has been linked with providing protection against cancer, asthma, and diabetes as well as with increasing lung and cardiovascular health. Because of the fiber content, raw apples are helpful in the treatment of constipation, while processed apples, in particular applesauce, is recommended as part of the BRAT diet for those with diarrhea. Apples are claimed to be useful in the prevention of kidney stones, the treatment of acute and chronic dysentery in children, and for gout when caused by an increase in uric acid in the blood. Apple peel water has been used as a treatment for inflamed eyes, the iron in apples helps in the formation of red blood cells (and therefore the prevention/treatment of iron-deficient anemia), and it has been found that apples contain a certain property that has a cleansing effect on teeth which helps reduce tooth decay. Folk doctors often prescribed apples as an all around “wonder drug” to boost up run down patients since it has the highest phosphorus and iron content of any fruit.
Some Other Random Apple Facts:
The apple is the state fruit of Rhode Island, New York, Washington, and West Virginia. The apple blossom is the state flower of Arkansas and Michigan.
Fresh apples float because they are 25% air by volume – which is handy for those Hallowe’en party-goers looking for some apple-bobbing fun!
Apples contain a bit of deadly hydrogen cyanide in their seeds.
The story of Johnny Appleseed: http://www.tooter4kids.com/Apples/johnny_appleseed.htm
The story of The Little Red House with the Star Inside (a fun interactive story to tell with children using a real apple): http://www.tooter4kids.com/Apples/Apple_Story.htm
Some fun facts, kids’ activities and lesson plans on apples http://www.tooter4kids.com/Apples/apple_index.htm
A variation on the children’s game Duck, Duck, Goose using an apple theme: http://dressesandmesses.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/guest-post-apple-apple-round-and-red/
There is some folklore surrounding apples. For example, they have long been used in divination. One method is to peel the apple, keeping the peel in one long piece. When the peel is free of the apple, let it drop to the floor. The letter it forms when it lands will be the first letter of the name of your true love. Another method involves waiting until midnight and cutting an apple into 9 pieces. Take the pieces with you into a dark room in which there is a mirror. Begin eating the apple pieces while looking into the mirror. When you get to the last piece, throw it over your shoulder and your true love’s face will appear in the mirror. Lastly, if you cannot decide between more than one potential true love, cut up an apple and pull out the seeds. Place one wet seed on your cheek for each of the potential lovers, naming them as you place them. The last one left stuck on your cheek symbolizes the one who is your actual true love.
The ancients considered the apple a symbol of immortality and as food for the dead. Samhain, the feast of the dead (celebrated at Hallowe’en) is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Apples. According to Celtic myth, an apple branch that had grown fruit, flowers, and unopened buds on it was seen as a symbol of the harvest and a magical key to the Underworld.
Pomona is the little known Roman Goddess of orchards and fruit trees (she has no Greek counterpart). Most deities are associated with the harvest but Pomona is seen more in the cultivation and growth of the fruit…in helping it to flourish. Her festival is August 13th. A nod was given to Pomona in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. She has a character named Professor Sprout who is the teacher of Herbology (the study of magical plants) and Professor Sprout’s first name is…you guessed it!…Pomona!
The National Apple Museum
In order to preserve the history of the apple farming industry, the Biglersville, Pennsylvania Historical and Preservation Society established the National Apple Museum in 1990 in a restored civil war era barn. The museum houses displays of antique apple peelers, presses, sprayers and farm machinery. There is also an exhibit staged as a complete 1880’s kitchen. In addition, there are many displays of other materials and accessories common to the time and environment such as clothing, medicine, and dry goods. The museum also possesses an extensive collection of antique fruit labels, apple-themed postcards, and sheet music. Their library has a large collection of oral histories from local apple growers and genealogies of area families. Visitors to the museum in the spring can take in the Apple Blossom Festival held the first weekend of May and those visiting in the fall can attend the National Apple Harvest Festival during the first two weekends of October.
Lots of Links with Apple-y Goodness:
This lovely site has some great recipes (different than the typical ones you find everywhere this time of year too!) using apples: http://www.howto-simplify.com/2009/09/got-apples.html
We no longer get Katie Brown’s show here in my part of the world but I still go to her website for ideas. Apparently she has had at least 2 episodes devoted to the theme of apples and the following are links to the recipes and craft instructions from these shows:
Apple centerpiece http://www.katiebrown.com/kbep3.cfm?seasonid=3&episodeid=20&cat=GROW
Apple Place Card http://www.katiebrown.com/kbep1.cfm?cat=NEST&episodeid=13&seasonID=4
Apple Centerpiece 2 http://www.katiebrown.com/kbep1.cfm?cat=GROW&episodeid=13&seasonID=4
Pumpkin Candy Apples http://www.katiebrown.com/kbep1.cfm?cat=COOK&episodeid=17&seasonID=4&cooksort=1
I found a few interesting sounding apple recipes on Rachael Ray’s site as well:
Cinnamon Apple Strata http://rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=2827
Griddled Cheddar Apple Dippers http://www.rachaelrayshow.com/food/recipes/griddled-cheddar-apple-dippers
Apple Sangria http://rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=2825
And you can always count on Martha Stewart for some yummy recipes and interesting craft ideas:
Back to school apple Cupcakes http://www.marthastewart.com/article/apple-cupcakes?backto=true
Back to school apple crafts http://www.marthastewart.com/article/apple-picture-frame?backto=true
Shrunken heads in cider http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/shrunken-heads-in-cider?backto=true
Apple prints made to look like pumpkins http://www.marthastewart.com/goodthings/takeaway-treats?backto=true
Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Caramelized Apples http://www.marthastewart.com/portal/site/mslo/menuitem.fc77a0dbc44dd1611e3bf410b5900aa0/?vgnextoid=f479d0c64ef63110VgnVCM1000003d370a0aRCRD&vgnextfmt=default&backto=true
Chicken Liver Pate with Sauteed Maple Syrup Apples ttp://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/bettes-chicken-liver-pate-with-sauteed-maple-syrup-apples
Green Apple Martini http://www.marthastewart.com/recipe/green-apple-martini?autonomy_kw=apples
21 Favourite Apple Recipes from Southern Living http://ow.ly/r3ot
Super Delicious Recipes from the Apple Growers of Ontario (Canada) including: Roasted Apple and Sweet Potato Soup, Apple Walnut Pancakes, Apple and Potato Rosti (similar to hash browns), Apple and Ricotta Tarts, Apple, Caramelized Onion, and White Cheddar Pizzas http://www.onapples.com/recipes/recipes.shtm
Delicious sounding Chocolate Caramel Apples with Sprinkles http://ow.ly/s93B
Caramelized Apple Cupcakes http://cupcakesandcrinoline.com/?p=1831
Apple Cheddar and Turkey Meatballs ttp://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/09/apple-cheddar-and-turkey-meatballs.html
Greco Norman Apples http://www.foodtv.ca/recipes/recipedetails.aspx?dishid=8318
Luscious Apple Trifle http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Luscious-Apple-Trifle/Detail.aspx
Crockpot Flank Steak Stuffed with Apple, Feta, and Almonds http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/09/crockpot-flank-steak-stuffed-with-apple.html
Pork Tenderloin with Potatoes and Apples http://pagandad.blogspot.com/2008/04/beltane-recipes.html
Grilled Apple and Fennel Salad (from Anna Olson) http://www.foodtv.ca/recipes/recipedetails.aspx?dishid=9996
Potato Salad with Apples and Bacon http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/potato_salad_with_apples_and_bacon/
Freezer Apple Pie Kits (these allow you to prepare pie crusts and apple pie filling ahead of time and place in your freezer for future use!) http://mysisterskitchen.wordpress.com/2006/09/12/pie-on-the-run-1-apple-pie-kits-in-the-freezer/
Red Hot Applesauce Salad http://amysfinerthings.com/red-hot-applesauce-salad
Pan roasted Chicken with Cran-Applesauce http://blog.craftzine.com/archive/2009/10/pan_roasted_chicken_breasts_wi.html
An assortment of apple treats and crafts from Make and Takes http://www.makeandtakes.com/apple-treats-crafts-for-fall
Acorn Squash with Apples http://mollykitchen.blogspot.com/2009/10/acorn-squash-2-ways.html
Slow Cooker Apple Cran Chicken http://www.kitchenmonki.com/recipe/Slow_Cooker_Apple_Cran_Chicken_Potatoes
For some of my favourite apple recipes, head on over to one of my other blogs, the Red Apple Cafe! http://islandtearoom.wordpress.com/