What To Do With Apples From the Backyard Orchard
by Ernest Rando
This post is a general how-to for preserving apples. We have a 3-ish acre orchard (mostly apples) that is quite mature and in need of some tender loving care. We have many apple trees that could be replaced and we believe the orchard is in need of greater tree diversity as well. But it is still an amazing orchard to spend time in with friends or just by yourself. This year we built two chicken coops and experimented with raising chickens in the orchard. We learned a lot of things and are eagerly anticipating next year while enjoying the meat from our harvest throughout the winter. (For more about the chickens, visit this Midwest Permaculture Blog post.)
This year we harvested over 25 bushels of apples. We made over 50 gallons of hard and soft cider, 12 lbs of frozen apple bits, a few gallons of applesauce, several bags of dried apples, and we also canned a bunch of jars of apple chunks as well. We did as much as time allowed us to do and we were able to have many community events where folks in the neighborhood helped out and got to learn and practice their apple preserving skills.
So here are some pictures, helpful tips, and elaborations of this year’s apple journey:
The first step in any type of preservation is to always "clean all the things." For our cider press that meant washing it down to clear any debris that may be on it. Our community actually has an 1869 cider press that sits in one of our common areas and is open for anyone in the community to use.
These 18 gallon buckets (above) are pretty handy for gathering your apples. They do get heavy when they are full, but one of these buckets will easily press into four gallons of cider!
Then, get someone energetic to turn the wheel of the press once the apple bucket is full. This is the tough part, but it’s great fun for kids that are usually playing in our nearby park. I recommend enlisting any kids to help with this part as it gets them involved and is a a great way to use their abundant energy!
Once the apples are cut into chunks they are placed into the press bucket. Above the press bucket is another wheel that you turn and it presses down on the chunks of apples and squeezes out most of their juice.
Notice the yellow bucket on the ground that is catching all of our yummy cider. It is about a 2.5- 3 gallon container and is great when you are making 5 gallon batches of cider. Having a good container system thoughtout ahead of time makes the measuring of your cider easy.
A compost bucket, a bowl to hold apple chunks, and an apple corer was all that we needed to preserve the rest of the apples. Our chickens and compost bins loved all the non-edible parts of the apples.
It literally took only 10 minutes to go through two gallons of apples with the apple corer. We decided to go back to the orchard and get 10 more gallons of apples. Notice that your non-chemically treated apples will have spots and marks of uniqueness on them, but unless the apple was already beginning to rot, we used it.
This apple corer is amazing. You skewer the apple, then turn the handle on the right and the apple is peeled and cored as it moves right to left. Make sure to get a corer that has suction cups and will stick to the counter.
Voila! The apple is done and easily breaks up into chunks. The peelings and core can be discarded as you choose.
One of my favorite snacks is dried apples. With all of the apple chunks we had this year, this was the easiest time I have ever had drying apples.
These apples are in the beginning of the drying process in our dehydrator. They generally take 6-8 hours at around 130°F.
Two pounds of apples easily fit into ziploc freezer bags. These were marked, labeled, and recorded. Then tossed in the freezer for future use — smoothies, quick breads, pies, and more!
Measuring and weighing your harvest or yield is something that is new to me this year. I really do feel that I live in a special place; even though the whole community does not participate in ‘Sustainability Projects,’ they do support and encourage people to use the land wisely to create resources to be shared and used by the community.
Not only did we dry, freeze, and press the apples, but we also made quite a bit of apple sauce this year. Our Community Canning Kitchen was finished this year and we spent much of October using it. Hopefully next year we can get into making apple jams and jellies!
Apple trees are such great plants to include into your yard or property. If you live in the U.S., chances are there are a few types of apples that will grow in your climate. One of the interesting things about apples is that since they propagate via clonal propagation, you can put multiple varieties of apples on one apple tree. This allows you to have different types of apples and to have apples harvesting at different times of the year. Most apple trees are also self-pollinating, which makes things a bit more practical in urban food forests. There are also many dwarf varieties or rare varieties that would love to find themselves in your yard, in the city, or way out in the country.
Hopefully next month we will be back with a post on How We Are Pruning Our Back Yard Orchard & Our Community Orchard.