APPLE PRESERVING @COED HILLS
By Barbora Adlerova
On Sunday 27th November we braced the dank weather and visited Coed Hills Forest Garden as part of the Global Gardens Fruit Tree Care series. We got busy sorting apples, helping with juicing, peeling, chopping and jarring whilst gardener, educator and apple aficionado Stephen Watts shared his rich knowledge about the best way to store and preserve apples – and if you missed this, you can catch up on it here.
Picking, inspecting and storing
Historically, good storing and preserving techniques were paramount for enjoying apples as a staple of British diet (cooked, rather than raw) for 6 months a year. Although fresh is nutritionally the best, preserving is a convenient way to deal with nature’s bounty. One of the first things to consider when storing apples is the harvest window. There are around 3000 varieties that have been found growing in the UK. Generally they can be divided into three categories according to their harvest and storage windows : 1) early apples which tend to be picked and eaten between July to August, 2) mid season apples (which tend to be picked and stored between September to Oct, 3) and late apples whch tend to be picked from November onwards until the end of the apple season.
The later you harvest, the more chances the apples will keep better, and even more if that’s on a dry day and the apple is not overripe. Keeping the stalk on will help to keep the apple longer. Take care to prevent skin rupture that may introduce bacteria. Interestingly, it is not the bruising that makes the most damage, but skin breakage. If you have enough space, best practice is to store fruit in clean crates in one layer. That may not be possible, Stephen recommended to inspect the fruit regularly for any signs of overripeness and rotting. Earlier in the season when it is warmer, it is worth inspecting at least twice a week. In the picture below, the yellow, bruised and soft to touch apple (Wern variety) on the left is ready to go to apple mousse, whilst its green firm counterpart can be stored for a couple more weeks.
Similarly, this apple with scab (a fungal disease caused by a lack of air and light, which can be addressed through pruning) is ready for juicing. At home, a cool, dry place is best for storage, with a good air movement to prevent rotting.
Preserving apples: juicing, cooking and drying
Stephen introduced a number of preservation techniques including juicing, cooking and drying. We began using the hydraulic apple press to juice the apples not suitable for storage (including damaged and overripe but not rotten). Since there are currently no pasteurising facilities at Coed Hills, Stephen tends to ferment most apple juice into apple cider and vinegar.
Stevie talked us through cider making with wild yeast (just store your apple juice in clean fermentation buckets which will ‘collect’ wild yeast from the environment, nothing extra needed!) at a ratio of 1/3 cooking apples and 2/3 of eaters for the right taste and pH.
Apple cider vinegar is another option of storing juice. To make cider vinegar, simply expose cider to air by replacing the lid of the fermentation bucket with a cloth (the cloth prevents flies accessing the vinegar)..You can add a little bit of apple cider mother and grapes, red currants etc to feed it to help the process.
Drying and cooking
You can also dry your apples or cook them into apple mouse. We used this funky 3-in-1 peeler, corer and slicer to help with the load.
Storage of preserved apples depends on the sugar/water ratio. Syrups and jams that are 40 – 50% sugar preserve apples better than juice which tends to not have added sugar and can be inviting for unwanted bacteria growth in the long term.
With the help of Mathu who also lives and works at Coed Hills we cooked them down in a big pot until soft, without spices or sugar, but you can add cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise or all spice. We also added crab apples which have a high pectin content so help the mousse (as well as sauces, soups of jams) to set. Our batch was more chunky and less mushy as we were cooking with later varieties and when ready, Mattu skilfully filled them into sterilised jars. To sterilise the glasses, she advised to put them into the oven for 15 mins on 140-150 degrees and leave them there long as possible and then handle minimally (especially the lids), to prevent introduction of bacteria. You can also use the hot water technique.
As she explained, the trick is to turn them upside down immediately so the hot air rises and kills any bacteria introduced during the filling process. After a couple of minutes, the lid should be firm and silent – you shouldn’t feel or hear any click when you press it. If that’s not the case, instead of your pantry put the jar in your fridge and consume as soon as possible. And of course if you have a space in the freezer, you can reuse food containers to store apple mousse there.
And then during the dark winter months, you can enjoy spoonful of scrumptious mousse into your morning porridge.
Written by Barbora Adlerova from Orchard Cardiff, a small community-run project that helps to harvests fruit from private trees and share it in the community. If you know of a tree that would benefit from harvesting or if you’d like to join us at our harvests, get in touch on Facebook or our website.
Many thanks to The National Lottery Community Fund in Wales for funding this workshop and the fruit tree care series.