The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

It's Apple Picking Time

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

If my little apple orchard is any indication of this year's apple crop, it's time to start looking for 101 ways to use apples.

Depending on the variety, apple harvest can start in late July and continue into early December. With over 2500 apple varieties grown in the US apple season is long and fruitful. Harvest time for individual varieties can vary from year to year depending on the weather during the growing season. For the backyard orchardist the perfect picking period can appear as a botanical mystery.

For apples, the time to pick is when the fruit is fully mature but before it becomes overripe according to University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Maurice Ogutu.

Harvest time is determined by the time elapsed between full bloom and expected harvest date, changes in flesh and skin color, ease of fruit separation, fruit drop, and apple softness and flavor, according to Ogutu.

Color both outside and beneath the skin is a very important indicator of maturity. In varieties of apples that mature yellow their maturity is indicated once green gives way to yellow. Once mature, flesh color changes from green to white in red and yellow varieties. Green skin varieties can maintain some green flesh even at maturity.

Ease of separation from the spur usually occurs in mature apples states Ogutu. To harvest apples, do not pull the apple straight down but twist it upwards with a rotating motion. The apple should easily separate from the little twig known as a spur. This method also protects the spur and therefore future fruit production.

Another maturity signal is when good fruit starts dropping from the tree. A taste test is one of the best methods to determine fruit maturity. When apples become softer and taste sweet and juicy, it's pie time.

Fruits that are not going to be used immediately should be stored in a cool place. Separate bruised and damaged fruits. Only store those in good condition in well-ventilated containers. Refrigerate if possible.

Apples also freeze and can well. For more info on growing and preserving apples

If you don't have your own apple trees, there are plenty of local orchards. Here is a tasty recipe using 3 pounds of apples. (Use firm cooking apples for making apple crisp — Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Baldwin, Jonathan, Braeburn, or Jonagold. Any apples can be used for baking, however, baking apples hold their shape better.) Now you only need 100 more recipes!

Apple Cranberry Crisp

1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/2 cup each, granulated sugar and brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) chilled butter or margarine cut into small pieces
7 cups peeled diced apples (about 3 pounds)
3 tablespoons apple juice or cider
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly coat eight-inch baking dish with cooking spray or oil and set aside. In a bowl, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg until well blended. Cut in chilled butter using a pastry blender or clean fingers until the mixture is crumbly. In another bowl, combine apples, apple juice and cranberries. Spoon the apple mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with crumb mixture. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm topped with ice cream or yogurt.

Yield 9 servings.

If you are looking for recipes without so much sugar, check out

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