Apples, the best of the fall harvest

Multiple Apples hanging from an Apple tree on a bright blue background

With the bounty of Wisconsin’s harvest all around us, it’s a great time of year to think of preserving the sweetness and tang of apples for enjoyment all year round. Fall weather brings the best fresh apples in bushels. Apples can be dried, made into applesauce or apple butter, or made into jelly. Apple pie filling may be canned or prepared and frozen.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends certain varieties for freezing including: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan and Granny Smith. Varieties that are good for making applesauce and apple butter include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gravenstein and McIntosh. Red Delicious apples and newer varieties such as Honey Crisp are best eaten fresh. They do not freeze or cook well.

Follow these tips for canning apples. Choose firm apples at the peak of maturity for preserving. When making applesauce, a mix of apples with complementary sweet and tart will make the best, most flavorful, sauce. Always follow a tested recipe. Apple butter is a favorite in my family and has many of the same preparation steps.  Tested recipes are available for making a tasty, robust apple butter and a reduced sugar apple butter made with Sucralose. Consider using a slow cooker or Nesco roaster for cooking the apples at a low temperature without added water when preparing sauce. For apple butter you must add the apple cider and vinegar for safety sake! Hot pack the applesauce or apple butter into clean, hot pint or quart jars and close with a 2-piece lid. Always follow with a processing step in a boiling water canner or an atmospheric steam canner. 

A processing step in a boiling water canner or an atmospheric steam canner is necessary to ensure a safe, high quality preserved product. The heat from the boiling water or steam penetrates into the jars and destroys spoilage bacteria and harmful pathogens and could make the product spoil or become unsafe.  Instructions that call for using an oven for canning are not safe. The dry heat of an oven may destroy the sealing surface in the lid, and dry air is not effective at transferring heat into the jar. Think about it: the steam from a pot of boiling water at 212°F will burn your hand in an instant; but you can hold your hand in a very hot oven (400°F) and, as long as you don’t touch a rack or pan, you won’t be instantly burned.

Other flavorful options for canning apples include apple jelly, crabapple jelly, apple preserves, spiced apple rings, and apple chutney.  And who could forget….apple pie filling. Yum!  Extension recommends the use of Clear Jel, a modified corn starch, for thickening pie fillings for canning. In my experience the end result is too thick; I like to use only 75% of the amount of Clear Jel listed in the recipe for a thick, but not too thick product.

If you aren’t into canning apple pie filling, you can still make dessert preparation easy if you have a freezer. Prepare the pie filling for canning but instead of filling into jars, fill into pie plates lined with plastic wrap and/or aluminum foil. Freeze the filling until firm. Remove from the freezer, wrap securely, and return to the freezer. To make a quick dessert, line a pie pan with pastry dough, unwrap and add a frozen ‘filling’, and bake as you would a frozen pie.

Tested recipes also exist for guiding you on how to freeze apple slices or for drying apple slices or rings for a tasty snack. Safe preserving! Barb