An Abundance of Apples - Making the Most of a Generous Tree
A Small Miracle
It is a small miracle of nature the amount of fruit a single mature fruit tree can produce. One of those miracles that often goes unappreciated, and underutilized, to be certain. I remember hearing the story from my brother and his wife some years back of an apple tree so loaded with fruit that went unpicked in their neighborhood that the poor tree split right in two down the center. Such a shameful waste of a generous natural world it still makes me cringe to think of it.
My First Experience with Nature's Abundance
When I was a child there was a lovely mature plum tree growing along the side of the back rooms of our house. Huge and stately, it was an anchor on the property. Nearly as tall as the three story house, it provided a large patch of welcome summer shade as well as a multitude of plump sweet purple-red plums.
A good part of the thrill of the tree was that the best place for picking plums was on the roof of the single story portion of the back of the house. Climbing out a second story bedroom window provided easy access to the roof, and all the plums in the middle of the tree were within easy reach. The upper branches were still high overhead, but the abundance of fruit in the middle of the tree more than made up for this.
Image Source: Flickr - GreenstepsOn summer mornings beginning in early August, and lasting right up until school began again after labor day, my younger brother and I climbed out the window and onto the roof and picked plums. The juiciest and ripest were eaten on the spot. We gathered the rest into buckets provided by our mother. Making trips with full buckets of plums to the kitchen sink for washing and drying, we would pick until we grew weary of picking and the heat of the day began to settle over the house. Then we washed the plums and set them to dry on the counter.
Each day, a portion of the plums went to 'pay' for our permission to pick and harvest the tree, and the rest were ours for our little plum business, which we set up on the nearest street corner. We borrowed a little wicker porch table and chair from the front porch, a few empty egg cartons and took our buckets of clean ripe plums to market.
A Small Business is Born
Our price was 50 cents for a dozen small, or 75 cents for a dozen large. Customers would pick their egg carton, we would transfer the plums to a paper sack from our mother’s cupboard,, and we would refill the egg carton for the next sale. On advice from our parents, we set out a 'tasting plate' of cut up plums as samples for our would-be customers, and that did the trick. The plums were so delicious we had no trouble selling all we had to offer. Passers-by and neighbors, on foot and in cars, would buy up our daily supply within an hour or so of our setting up shop; and we even came to have 'regulars' who insisted we set aside dozens of plums for them in advance. Once our daily sales were completed we would retire to the sprinkler in the back yard to cool down from the summer heat.
When we moved to a new house the year of my 12th birthday, I discovered what I missed most after the move was the plum tree.
A True Superstar
We never had an apple tree. We did have seckle pears, at the new house after we moved, which were delicious in their own way, but the trees were far younger and less impressive, both in their stature and their production of fruits. It was fun watching the squirrels get drunk eating the over-ripe pears that fell and rolled into the bushes where we didn't see them, though. It is only now, so many years later, that I am blessed with my first real mature apple tree, and she is an absolute super star. Her shade makes the back yard bearable on summer afternoons, moving silently across the gardens, grass and clover, arriving in late afternoon over the chicken paddock and duck pond just in time to protect the chicken and ducks from the hottest part of the day.
The feeling of calm under her branches is palpable, that is, unless the apples have begun to fall. And, at least this year, her apple production is so abundant it is almost overwhelming.
Full Speed Ahead: Harvesting the Bounty
I've hired the 9 year old next door to help pick up the fallen apples because I simply cannot keep up with the rate at which they are coming down. We've picked the lower branches starting as high as we can reach as they leaned down and finally rested their tips on the ground, so loaded with fruit they could no longer hold themselves aloft.
An extension pole and 'Twister' allow us to selectively pick the ripest and largest apples when they are ready from the upper branches, and the days seem to be divided into picking, coring, cooking, canning, freezing, and drying these most exquisite and delicious fruits.
What Apple Is This?!
As we began the harvest we were uncertain what variety of apple these were. They are sweet and tart at once, and perfectly edible green as well as once they fully ripen. They seem to move from green to soft greenish yellow with thin streaks of pale reddish pink and finally to a fairly uniform red. For a while we thought perhaps it is a Braeburn. No one seemed to have any information about what type of apple tree this is, or, for that matter, when she was planted here. Perhaps it was before the house was built, although the perfect placement in the center of the back yard makes that doubtful to me.
Delicious Gravenstein apples on our tree
waiting to be picked.
One Sunday afternoon after most of the apples had been harvested we stopped by a nearby local farm. We were in search of canning tomatoes and extra cucumbers for pickling, but as we browsed the farm stand we spotted what looked distinctly like the apples from our tree. I snatched up an apple and took it to the cashier and asked her if she knew what variety of apple it was. She responded without hesitation, "Oh, that's a Gravenstein apple from the tree outside!" as she turned and gestured out the door next to us. I asked her if she would mind if I took a leaf from the tree to compare with my tree at home, and if she would allow me to buy a single apple even though the apple display stated "10lbs minimum purchase". She happily agreed. We completed our purchase of tomatoes and cucumbers and hurried home with our apple and leaf. As soon as we were home, we went out back, picked an apple, and a leaf from the tree, and took turns eating the two apples. The leaves were an exact match and there was no question - we had found our variety.
And The Harvest Goes On
Cooking apples in a pressure cooker greatly
speeds up the time it takes to make applesauce
or apple butter. Source: vegetablegardenhub
The badly bruised and rotting fruits on the ground are chopped up and soaked in water for the ducks and chickens, who eat them readily enough once a day but lose interest if they are the only treat offered.
Picked and newly fallen unbruised fruit is washed and cored and set on the stove in the 20 quart stock pot to simmer slowly into apple butter and apple sauce. The mason jars are multiplying in the cupboards like rabbits in the brush.
All this apple production led to an afternoon of exploration into alternate ways to preserve and keep them.
Canned apple sauce and apple butter for months to come.
The Wonderful Crazy Turny-Slicey Thingy
Next we began slicing the apples with our wonderful crazy turny-slicey thingy that our oldest son bought from some late night television advertisement years ago when he was just beginning to explore the world of cooking. It makes quick work of the apples and produces paper thin slices as it goes around the core. These are sprayed with lemon juice and placed on a sheet of freezer paper sprayed with lemon juice on a cookie sheet and quick frozen in the large commercial freezer out back, then removed and packed into gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags for use in apple pies, strudels and apple crisps.
Coring and freezing with a little lemon juice is also fine for pies and compotes, and we are experimenting with thickness of the slice for the dried apple. A spray bottle of lemon juice and water in a 50/50 mix works wonders for covering the entire surface of the sliced apple pieces to help them retain their crisp creamy white flesh and not brown in the freezing or drying process.
Eating and Juicing
Of course, just eating them fresh is also wonderful and we've been adding sliced apple to sandwiches and alongside almost all our meals. We're hoping to figure out a way to store them whole and fresh without a root cellar and have been considering various approaches. For now, we are so busy with all the other methods we simply haven't had time to get to it, but there are plenty more apples to come.
We also juice them, and may decide to freeze some of the juice. We have been juicing the apples for weeks now, as part of our regular juicing routine, we add them to carrots, kale, celery, beet greens and cabbage from the garden for delicious and high energy drinks that help keep us going through the late afternoons and early evenings of long summer days of gardening, canning and all the busy work of high summer in the garden.
We have decided to keep track of just how much fruit (in weight) this apple tree produces this year, not for any particular reason other than that we are interested to know. So far we have collected well over 900 pounds of fruit and the tree is still loaded with more fruit.
Nurturing a Neglected Tree
We were discussing this abundant harvest the other evening and my husband remarked that last year (our first year with this tree in our lives) we had not harvested much of anything from the apple tree and that was too bad. I reminded him that last year when we arrived and moved in, in June, the tree had already flowered and was setting fruit, but had not been well taken care of in a very long time. It had been cut back severely at some point in the past so that it had four absolutely huge arms which terminated in stumps and out of which literally dozens of water shoots had erupted. No doubt the shock of the severe cutting had set the tree into overdrive which is what results in massive water shoot growth. Some of these water shoots were now twenty and thirty feet tall and ranging from one to several inches in diameter. The problem was there were about twice as many of them a there should be, and many of them were coming straight up the center of the tree, blocking all the good sunlight from the rest of the tree and from the fruit.
Last year the tree produced very few good apples. There were many of them, but they were small, misshapen and full of codling moth worms and apple rust. Not exactly an appetizing ideal.
As early as the month we moved in I began watering in mixed glacial rock dust around the base of the tree and to occasionally give the tree a rock dust bath by throwing handfuls of the rock dust up into the branches of the tree so that they settled on the leaves and fruit as high as I could throw. Not as high as I wanted, but higher than you might guess. I managed to 'treat' about 2/3 of the tree this way over the first summer and fall.
Then in December we began formulating which branches we would cut to bring the tree back to some form of balance after years of complete over-growth of branches and particularly straight central water shoots. In early January we made the cuts, climbing up into the trees lower branches and taking out what seemed like far too many of these upright bare shoots one at a time. We stacked the larger branches along the fence and gathered the smaller ones to use in composting and Hugelkulturs on the property.
Our apple tree in January 2012 after pruning.Source: vegetablegardenhub
In the end, it was not easy to tell where or if we had cut the tree back at all, but I suspect this is due more to the extreme number of branches that needed to be cut and less to whether or not enough branches were cut. After all, the last thing we wanted was to send the poor tree back into shock again and massive water shoot production.
Now that the tree has begun to come into harvest, it is clear we could very easily have cut more than we did, and all would have been well. As it is we are overwhelmed by the volume of apples just falling to the ground each day.
Nothing Is Ever Wasted
Trellis for peas made from apple tree branches.
Organic Pest Control and Pollination
Thinning the branches opened up the center of the tree to the light and also provided access to get up into the tree more easily. This gave us the opportunity to treat the higher limbs and foliage for an application of neem oil spray once the tree had gone through its bloom and bee pollination cycle. The neem oil helps the tree to heal from brown scab and also combats codling moths, both of which were evident in the fruit and leaves last season.
A large overwintering borage in the garden virtually at the foot of the tree provided the early blossoms to attract bees into the garden even before the apple went into a massive and completely extraordinary bloom.
Our Gravenstein apple tree in full bloom. Source: vegetablegardenhub
...and a few weeks later (late April). Source: vegetablegardenhub
Now we joke that the bees must have pollinated every single blossom on the tree this spring, considering the hundreds of pounds of apples to be harvested.
Give Away Fresh Apples - As Many As You Can
Source: vegetablegardenhubWe have had visits from family and friends, whom we admonished to bring buckets or strong tote bags and have sent them all home with large quantities of freshly picked apples at the end of their visits, but it still is not enough. Perhaps we will have to encourage the nine year old next door to set up an apple stand on the street corner to help us distribute the abundance of this tree further out into the world.
It is difficult to imagine how there can be so much suffering and hunger in the world in the face of nature's perfect and massively productive plan. Perhaps all the world needs is to remember the power and abundance of nature, and gratefully accept her gifts and share them as far and wide as possible to end hunger in the world. It seems particularly nonsensical, in the face of such prolific food production from a single tree that anyone should be left hungry.
A Dozen Lessons Learned This Apple Season
1. One apple tree CAN produce over 1000 pounds of apples.
2. Over 1000 pounds of apples is more than a boatload of apples.
3. When making apple sauce and/or butter, the most important tool is the splatter guard screen thingy that goes on top of the pot so the sauce can cook down to butter without creating a 12 hour cleaning job.
4. Apple sauce and butter only clean up when freshly spilled/splashed/splattered. After that they are like a form of super glue and will coat your stove, counters, the edges of cupboard doors where it dripped and you didn't see it, the floor and essentially the entire kitchen for years to come.
5. Green apples juice very well in a masticating juicer. Ripe ones, not so much. Unless your plan was to make instant raw apple sauce, in which case they do great at that. Instant apple mush.
6. If your apples have great flavor, the best way to use them is plain. Add nothing. Apple sauce, butter, juice, it doesn't matter - the taste of a good apple beats all additives.
7. If possible, hire the neighbor kid to run the 'genius cool machine' that hand cranks to slice and core apples, do it. You will otherwise spend most of your life during apple harvest either cutting, paring, coring, cooking, canning, drying or freezing apples.
8. During the harvest, give away as many raw apples as you can. You can always give away apple sauce and juice and butter later. Right now you need to give away APPLES.
9. The only difference between apple sauce and apple butter is the length of time it cooks. Apple sauce is done once the apples are cooked down one time and run through a Foley food mill or other apple milling device. Apple butter cooks again after the first milling. For either sauce or butter you can refine the texture with a gravy-making high speed blade hand mixer or in a food processor, if desired.
10. When cooking apples down for apple sauce and/or butter, use a heavy bottomed pot. A good stainless steel copper-bottomed 16 to 20 quart stock pot gives best results and allows for a large quantity of apple pieces to be cooked down at one time. (Alternately, if you have a good heavy pressure cooker, this too can work, and works very quickly but must be watched carefully and only allowed to reach and maintain full pressure (for a 15lb pressure cooker) for four minutes.
11. Whether making apple sauce and/or butter do not allow yourself or anyone else to become impatient and turn up the heat above LOW. (*Unless following pressure cooking method, above). Failure to abide by this simple rule can result in a loss of a lot of good apple sauce and/or butter to burnt sticky uselessness. It will not be edible, and even the ducks and chickens will not be interested, it will only be useful as compost.
12. Should you fail to observe lesson 11, and end up with a layer of burnt apple sauce in the bottom of your pot, there is only one sure solution for getting it clean again:
Simmer vinegar and baking soda in the pot for at least 20 to 30 minutes.
The vinegar should cover the burnt area completely to a depth of about 2 inches of vinegar above the burnt guck. Get the vinegar hot before adding the soda and add it a little at a time. Stir in baking soda as it foams up, careful not to let it bubble over. After the boiling and addition of soda, the guck will turn into sheets resembling peanut brittle and peel off readily with a plastic spatula or spoon. Should this not remove all the burnt mess on the first go, just repeat the process. Usually two rounds is all it takes to have a beautiful shiny as new pot.
Nature's abundance on full display. Source: vegetablegardenhub
- Gravenstein Apple Tree - Wikipedia
Gravenstein Apples were discovered in Denmark in the 17th century as a chance seedling. Learn more about this amazing variety.
- Borage - Pollinator Attractor
We believe that one of the secrets for our abundant apple tree harvest was extreme pollination by bees who were already attracted to our garden in the weeks before the apple bloom by a massive early blooming borage plant in the vegetable garden near
- How to Make the Most of Your Garden's Potential at High Summer
Tips and tricks for getting through an overabundant harvest.
- Juicing with the Omega Juicer
I love this book. This is THE book to have if you want to get into juicing apples and other fruits and vegetables. It covers everything from juicer types to detailed nutrition information of fruits and veggies you can juice.
Do you also have a fruit tree in your garden that has overwhelmed you with its abundance? Please share your thoughts!