Known as the king of all fruits, the apple is found in every farmstand at this time of the year. They are considered to be one of the oldest fruits in existence. In fact, humans have been enjoying apples since 6500 BC.
Apple trees grown from seed are called “heterozygous,” which basically means having dissimilar pairs of genes, therefore apple trees can not be grown from their seeds. Because apple trees are pollinated by insects, the seeds from its fruit are a hybrid of two trees. It will be an apple tree, just not the same as the parent. This is how they were initially planted, Johnny Appleseed style, sewn hither and yon. The end product was sometimes edible straight from hand, but most were only good fermented into cider.
Imagine an apple so bitter and tannic that one bite will cause you to immediately spit it out. Surprisingly, those apples make the best ciders, and by cider, I mean hard cider, not the sweet brown stuff in a plastic jug. Poor sanitation was the main reason our founding fathers were fond of cider. It was safer to drink than water and just as valuable as money.
To grow the apple of your choice, all trees must be vegetatively propagated by grafting or budding methods. The European settlers at Jamestown in 1607, brought cuttings with them from Europe. These grafted trees produced apples of all shapes and sizes. Some had rough, sandpapery skin, others were as misshapen as potatoes and ranged from the size of a cherry to the size of a grapefruit. Colors ran the entire spectrum with flushes, stripes, splashes, and dots. There were apples for every community, taste, purpose, and season. The names were equally as colorful—Roxbury Russet, Maiden’s Blush, Monstrous Pippin, Ralls Genet.
In the 19th century, there were more than 14,000 known cultivars of apples. Today that number has greatly declined, but interest in heirloom varieties is becoming popular again. Each full sized apple tree can produce up to 800 apples, so how do we preserve all that goodness for the months ahead? Apples are probably the most versatile fruit we have available in the Northeast.
Besides cider, applesauce, and apple butter originated as ways to preserve apples, as well as dehydrated and apple vinegar.
Apple Scrap Vinegar is a super easy way to make your own vinegar for just pennies.
Apple peels and cores—as many as you have left over from making a pie or a crisp. Stuff them all into a mason jar with a narrow top. Fill the jar up with regular tap water to above the shoulder, then depending on the size of the jar, add 1 tbsp. of white sugar per quart. Stir into the jar and then using a paper towel or coffee filter, cover the top and pop on a rubber band. Place this jar in a dark corner for two weeks.
After two weeks, strain out the liquid into another clean mason jar and put a new paper over the top. Set it back into the dark corner for three to four weeks and start tasting. It will begin to change from an alcohol to an acid. This process can take up to two months. Begin using as soon as it’s to your taste.
*Note that homemade apple vinegar is not acidic enough to use as a preservative in pickles, for this purpose you need to use commercially-produced vinegar.
Slow Cooker Apple Butter (quick recipe)
It does not contain butter, but gets its name from the smooth mouthfeel and spreadable consistency. Production of apple butter is associated with a community event, often occurring at the end of the apple harvest season. At these events, community members gathered around huge copper kettles hanging over open fires. Cider and chopped apples (skins and cores included) slowly cook while the chefs take turns stirring it for hours. The result is concentrated to the point that the sugars in the apples caramelize and turn a deep brown color. The concentration of sugars gives apple butter a longer shelf life as a preserve over applesauce.
6 1/2 lbs apples—peeled, cored, and chopped (use a mixture of varieties of apples for best flavor)
2 cups sweet apple cider
1/2 cup white sugar (according to your taste—choose your sweetener)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (this is an important ingredient as it adds color and a rich flavor)
1 1/2 tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a slow cooker, and mix well.
Cook on low for about 10 hours. The apple butter should be thick and dark brown.
*If desired, use an immersion blender to make it smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze in small containers.
If you choose to can your apple butter to make it shelf stable (think homemade christmas gifts!) you would need to sterilize your jars first then once filled, process in a hot bath for 30 minutes.