Twice a day, I take my bucket out to the apple trees and pick up fallen fruit. The hard green ones under the fall-maturing ‘Liberty’ and ‘Enterprise’ go straight to the compost pile, but many of the apples beneath the early-bearing ‘Williams Pride’ are ripe enough to eat.
The tree has its reasons for shedding this "early windfall" crop. Some of the apples have strange puckers, others show ominous black patches, and many suffer cuts and bruises when they fall to the ground. I shake off the ants and pick them up. If you want to grow high-quality apples organically, gathering up fallen fruit is mandatory. Doing it daily prevents problems with a dozen widespread insects and diseases — and mighty hordes of irritable yellow jackets, too.
After sorting, I have about 10 pounds of apples a day in need of attention. I don’t want to invest much time and energy in them, because there are much better apples to come. But it goes against my nature to waste something that’s perfectly usable. After doing some research and trying various options, here’s what’s working for me.
The apple industry funds fabulous research into every imaginable nutritional benefit of apples. Eating them fresh and whole is best, but a cloudy pink juice made from whole apples, with skins intact, contains four times as many beneficial nutrients as clear, pressed juice. It’s fast to make, too. Wash the apples, cut away obvious bad parts, and cut them in halves or quarters. Place in a large pot with an inch or two of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook about 20 minutes. Mash with a potato masher or big spoon, and then dump the pulp into a large colander lined with a piece of lightweight cloth such as cotton sheeting or cheesecloth, placed over a deep pot. After it has drained for an hour or so, squeeze the pulp a few times to get as much cloudy juice as you can, because the cloudier the juice, the greater its fiber, heart-healthy flavonoids and antioxidants to charge up your immune system.
Speaking of fiber, slightly immature apples are high in pectin, the natural water-soluble fiber that makes jelly jell. Before commercial pectins became available, jelly makers canned juice from early windfall apples, and combined it with other fruits later in the season. The syrupy texture of early windfall juice is due to the high levels of natural sugars and pectins. Take a swig to sample the best natural fiber supplement you’ll ever taste.
Apples are easy to dry, and it’s up to you as to whether or not you remove the peels first. The skin-on version is way more nutritious, but peeled dried apples are sometimes nicer to eat. But I actually prefer skin-on dried apples for cooking with oatmeal and other grain cereals. To make quick work of windfalls, I quickly cut the plump cheeks from the biggest and best washed apples, slice them into a lemon juice solution, and pop them in the dehydrator. Four to five hours later, they’re done! (To learn more about drying food, see Reap the Garden & Market Bounty: How to Dry Food.)
* Windfall apples are not good for cider-making because they are often immature and contaminated with microorganisms.
* Strips of peel are barriers to dehydration, so cut the pieces small when drying apples with their peels intact.
* Share your early windfalls with your animals, but don’t go overboard. Horses and other animals will make themselves sick from eating too many green apples. Limit them to two or three a day.
* Chop cull apples with a spade before layering them into compost. Cover with two inches of pulled plants, straw or other compostable materials to prevent problems with nuisance insects and animals.
Cloudy pink juice made by heating apples with their skins on contains four times as many health-enhancing nutrients as clear pressed juice.
Photos by Barbara Pleasant