TODAY'S MAIN INGREDIENT - PODCAST
ApplesOctober 23, 2021
Today’s Main Ingredient is extra-delicious: Apples!
Host Mikki Uzupes talks with legionary local orchard-ist Roger Hill of Treeline Farm and the manager at O’Neill’s Orchard in Pleasant Mount PA. The discussion was so sweet, and organic, this episode has two-parts!
In Part 2, Mikki and Roger continue the discussion on how to grow apples in our region. Plus Executive Chef Kate Woerhle from The Settler’s Inn in Hawley PA adds even more sweet info to the conversation. Plus nutritionist Carol Kneier shares more ‘fruitful’ benefits from eating apples.
Apples and apple trees originated in central Asia thousands of years ago, and today are grown worldwide.
Planting and growing hardy apple trees requires some specific knowledge about their botany including an understanding of their annual, and seasonal, life-cycle and their requirements for producing fruit. There’s also special terminology to learn, like “rootstock” and “grafting,” “dormancy” and “chill hours.” And then there are some firm rules; for example, you need at least two different varieties of apple trees (cultivars), which have to be cross pollinated or your tree won’t produce any fruit. Further, you need to choose the right varieties for your region’s climate (see the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map) and the number of days for each variety to be ready to harvest.
An apple tree’s seasonal life cycle:
• Dormancy in cold winter months a minimum number of “chill hours” (see below) is required, and is specific to each variety you’re growing.
• Blossoming and pollination in the spring requires (a) at least two different apple cultivars/varieties blossoming at the same time & planted within 2000 feet (for cross pollination) and (b) temperatures warm enough for bees (pollinators) to successfully fertilize the flowers and grow apples, without cross pollination there would be no fruit.
• Fruiting: Even the period of fruiting requires attention. (a) Often, an apple tree cannot support the growth of all the fruits that are developing on its branches, thinning and pruning are required; or (b) pests may attack the fruit shortly after the blossoms drop.
Rootstock and grafts: The rootstock is the stem of a plant with a well-developed root system to which a graft from an existing apple tree is attached. The rootstock provides the foundation for the tree and is selected for its interaction with the soil and for providing support for the new plant. The grafted part of the plant—a cutting or a bud—is what produces the growth of leaves and branches and eventually fruit. Rootstocks are generally used to control the size of the tree—standard, semi-dwarf, or dwarf, so that more trees can be grown in a smaller area. The graft is what determines the variety of apple to be grown.
Cross pollination (and insects) are required:
Never plant just one apple tree. To produce fruit, apples need pollen from another apple tree of a different variety. The two trees must be within 2,000 feet of each other and be in blossom at the same time. The presence of bees (native or honeybees) and other pollinating insects (or even bats) is also very important; poor pollination will reduce the quantity of fruit or cause misshapen fruit. Some orchards rent or maintain honeybee hives for good pollination. Using broad-spectrum insecticides can impact the pollinators’ activity, so do so before and during the season only with careful consideration.
Also, because of cross pollination from two or more different cultivars, an apple seed contains genes from both apple varieties. So, for example, if you plant a seed you save from a Honey Crisp apple, you won’t end up growing pure Honey Crisp apples, and its tree size, hardiness, and fruit quality may differ from the Honey Crisp “parent” tree (and will frequently be poorer).
Each variety of apple has a specific number of “chill hours” needed to set fruit determined by the amount of time outdoor temperatures are between 32° and 45°F. The farther north you’re located, the more chill hours an apple variety needs to avoid late spring freeze problems. Check tree tags for chill-hour information, ask the seller, do online research, or check with your Cooperative Extension Office.
Apple trees are the one of the most pest-susceptible fruits, and pest control measures will be an important part of care. It’s important to research your variety and climate to know which pests and diseases are most likely to be a problem; this will allow you to apply the right controls at the right time.
When used, pesticides are applied at a specific stage of flower and fruit development, not according to the calendar, and correct timing is critical to avoid harming beneficial insects and affecting pollination.
If you wish to avoid pesticides, there are organic methods. However, growing apples organically is much more difficult on the East Coast than in the West due to incidence of fungal diseases and types of pests that aren’t even present in the West. It will take much research and persistence to grow apples if you wish to avoid any type of spraying program.
Pests to watch out for include apple maggots, plum curculios, green fruit worms, and codling moths. Many gardeners who avoid pesticides may still need, at minimum, to find acceptable annual treatment(s) for a decent apple crop. Other pests such as scales, mites, and aphids can be controlled by natural parasite and predator populations, but only if you haven’t used a lot of sprays (that impact those beneficial services that nature can provide).
Ideas to help avoid pesticides: The apple maggot can be trapped by hanging one or two round, softball-size balls—painted red and coated with sticky “Tangle-Trap”—from a branch in June through the summer. Reapply the sticky goo a time or two, as necessary.
Select disease-resistant varieties that do not require spraying for apple scab, cedar-apple rust, and other common diseases. However, most other varieties require periodic spraying every spring and summer after planting. Check with your Cooperative Extension service to find appropriate pest prevention programs for your area.
You can also try an anti-insect oil, found at garden stores. Follow product directions: spray in the spring when your apple trees are in the tight cluster stage, after the leaves have unfolded from the fruiting cluster, but before the buds begin to show pink.
Other pest-fighting tips:
• To keep insects away from apple trees (after pollination), make a solution of 1 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 quart of water. Pour this mixture into a widemouthed plastic jug. Hang the jug, uncovered, in your apple tree.
• Fend off fungal diseases by raking apple leaves, burying them beneath mulch, or grinding them with a lawnmower at season’s end.
• Keep deer at bay with repellents, fencing, or deer-resistant plants.
• Deter voles, mice and rabbits with wire-mesh cylinders around the base of the tree.
• Grow apple trees in full sun (6 or more hours direct sun daily).
• Choose well-drained soil that will still retain moisture.
• Loamy light- to medium-textured soils are best; fruit trees struggle in heavy clay soil, and poorly-drained soil leads to root rot disease.
• Plant were fruit gets good air circulation, so leaves dry quickly after rainfall or the trees risk fungal leaf diseases.
• Do not plant in a “frost pocket” (where cold air settles in low-lying areas).
• Do not plant near wooded areas or other species of trees.
• Do a soil test before planting: seeking pH of 5.5 to 7.0. (Purchase a soil kit from your Cooperative Extension Service.)
• Before planting, remove all weeds and grass in a 4-foot diameter circle.
How to plant from seed: Apple seeds need to be exposed to cool, moist conditions before they are ready to germinate and grow. Sow them outdoors in the fall 1/2-inch deep, and the natural seasonal cycle will take care of the seed’s chilling needs for you. Alternatively, place the seeds in moistened sand in a plastic container and keep the container in the fridge for 3 to 4 months. Then, sow them outdoors 1/2-inch deep once the threat of frost has passed. Once the seedling emerges, be sure to keep it well watered and protected from pests.
Finally, you should know that it can take 8 to 10 years for an apple seedling to produce apples.
Planting from grafted rootstock: Compared to planting from seed, planting grafted rootstock jumpstarts growth. When purchasing a specific apple cultivar at a nursery, the variety will be identified by its graft. If the graft is Honey Crisp, you’ll eventually be harvesting Honey Crisp apples. However, tree tags in the nursery don’t always tell you where that variety grows best.
Penn State Cooperative Extension lists the following varieties for Northeast Pennsylvania: Cortland, Cripps Pink, Empire, Ever Crisp, an early-maturing strain of Fuji, Gala, Ginger Gold, Golden Delicious & Red Delicious, Honeycrisp, Ida Red & Paula Red, Jonagold & Jonathan, McIntosh, Macoun, Northern Spy, Stayman.
• After you purchase the tree, protect it from injury (drying out, freezing, or overheating). If roots have dried out, soak them in water for about 24 hours before planting.
• Plant grafted rootstock that will produce full-size trees 25 to 30 feet apart in rows 25 to 30 feet apart; plant dwarf trees 7 to 15 feet apart in rows 15 feet apart; plant semi-dwarf trees 15 feet apart in rows 15 feet apart.
• Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root system and as deep as the root system. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and especially on the walls of the hole so roots can easily penetrate it. Add some aged compost and mineral fertilizers like rock phosphate and azomite, but NOT raw manure or other nitrogen sources. Spread the tree roots on the loose soil making sure they are not twisted or crowded. Make a mound in the bottom of the hole over which to spread the roots.
• Check for the “dirt line” or a change in bark color indicating the nursery’s planting depth, and plant at the same depth.
• Set the plant in the hole and spread the roots around the mound, making sure the roots are circling the hole; it’s better to trim roots than to coil them.
• Hold the plant at the right depth and backfill soil around it. Tamp soil firmly to remove air pockets. Fill the hole with the rest of the soil and press it down well.
• Do not add fertilizer at planting time, as the roots can be “burned.”
• Water immediately; don’t skimp. Make sure that plenty of water settles in all the loosened soil. Wiggle the trunk to make sure no air pockets remain around the roots. Leave a berm around each tree to make sure the water does not run off. Keep trees well-watered during their first summer. Longer, deeper soakings are effective; frequent sprinklings are not.
• Provide support for dwarf trees; they are notoriously prone to uprooting under the weight of a heavy crop.
• Remember which varieties you planted and where. Use permanent vinyl tags to replace nursery tags.
Water young trees regularly, especially dwarfing rootstocks.
Refresh mulch periodically but pull it away from the trunk so it doesn’t rot. This also helps prevent rodents from nesting there over the winter and chewing the trees’ bark.
Feeding: Nutritional requirements of apple trees vary through their lifetimes and are influenced by such factors as rootstock, crop load, soil type, and weather conditions. [See https://fedcoseeds.com/ogs/amendments-and-fertilizers ]. In addition to nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, apple trees need adequate levels of calcium, boron, copper, and zinc to maintain the health of the tree and produce quality fruit. Soil tests and leaf analyses are recommended at least once every three years to find out what deficiencies your soil has and what amendments you’ll need. A leaf analysis is the most accurate way to check if applied soil amendments are being used by the tree. Leaf analysis test kits can be purchased at your Penn State Extension county office or ordered online. Also see https://extension.psu.edu/apple-production.
Pruning: With diligent annual pruning and thinning, most apples will produce an annual crop, one heavy, the next light.
Tools: Pruners and a hand saw; do not use loppers.
Apple trees require “training” to nurture a strong central frame so their branches can carry heavy apple crops. Dwarf plants must be supported with posts or trellis and trained to a central leader system.
The main purpose of pruning is to arrange the branches to get light and air to all the leaves. You don’t want any leaves that don’t get any light and no leaves touching other leaves. Pruning reduces disease by letting in more light and air. Large trees may need more pruning (and a ladder!).
• Always prune during the tree’s dormant season (winter).
• Do your big cutting when the tree is young.
• Focus on the branches you want to keep and take out the rest to create the shape of the tree that you want.
• Never take out more than 1/3 of the tree.
• Cut above a bud that’s facing outward from the center of the tree, and fruit will be on the spurs.
• Remove the following: diseased, broken, and injured branches; plus any thin and crowded branches, and weak twigs (which often hang from the undersides of limbs).
• Shorten stems that become too droopy, especially those low in the tree.
• Address fruiting spurs (stubby branches that elongate only about a half-inch per year): After about 10 years, when fruiting spurs become overcrowded and decrepit, cut away some of them and shorten others. When a whole limb of fruiting spurs declines with age, cut it back to make room for a younger replacement.
• Cut away overly vigorous, upright (vertical) stems (most commonly high up in the tree).
• Once your apple tree has filled in and is bearing fruit, prune yearly to maintain size and form.
Basic pruning techniques:
(1) Prune to a central leader, i.e. the main trunk…
(2) Pruning to create an open center. Watch this video:
In addition there are some techniques that help direct growth without heavy pruning. For example:
(a) Rub off misplaced buds before they grow into misplaced branches, and/or
(b) bend a stem down almost horizontally for a few weeks to slow growth and promote branches and fruiting. Tie down with strings to stakes in the ground or to lower branches.
What does it mean to espalier an apple tree?
Many gardeners would love to grow apples, pears, peaches, and other tree fruits in their yard, but don’t have the room or climate to accommodate them. While there are many dwarf tree fruit varieties on the market, sometimes even these trees are too large for a small yard. Plus, if you live in a cold-winter region or cool-summer climate, some fruits just won’t grow and mature well for you.
Gardeners in northern France and England in the 16th century addressed this problem by developing a pruning technique that would allow normally large trees to fit in small spaces up against a fence or wall. In this way they could create a microclimate along south-, east-, or west-facing walls. They also found that trees trained in this way can be very productive. Espalier pruning continues to be popular in Europe, and is now done around the world. See How to Espalier an Apple Tree | Garden.org
• Apples are often grown without any thinning other than what nature provides in the annual spring drop.
• However, to avoid potential disease and insect problems, it’s helpful to thin after the natural fruit drop (about 4 to 6 weeks after bloom) to one fruit per cluster, or about 6 to 8 inches between fruit. This seems hard, but this practice evens out production, prevents a heavy crop from breaking limbs, and ensures better-tasting, larger fruit crop.
• Soon after fruit-set, remove the smallest fruits or damaged on ones, leaving about four inches between those that remain.
• Harvest patiently. After all this pruning and caring, be sure to harvest your apples at their peak of perfection.
• Pick your apples when their background color is no longer green.
• The stem should part readily from the branch when the fruit is cupped in the palm of your hand and given a slight twist around, then up (do not yank on the apple).
• Different apple varieties mature at different times, so the harvest season can stretch from August to October.
• If the apple is overripe and soft, use for cooking.
Apples destined for storage must be perfect, with no bruises or blemishes that could provide entry points for rot.
• Store only mid- or late-season apples. Early-season summer varieties don’t keep and are best eaten soon after picking. Mid-season varieties should keep for a few weeks, while late season varieties will stay in good condition for anywhere up to 5 months in a root cellar.
• Store apples by wrapping up individual fruits in newspaper or tissue paper. Place the wrapped apples onto trays that allow air to circulate. You can also store them unwrapped, but the fruits should not touch. Different varieties store for different lengths of time, so keep them separate and eat those that won’t store as long first.
• The ideal storage is somewhere cool, dark, and well-ventilated. Most garages and sheds are fine, while attics and basements should be avoided due to either excessive heat, lack of ventilation or low humidity.
• Check stored apples regularly and remove any that are going soft, brown or rotting.
Apples and pears ripen slowly after they mature. How long they can be kept in storage depends on how ripe they are when you buy them.
Refrigerating: Fully ripened fruit should be refrigerated immediately.
Ripening at room temperature: If the fruit needs to ripen further once you get it home, it should be left at room temperature. It will ripen more quickly if stored at room temperature in a brown-paper bag punctured with holes. If the fruit is extremely hard, the process can be accelerated by adding a very ripe piece of fruit to the bag. If ripening apples for more than a day, spread them out so they are not touching or wrap each one individually in paper.
Freezing: Tossed first with lemon juice and sugar or packed in sugar syrup or honey syrup, apples and pears will keep in the freezer for up to 1 year.
Preventing discoloration: When their flesh is exposed to air, apples, pears and peaches start to turn brown. To prevent this, rub the cut fruit with a halved lemon or lime, or immerse in water to which lemon or lime juice have been added. Poaching fruit immediately after cutting also preserves color. Always use a stainless-steel knife, as other metals encourage discoloration.
Go-withs: Sugar and lemon are to fruit as salt & pepper are to meat; a sprinkling of either enlivens uncooked fruit and develops the sweet flavors of cooked preparations. Pair apples with spices such as ginger and cinnamon for pies and compotes. Apples also blend well with strong, savory flavors like bacon or watercress. Perhaps most familiar, apples appear in countless desserts—whether baked alone or in innumerable pairings in pastries. Cooked, they also make a fine accompaniment to poultry and meat dishes.
Serving raw: Raw apple makes a crunchy addition to salads, where it can be the main ingredient, for example in a creamy Waldorf salad with celery and walnuts; or a complimenting ingredient, as it is in chicken salad. Apples are a natural partner for cheese such as tangy Cheddar or a more delicate Camembert. (They will discolor without lemon juice.) Raw apples may be grated to add to breads, cakes, and pancakes, and they may be pickled or preserved in boiled, spiced vinegar.
Baking: A simple way to cook apples is to bake them: fill the cavities left by coring an apple with ingredients such as raisins mixed with chopped walnuts. Bake whole apples at 425°F for 15 to 25 minutes… slices for 10 to 15 minutes. When apples are cored and baked in their skins, their skin must be scored around the diameter to allow room for the apple pulp to expand as it cooks. Baked fruits are often served as side dishes with meats, such as pork or game or as part of a braise. They can be cooked and preserved as apple butter.
Poaching: Poach apple halves 10 to 15 minutes… slices 5 to 8 minutes. Many fruits are poached in simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water) until just soft enough to be cut with a spoon but not enough to fall apart. However, for apples and pears, the home cook is advised to make a syrup with slightly less sugar, so the syrup penetrates the fruit more easily and cooks it evenly to the center. Feel free add vanilla, lemon juice, or spices such as cinnamon and cloves. Another traditional poaching liquid is wine. Whole peppercorns (a favorite with pears poached in red wine) add an intriguing bite. A few tablespoons of brandy or liquor can be added at the end of cooking.
Poaching technique: Add prepared fruit to the hot syrup and press with a piece of paper on top to help immerse it. Poach gently, with the syrup scarcely bubbling, so the fruit holds its shape. To test if the fruit is cooked, lift it out of the poaching liquid with a slotted spoon and pierce the flesh with the point of a sharp knife. The cooking time will depend on the type of fruit and its ripeness. When done, poached fruit should be translucent and just tender.
Broiling and grilling: When broiling, place fruit—slices or chunks—on an oiled baking sheet and broil 5 to 8 minutes. A chunk of butter or a topping of sugar, honey, maple syrup, or fruit liqueur supplies a richness, while lemon or lime juice brightens the flavor without being overpowering. Use sweet spices such as cinnamon and ginger in moderation as they scorch easily. When grilling, core the apples and cut 3/4-inch slices (leaving the skins on). Brush both sides with melted butter, then place on a hot grill and cook for approximately 5 minutes per side, or until grill marks appear. Remove to a serving platter and drizzle with honey or sprinkle with cinnamon, as you wish.
Sautéing and caramelizing: Core, then cut apple slices into rings of equal thickness and sauté 5 to 7 minutes in butter. For other fruits, cut pears into wedges, pineapple into chunks, bananas into diagonal slices. Stone fruits like peaches should be halved and pitted before sautéing.
If fruit is to be served with meat, onion may be added first. Do not crowd the sautépan, and cook briskly so the fruit does not stew in its own juices. When it is to be eaten as dessert, fruit is caramelized by adding extra sugar (one to two tablespoons per serving); either dip the fruit in sugar before adding to the sautépan or sprinkle sugar over it when it is already in the pan, and then turn the fruit sugar-side down. Baste the fruit with the syrup that forms, taking care that the sugar does not stick to the pan or scorch.
1 Honeycrisp apple
1 Gala apple
1 Granny Smith apple
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon poppy seeds (optional)
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco)
4 inner celery stalks, thinly sliced diagonally, plus 1/4 cup tender celery leaves
1 cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup snipped fresh chives (optional)
Step 1 – Cut each unpeeled apple lengthwise into quarters, and discard cores. Thinly slice apple quarters lengthwise, and ten stack the slices, and cut lengthwise again into thin sticks.
Step 2 – Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar, poppy seeds (if using), and hot sauce in a large bowl; season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Step 3 – Add apple sticks, celery, celery leaves, parsley, and chives (if using); toss to combine.
Credit: video at Pork chops with Three-apple Slaw | Food and Wine
2 chopped medium yellow onions
3 Tablespoons butter
Salt & pepper
3 cups dried or stale bread cubes or croutons
2 peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped tart apples
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 cup chicken stock (or more if needed)
Turkey (or chicken) to be roasted
Step 1 – Gently sauté onions with salt & pepper in the butter until soft but not browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
Step 2 – Then stir in bread cubes and apples with the chopped parsley. Lightly moisten the bread with the chicken stock (add more if needed).
Step 3 – Rinse the bird inside and out, then dry the cavity a bit with paper towels. Salt the cavity and stuff loosely (about 3/4 cup of stuffing per pound of turkey).
Step 4 – Roast in a 350°F oven for 15 minutes per pound of turkey or until a thermometer registers 165˚F in the innermost part of the thigh, the innermost part of the wing and the thickest part of the breast, and the stuffing is cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F. Rest, remove stuffing to a serving bowl, carve and enjoy!
Note: Bacteria grow rapidly in raw poultry, so never add warm stuffing to a raw bird, which should not be stuffed more than a few minutes before cooking. In addition, stuffing should not be prepared too far in advance. Cavities in poultry should be stuffed loosely to allow sufficient heat to penetrate the bird.
3 pounds apples
Step 1 – Scrub apples and discard stems. Cut apples into quarters and put in a pan with just enough water to cover. Add the juice of one lemon for every 3 pounds of apples.
Step 2 – Simmer until tender, then strain and measure amount of the juice. Bring this liquid to a boil then add 1 pound of sugar for each 1 pint of juice.
Step 3 – Boil, skimming off any scum that arises until the jell point is reached (220°F). At the jell point the jelly will fall from a spatula in a “sheet” of drips, or alternatively take the pan from the heat, pour a few drops on a cold saucer and wait a moment to see if the drops begin to set; push with your finger—if jell point has been reached, the surface of the drops will wrinkle.
Step 4 – Seal hot jelly in sterilized jars. Keep in the refrigerator or process in a hot water bath.
3 pounds cooking (tart) apples
2 cups water
2 cups cider or apple juice
Sugar or brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon each ground cloves and ginger, or pumpkin spice blend to taste
Step 1 – Wash apples and chop roughly leaving cores and peel. Simmer gently, covered with water and cider until soft.
Step 2 – Pass the pulp through a food mill to separate out the skin, seeds, and pieces of the core. Measure the pulp, then mix in 3/4 cup of sugar for each 2 cups of pulp, plus the spices.
Step 3 – Cook in a crock pot (slow cooker), uncovered. Stir and taste occasionally, adjusting spices to suit you. Cook until enough liquid has evaporated to reach the desired consistency. Store in the refrigerator.
Today's Main Ingredient is sponsored in part by:
Thanks also to Fertile Valley and Wolfe Spring Farms for their sponsorship of the BoldGold radio station broadcasts.
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