NOW THAT THE 2022 APPLE HARVEST IS OVER, apple-filled bins are stacked floor to ceiling in the region’s cold storage rooms, waiting to be packed and sold, or pressed into cider. There will be plenty of crisp, flavorful, New England-grown apples and locally made fresh and hard ciders in supermarkets and orchard stores this winter and spring.
The key, as always, is keeping the apples cold, from tree to table.
If apples are left at room temperature for any length of time along the chain from orchard to consumer, they can lose some of their flavor and crunch.
That’s because apples, like bananas or tomatoes, continue to ripen after they are picked, absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Both cold and controlled atmosphere (CA) storage methods retard the process, enabling apples to remain crisp and flavorful throughout the year.
Growers harvest their apples at peak flavor and crispness. The apples are then immediately placed into cold or CA storage rooms.
In cold storage rooms, the temperature is maintained between 32°F and 40°F. This slows but does not completely stop ripening, so apples in regular cold storage are sold first and are typically gone by mid-winter.
In CA storage, the apples are placed in airtight, refrigerated rooms that remain sealed until the rooms are opened — often months later.
The oxygen level is reduced dramatically in CA rooms — from 21 percent to 2.5 percent — and carbon dioxide is increased. Optimal humidity levels are closely monitored and maintained.
CA storage slows the ripening process even more effectively than regular cold storage, allowing a long storage time and crisp apples year-round. When CA rooms are unsealed, the apples are nearly as fresh as the day they were picked.
If the apples you buy at the supermarket or grocery store have not been kept cold, expect a shorter shelf life at home.
To maintain freshness at home, mirror the growers by keeping your apples cold.
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PART OF THE BEAUTY OF APPLES is that they can be prepared so many different ways, eaten fresh, cooked, or pressed into cider.
As daylight wanes and temperatures fall, it’s time to warm up our ovens! A good way to start is with Apple Breakfast Cake.
The recipe comes from CRISPS COBBLERS CAKES: Sweet and Simple Recipes Celebrating Delicious Fruits and Berries from Farms of the Massachusetts Pioneer Valley, by Tina Stevens of Hatfield, Massachusetts.
The 44-page cookbook features recipes for fruit crisps, cobblers, bars, muffins, pies, cakes, and more, using local fruits, presented in seasonal order.
It starts with rhubarb, followed by strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; then tree fruit (peaches, apples, and pears); and cranberries.
Crisps Cobblers Cakes makes it easy for both beginner and experienced bakers, says Stevens, as most of the recipes use basic ingredients and simple techniques. She includes tips on subjects like how to wash berries, peel peaches, and use frozen fruit.
Stevens says she loves to bake and appreciates the opportunity to visit local farm stores, select ripe fruit, and head home to create a delicious dessert to share with family and friends.
She hopes that Crisps Cobblers Cakes “will help increase awareness of the farms and farmers committed to caring for the land and growing healthy food for our community.”
Toward that end, she is donating a portion of the proceeds from sales of the cookbook to CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture).
Stevens is a design specialist and marketing strategist in Hatfield, Massachusetts, at stevensdesign.com.
Apple Breakfast Cake
“Apple Breakfast Cake is one of my favorite recipes,” says Tina Stevens of Hatfield, Massachusetts, author of CRISPS COBBLERS CAKES: Sweet and Simple Recipes Celebrating Delicious Fruits and Berries from Farms of the Massachusetts Pioneer Valley.
“It is a simple, easy to make, and you’ll likely have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. The cake is moist with apples with a flavor that is more than the sum of its parts!”
The specific apple variety you use really makes a difference in the flavor of the cake, she says.
“I like to use a spicy apple that stands out and melds with the cinnamon in the batter, like CrimsonCrisp, Gala, or the heirloom Esopus Spitzenburg.”
It makes a large 9×13 sheet cake so there is plenty for sharing!
For added nutrition, you can leave the peels on.
Apple Breakfast Cake
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter and flour a 9×13 inch baking pan
2 c all-purpose flour
4 t cinnamon
4 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 eggs – room temperature
1-1/2 c sugar
2 t vanilla extract
1 c vegetable oil
6 apples – peeled, cored, cut into ¼-inch slices (set aside 1 prepared apple for topping)
1 c walnuts – toasted, chopped
1 prepared apple (from above)
4 t sugar
1 t cinnamon
In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat eggs, sugar, and vanilla for 3 minutes with an electric mixer on high. Add oil and mix at low just until blended in.
Add flour mixture to egg mixture and fold together with a spatula. Fold in 5 sliced apples and walnuts.
Pour batter into prepared pan and spread evenly with spatula.
For topping, place remaining apple slices evenly across top of the batter.
In a small bowl, mix together 4 t sugar and 1 t cinnamon. Sprinkle over the apples.
Bake until the cake center feels set and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool on rack.