As days shorten and changing leaves color the fall landscape, apples will loosen from their branches and plop to the ground. The crisp, tart and widely varied apple remains one of the most popular scents, symbols and foods in American households. Many urban dwellers and suburbanites take time to reconnect with agriculture through an annual visit to a local orchard. Dressed in wool sweaters and carrying bushel baskets, pickers know this ritual is rewarded with hot apple cider, smooth apple butter and warm apple crumble.
Evident by the colorful displays at farmers’ markets around the country, apples come in countless varieties with an array of textures and ranging from sweet to tart. Large orchards will grow as many as 50 different varieties. Some apples, like the sweet and glowing Red Delicious, ask to be bitten as soon as they are picked. Others, like the tart Granny Smith, are good for baking. Fortunately, some varieties, like the ubiquitous Fuji, are all-purpose, and many types of apples can be combined in recipes to balance out flavors.
No matter what your favorite variety may be, here are 10 ways to preserve or use up a basket full of apples you gathered from your farm or an orchard nearby.
1. Applesauce & Apple Butter
Some cooks might associate applesauce with dribbling toddlers and store-bought packets to toss in a lunch box, but homemade applesauce is a natural, nourishing snack that’s easy to make and can be used as an ingredient to sweeten, thicken and moisten foods. It serves as a healthy substitute for cooking oil and can replace half of the fat (usually not the entire portion) in baking recipes. Plus, it’s your starting point for making delectable apple butter.
To make a lovely pinkish homemade applesauce, gather a variety of tart Granny Smiths, some Gala apples for sweetness and some bright Red Delicious for color. You’ll need about 6 pounds total. Peel and core your apples and add the pieces to a 6-quart preserving pan with 1½ cups of water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for an hour. Once the apples are broken down, run the mixture through a food mill or blend in a food processor. If you choose, you can spice with cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, and continue to cook into a thick apple butter. To preserve your applesauce or apple butter, return the mixture to the pan and heat, then process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, leaving 1/4-inch headroom in pint jars. (Please consult a reputable canning guide for safe processing).
2. Dehydrated Apples
A food dehydrator is a handy kitchen gadget that allows cooks to preserve food for the winter. In addition to being healthy grab-and-go snacks, dehydrated apples can be used in quick breads, oatmeal, granola or trail mix, or as a topping to a dessert. If you don’t have a dehydrator, see Alton Brown’s thrifty and economical trick for assembling a homemade food dehydrator.
3. Apple Hand Pies
Chances are, many apples picked at the local orchard will wind up in an iconic apple pie. My personal favorite apple indulgence is the fried apple hand pie. Probably closer to a donut, these pastries are stuffed with hot apple butter and stewed apple pieces, then deep-fried in oil. They’re portable and easy to eat, which is great when you have a bushel basket in one hand and hot cider in the other.
Make a traditional piecrust with 1/2 cup cold butter plus 2 tablespoons of cold lard or shortening blended with a pastry cutter or in a food processor with 2 cups flour and 8 tablespoons cold water. Add just a splash of apple-cider vinegar to finish the dough, then form into a disc and chill for one hour.
Meanwhile, make your filling with three Granny Smith apples or your chosen variety, cored, skinned and chopped into bits. In a saucepan, add a tablespoon of butter and simmer the apple pieces for 45 minutes to an hour. Add in 1/2 cup apple butter during the last 15 minutes of cooking.
Heat about 4 to 5 inches of vegetable oil or your frying oil of choice in a Dutch oven. Remove your chilled dough and roll out to 1/4 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter or the circular plastic top of a food container to cut 4- to 6-inch diameter circles. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of sauce into the circular dough. Close in a half-circle, pushing out air and pressing the edges with a fork to seal them, and place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Brush each hand pie with egg wash before frying for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Cool on a wire rack.
4. Apple and Squash Soup
Apples and winter squash are more than just harvest companions—they make wonderful partners in casseroles, stews, curries and bisques. Try adding a green apple to a butternut squash soup, which will lend a boost of tartness. I like a recipe from What Katie Ate that unites apples with pumpkin in a warming winter bisque.
5. Skillet Apple Crisp
An apple crisp is one of the easiest one-dish desserts to throw together at the last minute. Core and slice apples and cook in a cast-iron skillet with 2 tablespoons of butter, as well as a dash of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Prepare a crumble topping of flour, sugar, butter, spices and any other desired element, such as nuts, dried fruit, quinoa or oatmeal. Sprinkle the topping over the tender apples, then bake in a 375-degree-F oven until the top is golden.
6. Sweet or Savory Stuffed Apples
Think of the cored apple as a vessel holding a surprise of meat, spicy nuts or a bread-based stuffing at its center. The slow-baked apple holds its form but softens and leaks sweet juices as it cooks. Cooks can use this easy and effective method to create sweet crunch-filled desserts or savory side dishes. Rely on this no-recipe tutorial from Food52 to guide your apple-stuffing process.
7. Apple Pie Oatmeal
A bowlful of tender apples smothered in oatmeal will start any day off right. Apples can be cooked underneath a layer of oatmeal in the oven. Try Naturally Ella’s recipe for baked oatmeal.
8. Autumn Coleslaw
A fresh apple, with its snappy skin and its crisp interior, can enliven the texture of a flimsy salad. I grew up eating Waldorf salad, a southern staple that consists of apple pieces (skin on), celery, raisins, carrots, walnuts and a yogurt- based dressing. Try incorporating matchstick pieces of an apple in a favorite traditional salad or coleslaw recipe. I love this recipe from DashingDish.com, which includes a sprinkle of bacon.
9. Apple Grilled Cheese
The marriage of apples and cheese is a perfect example of how vastly different foods can complement each other. Soft, salty and pungent cheese benefit from the apple’s crispy, snappy tartness and natural sweetness. Encourage dinner party guests to experiment with combinations of cheese and apples with a plate filled with varieties of each—apples can easily replace crackers!
Along these lines, instead of serving apples alongside a grilled cheese, slice thin pieces of apple and place inside the sandwich as it cooks on a griddle. Place some arugula on the sandwich for a peppery zip. Sharp cheddar or Gouda complement apples, but almost any cheese will taste great.
10. Mulled Apple Cider (And Its Uses)
Nothing silences cold-weather shivers quite like a steaming hot beverage. When entertaining, either indoors or outdoors, prepare a batch of mulled cider in place of an ordinary apple cider. Prepare 3 cups of apple cider (homemade by cooking down a bushel of apples and straining the liquid or orchard-bought is fine) by heating the cider in a saucepan with 1¼ cups of dark rum, 20 cinnamon sticks, the zest of five oranges and one lemon, and 5 tablespoons brown sugar.
Apple cider itself is a wonderful marinade for pork and chicken. My very favorite pork ribs recipe requires basting the meat in bourbon and apple cider. There are a thousand other ways to incorporate apple cider in your dishes, so try experimenting.
Get more help using the harvest from HobbyFarms.com:
- 7 New Ways to Preserve Squash
- 8 Easy Ways to Use Your Pear Harvest
- 3 Ways to Use Your Okra Year-Round
- 7 Unique Ways to Preserve Herbs
- 5 Easy Ways to Preserve Mushrooms
About the Author: Elizabeth Troutman Adams is a public-relations specialist and freelance writer based in the Bluegrass region of Kentucky. In addition to gardening, cooking and homesteading, she loves riding horses, practicing yoga, and spending time with her French bulldog Linus and husband Shawn. She blogs at www.bluegrassgoodness.com.