Harvest season is here with apple orchards busy

Published 8:47 am Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Column: Verlys Huntley, Notes from the Garden

Farmers are now getting into harvest season, and combines are out into primarily soybean fields trying to get them harvested and sold or stored while the weather is good. In certain areas where strong winds blew down corn stalks, farmers are trying to get those areas also harvested while the weather is still favorable. Farming has a lot of risk involved, and weather plays a major role in producing a good crop. A lot of money is put into seed, machinery, fertilizer, herbicides and fuel — both for tilling the soil and drying the crop, plus insurance, taxes, etc., in addition to the time and labor invested. Most fields look pretty good, so I am hoping the yields are at least average or better, in spite of some rather unusual weather this year.

Verlys Huntley

Gardeners also face some of the same problems that farmers do, but are usually not dependant on their garden for their livelihood. Apple orchards face more risks than many other crops. Late spring frosts can damage blossoms, strong winds can break branches or blow down apples, and worst of all, hail. Even a small amount of hail can do major damage, and hail-damaged fruit has very little value.

Overall, the year has been pretty good for our orchard. We do not have nearly as many apples as last year, and the several weeks of dry weather probably caused some apples to be smaller than normal. We also did have some hail very early in the season, which is now apparent on some of the apples as they are being picked. We do, however, have a lot of nice apples picked and in our cooler.

We still have not picked all the later varieties, such as fireside, prairie spy and keepsake; and still have some honeycrisp and haralson on the trees. I am a firm believer that apples need to be ripe to get the best flavor, and because everything this year ran about two weeks later than normal, we are picking some varieties later than normal. And all the apples on a tree do not ripen at the same time, so we try to pick them as they ripen. We have 115 apple trees, and 35 varieties, but of course some of these varieties ripened much earlier and we are now into the later fall varieties.

We grow most of the varieties of apples developed by the University of Minnesota, including quite a few honeycrisp. A lot of these apples will store well even into winter if kept refrigerated in a perforated plastic bag. Temperature and humidity both play a major role in how long you can successfully store apples, and keep them crisp and fresh tasting. And of course, certain varieties do store much better than others.

Each year we have an open house harvest festival at our farm, and this year we are having this from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday. We do cider making (which you are invited to help with), cider sampling, have an antique garden and farm equipment on display, have activities for kids, free refreshments, with apples and other fall produce for sale. We are 3 1/2 miles south of Twin Lakes at 10516 720th Ave. in Emmons. Our phone number is 507-297-5546. This is a good opportunity to come to an orchard, see a small commercial garden and just have an enjoyable afternoon in the country. The fall foliage is beautiful and hopefully the weather will be nice.

Farmers Market update

Our local market is having a very successful year. We have done some new things this year, such as join with the downtown merchants and have a market on Broadway Avenue during their Fall Festival on Broadway on from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 26. There were free activities for kids, lots of food vendors, special sidewalk sales and cooking demonstrations. This was very well attended and a great success, thanks to the planning and work done by the Downtown Association members. This more than likely will be an annual event, which I expect would grow ever bigger each year.

We also now have a wireless scanning machine, which will accept EBT/SNAP benefit cards as well as debit and credit cards. Your cards are scanned at our market booth with the red awning, and you are issued wooden tokens that can be spent at the various vendors booths. In addition, this year Minnesota Blue Cross Blue Shield has matched the first $5 in EBT benefits with market bucks, and those people are getting essentially $5 in free food each market visit. These benefits can buy pretty much any food item being sold at the market (fruits, vegetables, bakery items, eggs, honey, maple syrup, jams and jellies, salsa, pickles, meats, etc.) We want to thank Blue Cross for helping promote a healthier lifestyle through healthier eating, and helping our local economy through the consumption of more local foods.

We also have new product information cards for our vendors to display and recipe cards for our customers. Look for our recipe card rack in the Red Barn. We also purchased a hand wash station, which is in the Red Barn, for the use of both our vendors and customers. We felt that with food being served by different organizations each Wednesday, we really needed to have a sanitary way of washing hands. We also have a water machine, which supplies both cold water for drinking and hot water to make hot beverages. And we did more product demonstrations and food sampling than we have before. We are really trying to make the market even more customer friendly — a place to not only shop for some wonderful local products, but a place to spend some time, visiting with your friends, making some new friends and just having an enjoyable time. If you have never been to the market, come and see what we offer. Our outdoor market will be open until the end of October. There is still lots of good produce there, as well as all the other great products our vendors offer. And there’s no better place to find all those different pumpkins, squash, decorative corn and gourds for fall decorating.

Featured produce: Apples

Apples are probably one of the oldest fruits known to man. The Bible tells of Eve tempting Adam into eating the forbidden fruit, which is believed to be the apple. In colonial times in America, the apple was a very important food source. It could be sliced, dried and stored for winter use. Some varieties even stored well into winter for fresh use. The apples were also used to make apple butter, and apples not of good enough quality to be used fresh were made into apple cider, which also could be turned into vinegar through a fermentation process, and vinegar was important in preserving and pickling many foods. Cider was stored in wooden barrels, and next to water was the most abundant beverage. I suspect much of it ended up as hard cider, which occurs when the sugars in it turn to alcohol. The sweet fresh cider you buy in the refrigerated section of your grocery store is just apple juice, treated with some preservatives to keep it from fermenting, or becoming hard cider. Apples, cider and vinegar were all items that were used to barter or trade for other goods or services you needed during colonial times.

Varieties of apples vary greatly in their taste, color, texture, sweetness, cooking qualities and storage qualities. Each variety has its own unique characteristics and an experienced grower should be able to help you decide which variety will be best for your use. A question we get quite often is “What is your best eating apple?” or “What is your best cooking apple?” These are both difficult questions, because each individual has different ideas of what they want an apple to taste like. Of course, the honeycrisp is a favorite of many people. But there are other good varieties that are less expensive, and your grower will probably let you sample some of them. And as far as cooking, for apple crisp or pie, while some people want an apple that will retain the shape of the apple slice, others want the slices to be quite soft. And I find that many varieties can be used in cooking, just altering the amount of sugar according to the sweetness of the apple. In fact, I frequently mix varieties in a pie, to get a blend of flavors. I do have a chart that does show the recommended uses for the different varieties that we grow.

One bushel of apples weighs 40 pounds and would probably make about 15 quarts of applesauce. Apples are frequently sold in 3-pound bags, which will generally contain about eight to 10 medium size apples. A 9-inch apple pie will probably take about six to eight average size apples.

If drying apples, you need to peel them, slice them thin, treat in an anti-browning solution such as Fruit Fresh or six 500-milligram tablets Vitamin C dissolved in one gallon water, drain well and dry in a food dehydrator, following manufacturer’s directions.

The saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” is not without merit. They are low calorie, a perfect snack food that will quench your thirst, and with enough bulk to give you a filled-up filling. Their natural fruit sugars will provide quick energy, and they are low sodium if you are on a salt restricted diet. An apple will provide you with Vitamins A and C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, phosphorus, potassium and some copper, iron and manganese. The vitamin content is higher if eaten with the skin on, and freshly picked, as in so many fruits and vegetables, the vitamin content decreases considerably with storage.

Recipe

Delicious and quick apple dumplings

2 8-ounce crescent rolls

2 sticks butter

1 cup sugar (original recipe was 1 1/2 cups, but this seemed too sweet)

1 teaspoon vanilla

cinnamon (to taste)

1 12-ounce can Mountain Dew

Peel and core two large apples, cutting each into eight slices. Roll each slice in one crescent roll, placing in greased 9-by-13 inch pan. In sauce pan, melt butter and sugar, stirring only slightly. Add vanilla and pour over apples. Add Mountain Dew around edges of pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon, and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 40 minutes. Serve with ice cream, putting some of the thickened syrup from the pan on top of ice cream.

See you all at the market! We’re open from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays in the Broadway Avenue parking lot in downtown Albert Lea.

Verlys Huntley is a master gardener and the president of the Albert Lea Farmers Market.