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COLUMN — Making the most of apple season

nAfter many hot canning days through the summer, the turn to September and cooler temperature is a welcome one. And with September comes apples.

Apples are a wonderful fruit just as they are fresh, but to enjoy locally-picked apples long past the fall season, I have a few favorite preservation methods to share.

Apple cinnamon has been my favorite oatmeal flavor since I was a kid, though now I dehydrate apples to add to my breakfast. Dried apple slices also make a great snack on their own, and you can add flavoring to them before drying by dipping them in spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, even a pumpkin pie spice mix.

Apples start to brown once they’re cut, but lemon juice, ascorbic acid, or citric acid act as anti-darkening agents that won’t overpower the flavor of the fruit. I most often have lemon juice on hand, so after thinly slicing the apples I soak them in . cup of lemon juice and four cups of water for 10 minutes and drain them well after.

If you’re adding seasoning such as a cinnamon-sugar mix, do so just before drying the apples. I thoroughly dry my apple slices for 12 hours, but if you want them more pliable you could stop the process earlier. Store the dried apples in an airtight jar, plastic bag or Tupperware once they’re completely cooled to prevent any moisture in the container. I chop up my dried apples to add easily into oatmeal, but always save plenty of slices for snacking.

Water bath canning lets us preserve apples in a variety of ways. The most popular recipes are applesauce and apple butter, but I also love to preserve apple pie filling. The pie filling makes a great gift for the holidays, especially for folks who aren’t bakers and can simply add the filling to a store-bought crust.

Apples are naturally acidic, so it’s not necessary to add another acidic ingredient when canning them for home use. However, apples’ browning can make for less attractive jars as the color darkens over time. At Virginia Food Works, we make applesauce and butter for farmers to sell and always add lemon juice to preserve the product’s brighter, lighter color.

I was taught to mix apple varieties when baking pies or apple crisp to achieve the best flavor, and the same holds true for value-added apple products. The mix of apples you choose may result in the perfect level of sweetness, or you may need to add some sugar to your liking. The sugar in canned products like applesauce and apple butter helps both with flavor and acts as a preservative to extend the shelf life of the jars once they’re opened and stored in the refrigerator.

Whichever way you enjoy your apples — fresh, baked, dried or canned — I hope you make the most of the delicious varieties grown in our state.

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www.virginiafoodworks.org/Home-Canning-Resources.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.