Chances are excellent that within a couple of blocks of your house there is an apple tree nobody is harvesting. The apples are falling on the ground and rotting, rolling onto the sidewalk or into the street. Sometime during the weekend, the owner cleans them up, cursing quietly as he or she rakes or stoops. What a waste! Those apples are food. Leaving them to rot on the ground harbors apple pests. Hauling them away simply wastes resources.
So what can be done? Well, they could be gleaned in several ways.
As I write this, we are just beginning the season my wife calls “apple madness.” I gather my equipment: white 5-gallon plastic pails (free from the local supermarket), an “apple picker-upper” from a company called Nut Wizard, and an apple picker.
The “picker-upper” is an ingenious gadget of wires in the shape of a football, all at the end of a long stick. As you roll the football-shaped thing along the ground, the wires separate when they roll over an apple, then close to trap the apple inside. Voila, you have apples in a little wire basket, ready to dump into a pail, without even bending down. The apple picker is a sort of claw above a little basket, all at the end of a long pole. You reach up in the tree, snag an apple, which flops into the basket. Then you dump the basket into the white pail. The picker costs about $20. The Nut Wizard costs $50 online.
What do I do with all these apples? Well, it depends on their flavor and condition. The best ones get eaten fresh. The next best get sliced up and dehydrated for snacks later on. To prepare the apples, I use a handy machine that attaches to my countertop with suction cups. I skewer the apple on some prongs. As I turn a crank, the machine peels and cores the apple and slices it into a long spiral. I cut the spiral and end up with uniformly thick apple slices, which then go into the dehydrator. The apple slicer/corer sells for about $20 and is widely available. A good dehydrator will cost something over $50. Or you can often find dehydrators at garage or estate sales. Or you can put the apples on black clean cloth on a cookie sheet in a car you park in the sun; the car acts as dehydrator without any fuel use at all, although you need a hot sunny day.
Moderately good apples get made into applesauce. Recipes are in every cookbook ever written and canning equipment is available in most supermarkets. I also like the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, under $20 at the same big supermarkets or at co-ops. Sometimes canning equipment is sold at garage and estate sales, and often friends will give you jars for free, if they are retiring from canning.
I also make cider (non-alcoholic, in my case). But that is more expensive and takes more time. There are lots of plans online for how to make a cider press with a few boards and a car jack, or you can spend several hundred dollars to buy one, which I eventually did.
And how do you get all these apples, you wonder? Walk around the neighborhood, sometimes taking the alleys, and you will see them standing there, apples on and under the tree. Not many people have the time and desire to use all the apples on a full-grown tree. Then go knock on the door or leave a note, asking if they would like some help with their apples. Most of the time, they are delighted to have fewer apples to pick up. Offer to bake them an apple crisp, or offer to help them clean up the rotten ones.
If you have an apple tree yourself and you simply can’t use all those apples, there is help for you. A wonderful organization called Fruits of the City has organized groups of volunteers that will come and harvest your tree in season, donating the produce to local food shelves. It keeps a lot of apples from rotting and keeps a lot of kids from being hungry. To volunteer as a picker or to offer your tree, call 651-789-3321 or email email@example.com.
Also on the horizon is a new venture called Urban Forage Winery and Cider House, to be located at 3016 E. Lake. What they propose is to make wine, cider and mead from entirely local gleanings, avoiding grapes completely. They then would like to sell the wine or serve it at the store. As things go, they are running into some obstacles with laws that allow those activities in the country, but not in the city. By this time next year, however, it is quite possible that you will be able to take your apples to them and go home with hard cider or apple wine. It could happen.
One last word about fallen apples and food safety. It is against the law to sell products from any apple that has touched the ground, because of the danger from animal contamination. With applesauce or apple cider, you can avoid any danger by taking the temperature up to 160 degrees for a minute or so, which will pasteurize the product. You still can’t sell it, but I let my grandchildren drink it. And it wouldn’t work for fresh or dehydrated apples, of course, which should come directly from the tree.
And on to the calendar, which is about food preservation and preparing your garden for winter.
Thursday, Sept. 4, 6 to 8 p.m. $30. “Pressure canning basics,” Mississippi Market, 1500 W. 7th St., St. Paul. 651-690-0507 or http://msmarket.coop/events/classes/?month=2014-09
Sunday, Sept. 7, 1 to 3 p.m. $20. “Extending summer’s bounty,” Mississippi Market, 1500 W. 7th St., St. Paul. 651-690-0507 or http://msmarket.coop/events/classes/?month=2014-09
Saturday, Sept. 13, 10 to 11:30 a.m. Free. “Putting your garden to bed,” Northeast Library, 2200 Central Ave. N.E., Mpls. 612-543-6775 or http://www.hclib.org/pub/events/
Sunday, September 21, 1 to 4 p.m., $25, “Countertop fermentation (kimchi and sauerkraut),” Mississippi Market, 1500 W. 7th St., St. Paul. 651-690-0507 or http://msmarket.coop/events/classes/?month=2014-09
Thursday, Sept. 25, 6:30 to 8 p.m. $25. “Autumn squash (acorn, butternut, pumpkin, etc.),” Mississippi Market, 1500 W. 7th St., St. Paul. 651-690-0507 or http://msmarket.coop/events/classes/?month=2014-09