Apple season began early this year in our household. In early July, my youngest brother asked me whether I wanted the unripe apples from a fallen tree branch on the homestead. They were small and sour, he said. After doing a bit of reading on the subject I learned they’d probably make good jelly because of their high pectin content. So I took them.
Jams, Jellies, and Butters
I wasn’t expecting such a big bag; it was well over ten pounds I estimated. It took me three days to get them all preserved. I paced myself since the process involved using a hot water bath canner in the heat of summer. First, I simmered the apples whole, strained the juice through several layers of cheesecloth, and followed the crab apple jelly instructions in the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.
Then, rather than throw out the cooked-down apple remains, I ran them through the food mill, with help from my five-year-old who loves gadgets of all types, including kitchen gadgets. We ended up with a whole bunch of thick, pea-green applesauce. We added just enough sugar to take the edge off the sour, some ground cinnamon, and cinnamon sticks and simmered it into apple butter. It was so thick, I needed to add a bit of water. As it cooked down, it became dark – and started to look much more appetizing.
When it was all said and done, we had six pints of shiny, pink apple jelly and seven pints of spicy apple butter. My dad pronounced the jelly “pretty good,” which is something coming from a man who rarely gives a compliment, while I was happy to dig into fresh apple butter, a rare treat in midsummer.
Honeycrisp Apples – A Minnesota Classic
But now it is apple season for real and our options for fresh, local apples are plentiful. Among them is the Honeycrisp, a large, juicy dappled red apple whose origins are also very close to home; it was developed at the University of Minnesota. Credited with helping to revive Minnesota’s previously declining apple industry, the Honeycrisp has been a homegrown success since its release in 1991. In 2006, it became the Minnesota state fruit.
Crispy and sweet-tart, Honeycrisp apples ripen evenly, usually between September 15 and October 5, and hold well on the tree. This feature makes them an ideal fruit for pick-your-own orchards. Researcher David Bedford, who is credited with creating the Honeycrisp, explained that the cells of the Honeycrisp are about twice the size of the cells in other apple varieties, which makes for a crisp, pleasing texture.
Try it at Home – Apple Kale Salad
The Honeycrisp’s recent growth in popularity has driven up its price. As more people have discovered this name-brand apple, production has not kept pace with demand. Since it takes five or six years from the time a tree is planted until the time it produces apples in large quantities, consumers can expect at least several more years of premium prices for the Honeycrisp. But with so many varieties of fall apples to choose from, I typically choose apples that sell closer to a dollar a pound, such as Haralson, Cortland, Regent, McIntosh or Paula Red.
These apples are all wonderful for eating out of hand throughout the fall, but also make a crisp, sweet addition to salads. One of my new favorites has been an apple salad with kale, feta, and a simple tart dressing. Try out this nutrient-dense seasonal salad with just about any variety of apple, though if you’ve got especially tart apples you might want to add a squirt of maple syrup too.
Apple Kale Salad
3 cups kale ribbons (very loosely packed)
2 medium apples, cored and thinly sliced (about 4 cups slices)
¼ cup feta crumbles
¼ cup salted sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Salt and black pepper to taste
Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Taste and add more salt and/or pepper if needed. You could also add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like.
By Anita Dualeh