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Mother nature’s food, fresh from the garden

GOSHEN, IN — October is the time to make the most of all that is still growing in your garden or what is being grown locally! I recently was invited to an extended family’s cookout and there were many delicious dishes. In the true American tradition, there were many desserts, old-fashioned baked pears, many different kinds of brownies, texas sheet cake and the most asked for, the tender, soft sugar cookies, which were all eaten and then more appeared from the freezer.

The item that young and mature alike enjoyed before the meal were the homemade caramel apples, complete with chopped nuts. This is the best time of the year to make them. October is the heart of apple season and there is just something very special about eating a fresh, crisp apple from a local orchard.

Eating fresh local apples and cooking apples is a sign of fall. If you take the time to think about it, apples are one of the first snack foods created by Mother Nature. When you eat an apple, prepare yourself for a treat to delight all your senses, you really can use all of your senses to enjoy the apple. Apples are a great food when it comes to appearance, color, fragrance, crunch, and flavor, and easy, out-of-hand eating makes apples a true convenience food.

Apples are great for convenience eating but I know many of you enjoy them for cooking, baking, sauces, and in many other ways. When preparing apples for any kind of cooking I suggest you use more than one variety. Cooking with different varieties could change the flavor and texture of your favorite apple dishes.

It is easy to find top quality apples if you know what to look for, and it’s easy to keep those apples fresh and tasty for weeks if you know a few simple rules. When it comes to color, apples should be vibrant and bright. Apples come in many shades of red, yellow, and greens so don’t rely on a pure red color as a guide to quality.

The surface of the apple should be smooth and firm. The surface should be free of bruises, blemishes, and skin breaks. Sometimes you will see surface russets, which are brownish freckled areas on the skin, usually caused by weather. Keep in mind that this does not affect the flavor. When it comes to ripeness the apple should be firm and of good color. Overripe apples of all varieties show prominent bruises. As a final tip off, check the ground or undercast of red varieties. If the apple is properly mature, it will have a soft light green undercast. Immature apples have a bright dark green undercast; over mature apples have a dull yellowish green undercast.

Different varieties will offer different qualities. If you enjoy eating apples that crunch, select a variety that has crisp, juicy flesh. If you want to cook or bake an apple, select a variety that holds its shape and retains its flavor during the cooking process. 

When it comes to quantities here are some guidelines, one pound of apples generally consists of either 4 small apples, 3 medium or 2 large. You need two medium apples to yield one cup grated. When making that all-American favorite apple pie you will need at least two pounds or more of apples.

If you buy apples in a plastics bag keep them in it, it helps keep their moisture. You can store the plastic bag in the crisper sections of the refrigerator. You want to keep the apples in the cold because apples ripen ten times faster at room temperature than when kept where it is cool. Cool helps to prevent decay and helps maintain quality, juiciness and crispness.

Keep in mind that one bad apple really can spoil the whole bag, that’s why it is important to sort and use apples with bad spots and blemishes immediately. Plan to keep only apples that are free of bruises and decay for later use. Apples store best at 32 to 40 degrees F and they can be ruined if frozen. Enjoy apples now and all fall.