How Do I Store Apples?

I’m sightly nervous about putting together a brief guide to help people store apples. My other half had a lovely grandfather who doted on her – nearly as much as he doted on his garden. In that garden he had lovely old apple trees, which miraculously seemed to produce fruit until spring. Cyril ought to be writing this. Anyway, here goes.

In the days before freezers and global trade, gardeners planned which tree varieties they planted to allow them to eat apples until the following spring. Some keep much better than others. Interestingly and  understandably the “heritage” varieties tend to perform the best. “Understandably”, as some were selected for their longevity once picked. 

Typically russet types last well, for example. Ashmead’s Kernel was known as the “Christmas Apple”. Several others last until March – or even longer. Good keepers are Kidd’s Orange, Newton Wonder, Beauty of Stoke, Striped Beefing, Sturmer Pippin, Lord Hindlip, Lane’s Prince Albert, and the longest of all – Edward VII… These are generally late cropping apples, and many actually taste better after several weeks of ripening once harvested.

They’ll only last, though, if you pick and store them properly.

How To Pick Apples

When you pick an apple, don’t pull it off its stem. Twist it a quarter of a turn and see if it comes off. Be careful not to bruise the skin, and put the apple very gently in a basket so as not to damage it. There’s amazing variation on a single tree as to colour and ripeness. Apples on the north side of a tree will look quite different and ripen more slowly than on the south side. Those on the outside of the tree will ripen quicker than those in the middle. You’ll pick apples at different times from the same tree, so will need to revisit it. Only pick ripe fruit, which has the most colour.

Check over the apples you have picked. If any look bruised or damaged, or they’re windfalls you have picked up, then either eat or juice them if they’re eaters, or cook and freeze them if they’re cookers. ONLY keep the perfect looking ones.

Where To Store Apples

Cyril used to store apples in his shed. Perfect. It was dark but it wasn’t exactly hermetically sealed, so good ventilation and no build up of moisture. It was shaded too, so didn’t get to o hot on a warm autumn day. His big problem was mice, for which, gentle reader, you can reach your own solution… Our roof space here would be hopeless – too well insulated – and the cellar wouldn’t be ideal either – too damp. The garage is much better. You want somewhere cool, frost free and dry. 

Don’t keep them with something else with a strong smell which will taint them – paint, or onions, for example. 

How To Store Apples

However careful you are there will be at least one bad apple in your harvest, and you won’t be able to spot it. If it touches another it will spread rot, so either store apples so that they’re not touching or, if they are, wrap them in paper. When you do find that bad apple, chuck it out. Try to keep different cultivars apart, and label accordingly.

The ideal containers for your apples are crates, slatted shelves, polystyrene or papier-mâché trays or shallow wooden boxes. Ideally, these will allow air to move through the sides and top. You can buy wooden storage racks – the posher ones even have drawers.

Keep an eye on the apples in store and, once you think a tray is ready, remove it to use – and enjoy.




Heritage Apple Varieties

There’s a misconception that “heritage apple varieties” is a euphemism for poor apple varieties. It’s true that heritage apple varieties are now difficult to find, but that’s sometimes for the wrong reasons.

Heritage apple varieties
Alfriston: a proper apple

Don’t get me wrong; two hundred years ago there were a lot of pretty poor heritage apple varieties about, and most have disappeared unmourned. It might be interesting to stumble across one, but you couldn’t recommend growing it. These apple trees could be unhealthy, yields irregular and their fruit indifferent. That’s why the Victorians were so typically diligent in improving the cultivars available; many of the apple trees we sell date back to that time. They’re cracking trees with gorgeous fruit, often particularly good for the region where they were raised.
So why, I hear you ask, are they not better known or more widely available? These apple trees are not better known because you can’t buy their fruit. Where could you taste a St Edmund’s Pippin or a William Crump to understand why you just HAVE to grow one? Because they’re not better known they’re not more widely grown. Between them our suppliers – most of the remaining quality British fruit tree nurseries – sometimes only graft 10 trees of our best heritage apple varieties annually. No-one knows this rich and tasty part of our heritage exists.
You can’t buy heritage apple varieties because the food industry has moved on – or rather, changed. 21st century retailers are not looking for taste or local appropriateness (you’re having a laugh!). They need apples with thick skin which won’t get bruised while transporting them over long distances. They need apples which don’t look ugly and which taste sweet. They need heavy cropping trees and reliable yields. They need apples which store for long periods before they hit the supermarket shelves. Very long periods. Put these requirements together and you have a limited list of cultivars. It’s improbable that any of them actually taste any good and a miracle that any are heritage apple varieties. These days, the only way you will get to taste our most exquisite apples is to grow them yourself.

The Bloody Ploughman Redux

Here’s the answer to the fruity murder mystery I posted a couple of weeks ago – how many heritage fruit trees are there in this who dunnit?

The Bloody Ploughman

They found the dead boy in the parsonage just after the coronation of George V. I remember it because I went to Ascot with my mother and nanny to see the new Queen, and came back tipsy after too many Gin Martinis. James Grieve, the young ploughman, was in the potting shed, where he had been beaten with the heavy rock which now lay beside him. There was a distinct aroma of brandy about, which had been spilt on some sacks, and signs of a struggle, including a broken hoe.

The harvest festival party was the night before and many of the revellers had stayed on, including the party from the big house, who had been enjoying Lady Henniker‘s hospitality. Lord Lambourne, back home from service in the Middle East with the Grenadier Guards, had found the body. His spartan exercise regime took him on a jog around the village shortly after sunrise, and when he passed the forge he noticed a trail of blood leading under the parsonage gate on the opposite side of the road. He called for help when he found the dead youth, and old Fred the blacksmith came running. Fred was the butt of a great deal of ribbing from the jesters in the village. He was known to his friends as the Cornish Giant and to his enemies as the Missing Link. Anyway, he fetched Doctor Hogg from Sandringham, but even the great man couldn’t do anything. He did notice a curious feature of the killing, though; someone had left a cat’s head close to the body, covered by what seemed to be green custard.

The delicious Annie Elizabeth, local coquette, was the main suspect. James had rejected her advances in favour of her rival in love, the wealthy Ruby Thorn, renowned Beauty of Bath. Nothing was ever proved, however, and soon after the murder war broke out. Lord Lambourne went on to become a pilot in the RAF and was badly wounded trying to escape from his cockpit at the climax of the Battle of Britain. Ruby met Lord Derby (the Olympic gold medal winner) at the Yalta Conference, and the Reverend Wilks married them at St. Cecilia‘s after the war. Annie Elizabeth died on Victory in Europe day in 1945, some say of a broken heart. Others reckoned it was the cider.

How did you get on? I think the total was 52 fruit trees, mostly perry pears and apples, though I might have missed the odd one…