If you have some apple trees in your backyard, an orchard nearby, or a farmer’s market that sells apples, you may end up with more fruit than you can eat.
Apple season is typically short with most varieties ripening over a span of a few months. This leads to an overabundance in late fall and also means you have to wait quite a while for the apple harvest to come around again.
Preservation techniques not only prevent delicious fruit from going to waste, they also give you a way to store apples through the offseason months.
Here’s a look at the top methods for preserving apples with some traditional techniques and some more adventurous ones that may surprise you.
Quick Tips for Preserving Apples
Before getting into individual preservation methods, there are a few tips that will help you successfully store apples, no matter which method you use:
- Choose healthy-looking apples that aren’t diseased, bruised, or have worm holes in them. There are a few exceptions to this (bruised apples can still be juiced, for example), but for the most part, starting with quality produce will lead to better preservation.
- For the best tasting recipes, use apples that are picked at the peak of ripeness. Do a taste test of apple batches before getting them ready for storage.
- Clean your apples well before using most of these preservation methods. If they weren’t grown organically, you may want to consider peeling them and discarding the skin, since it may have pesticide residue on it.
When it comes to preserving apples, organically grown ones are the best choice. If you don’t have access to organic options, at least remove the skin before using any apple recipes.
- Match the apple to the preservation method as best you can. For example, softer apples are easier to make into recipes like applesauce. Certain varieties will store better whole than others. Flavor is also a consideration. Adding sugar to very sweet apples may make them overly sweet, you may prefer tart apples for a pie filling, and so on.
- If you plan to do any type of canning, read up on the proper methods before getting started. You don’t want your apple preserves spoiling or causing food poisoning!
- Make life easier on yourself by getting an apple peeler, corer, and slicer all in one. This is a must-have for doing large batches of apples.
Best Storage Solutions for Preserving Apples
Cold Storage (Root Cellaring)
One of the easiest ways to preserve apples is to keep them whole in cold storage. This is a great method if you have the room and the right conditions to do it.
To start with, you’ll need to choose good storage apple varieties.
Typically, tart, hard, and thick-skinned apples will store the best. This includes varieties like Granny Smith, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, and Fuji as well as heirlooms like Northern Spy, Arkansas Black, and Winesap.
This doesn’t mean you can’t store sweeter or softer apples like Golden Delicious or Gala. They just won’t last as long, so you’ll need to eat them more quickly.
If you want to put apples whole in cold storage, the variety really matters. Some varieties (usually softer, sweeter ones) don’t store well, which others can be stored for months.
The ideal storage conditions for apples are 30-35°F and 90-95% relative humidity. Usually, the two best places to meet this criteria are your refrigerator or a root cellar.
Obviously, you can only store a certain amount of apples in the refrigerator, unless you want to buy another one just for apples. And since most people don’t have a root cellar, you can choose somewhere as cool as possible that doesn’t dip below freezing, like a basement or garage.
Before storing your apples, wrap each one in newspaper or something similar. This helps keep them separate so that one apple going bad is less likely to affect the others.
Place your apples in crates, bins, or a wooden rack, and keep them in a single layer. Keep them away from vegetables you may be storing, and separate different varieties if you have more than one. Check periodically for bad apples, which you should remove immediately.
Depending on variety and storage conditions, your apples should last for a few months and up to a year!
Another easy method of preserving apples is to freeze them. It’s simple to do and you can thaw them for any baking or cooking recipe.
There are two main ways to freeze apples: with or without syrup/sugar.
To freeze without any syrup or sugar, start by washing, coring, and slicing your apples, peeling them if desired. Because apples brown quickly once sliced, it’s best to “treat” them with lemon juice or ascorbic acid to prevent this.
Before freezing apples, you’ll most likely want to slice them. They can be frozen whole, but this makes it more difficult to process them when they thaw. You can freeze them with or without sugar.
Once you’ve done this, simply pack the apples into freezer-safe containers or bags before storing in the freezer. You can also freeze them on a baking sheet first before storing them to keep the slices separate instead having them clump together in one mass.
Using a syrup to freeze apples helps them keep their texture better. They can be eaten uncooked as well as used in cooked recipes (just drain them first).
To make a syrup, simply dissolve 2 ½ cups of sugar in 4 cups of warm water, adding ½ teaspoon ascorbic acid powder to prevent browning. Chill the syrup, and fill freezer-safe containers partway with it.
Slice washed and cored apples (peel if desired) directly into the syrup. Then, add more syrup to each container until the apples are completely covered.
As an alternative, you can also simply use ½ of sugar for each quart of apples, mixing them together before filling up your bags or containers.
Apples will usually last about a year in the freezer.
Applesauce is one of the most common ways of preserving apples and especially loved by children. You will need to read up on how to correctly can applesauce to make sure it’s safely preserved for later.
Applesauce is a favorite preservation method. It uses up a lot of apples and is a sweet (but healthy) treat for children.
There are many different ways to make applesauce (including in the crockpot), but the traditional method is to simply cook roughly chopped apples down until soft (no need to peel or core).
Then, you put the cooked apples through a food mill and get a smooth applesauce that comes out the other side.
If you don’t have a food mill, you will need to core and peel your apples before chopping them. At the end of the cooking process, get them to the consistency you want with a blender, immersion blender, or even a potato masher.
Of course, you’ll likely want to add spices like cinnamon and any other flavorings you want. You can either leave the applesauce unsweetened or add sugar, honey, or another sweetener to it.
If you don’t like applesauce very much, you can make canned apple slices instead. Some small apples can even be canned whole.
This method is similar to freezing apple slices in syrup, except that you’ll put them through the canning process instead of tossing them in the freezer.
What you’ll need to do is wash, core, and slice apples before packing them in jars with a simple syrup. Then, put them through the canning process to seal the jars and preserve your hard work.
The apples will keep their texture very nicely this way and can be eaten straight from the jar or used in recipes.
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Apple Pie Filling
If you are mainly preserving apples for pie-making, why not make things easy for yourself and store them as a ready-made pie filling?
To do this, start by washing, coring, and slicing the apples, peeling if you wish. Then, you can pretty much use your favorite spices and ingredients to make a traditional apple pie filling.
The one exception is that flour, which often thickens a pie filling, won’t work if you plan to can your filling. You may want to look up a pie filling specifically for canning to make sure it will work once cooked.
After your pie filling is done, you can either put it in jars that will go through the canning process, or you can freeze it.
Apple cider is one of the most recognizable flavors of fall. Making your own takes more work than some of the other preservation methods, but it’s a great way to use up a large amount of apples quickly.
The one great thing about storing apples by making cider is that you can use bruised fruit, although you don’t want to use any that is actually rotten.
The biggest trick to making cider is that you need to have access to an apple press. You can buy one, rent one, borrow one, or construct your own at home. The result will be cider with incredible flavor that you can drink, can, and freeze!
Apple cider is a delicious drink that can be served hot or cold. It tastes even better when it comes from fresh pressed apples!
Apple butter is a delicious, thick, spreadable form of preserved apples. It has a very rich and often sweet flavor that comes from the long cooking time which causes the sugars to caramelize.
The traditional method of preserving apples into a butter is very time and labor intensive. It involves cooking apples in large pots over a low fire, stirring constantly, for at least 10-12 hours.
If that doesn’t sound feasible for you, you can mimic this technique by using a crockpot instead. Of course, you won’t be able to do large batches like the original method, but it’s much less time consuming.
You can add any spices you want to the apples while they are cooking as well as a sweetener, though apple butter normally ends up naturally sweet.
Once your apple butter is done, can it in jars for long-term storage.
Dehydrating apples is a great space-saving preservation option. You can even flavor them with cinnamon or other spices if you want.
The traditional drying method would have involved solar power (aka the sun) or a stove, but you can make the process much easier by getting a food dehydrator.
To start with, you’ll need to thoroughly wash your apples and slice them into thin, even rings. A mandoline is the best option for getting the slicing job done.
Drying apples is a great preservation method and has the added benefit of not taking up very much space when you’re finished. It’s also a way to store your fruit if you don’t want to attempt canning.
Next, you’ll want to soak the slices in a lemon and water solution for 10 minutes to prevent browning. Use one cup of lemon juice for every cup of water.
After letting them sit in the lemon-water solution, you can dip or toss the slices in sugar, cinnamon, or any other dried flavorings. Then, space them out in a single layer in a food dehydrator (or the oven) and dry on low heat (135-140°F).
Once the apple slices are dried out, they’ll store for a few months and up to a year if you put them in vacuum sealed bags.
Jam or Jelly
Apple jam and jelly are lighter than apple butter but still have delicious apple flavor.
The main difference between the two is that jam is chunkier and made with apples and sugar that get cooked down. Jelly is made from apple cider or apple juice and has a smooth texture with no apple chunks.
The great thing about making apple jam is that it doesn’t need any pectin to set. You simply cook the apples with the sugar until it’s the consistency you want. Some recipes will also add lemon juice or spices.
To make apple jelly from scratch, you’ll first need to simmer apple chunks in water before straining the entire mixture through cheesecloth. This essentially makes homemade apple juice. You can also put your apples through a press and make cider jelly instead.
Apple jam is similar to apple butter, but has a lighter flavor and color because it’s not cooked for as long. You can make a no-sugar version of the jam to keep it all natural.
The jelly can be made by simply using the juice (or cider) and pectin, or you can add a sweetener like sugar or honey.
Both apple jelly and jam should be canned to store them long-term, although you can also make a batch of freezer jam if you don’t feel like canning.
Chutney or Salsa
If you want a more unique way of preserving apples, you can make them into chutney or salsa.
Chutney is a type of relish that combines a vinegar with both sweet and savory flavors. Apples are a great choice for a chutney and can be mixed with other fruits like cranberries or prunes and vegetables like onions or tomatoes.
You can either go towards the sweet side with a chutney, adding flavors like vanilla or caramelized elements, or you can go more savory with spices like coriander or curry powder.
Salsa is similar to chutney in some ways, but it tends to be on the more savory side and doesn’t have the same pickled flavor.
Apples might sound like a strange salsa ingredient, but they actually pair nicely with tomatoes, peppers, onions, and other traditional salsa ingredients.
As with many other apple recipes, you should can your chutney or salsa to store it long-term if you can’t eat it right away.
If you want to get into the realm of fermentation, you can take your own pressed apple cider and turn it into hard cider.
Hard cider is an adventurous choice if you’ve never tried fermenting anything before, but by following the correct steps, you can end up with a great end product.
Making hard cider is not difficult, but getting the perfect blend of apples to get a cider that’s balanced in astringency, acidity, and sweetness takes time and is something of an art form.
The basic method is to dissolve sugar into warmed cider before pouring it into a brewing jug. (You can also skip the sugar.) You can add spices at this point if you want to flavor the finished product. Then, you’ll add yeast and stop up the jug with an airlock stopper.
Let the yeast and cider do their work for about 2-4 weeks before bottling your newly made hard cider.
If you want an alcoholic apple drink that is more forgiving of apple choice, try making wine instead of cider.
Apple cider vinegar has fantastic health benefits and is a great method of preserving apples as well as using leftover apple parts.
There are two main methods for making apple cider vinegar.
To make true apple cider vinegar, you need to start with hard cider or raw, fresh-pressed cider. If you are starting with raw cider, you’ll need to let it sit at room temperature for about two weeks to become hard cider.
True apple cider vinegar is made from hard cider, but there’s another version that uses the peels and cores that would normally go to waste. It’s also an easier method is this is your first time fermenting.
Once you have hard cider, put it in an open container and cover the opening with a cloth or towel to keep out bugs and dust. It will take anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months to turn into vinegar. You’ll know it has when you see a large “mother” on the top (it looks like hard jelly).
You can use the mother culture to make more batches of vinegar from hard cider much more quickly.
A second method of making apple cider vinegar is to use apple scraps. This won’t give you “true” vinegar and it won’t be as intense in flavor, but it’s easy to do and uses up apple pieces that would otherwise go to waste.
For this method, you simply need to fill sterilized glass jars with apple cores and peels (just make sure the apples were organically grown before using the peels). Then, fill the jars with water so the apple scraps are covered.
You can use a weight to keep the apple scraps below the water. Cover the jars with cheesecloth to keep insects out and let them ferment for about a month before straining the vinegar out.
Sauerkraut is a very traditional method for fermenting and preserving fruits and vegetables. By combining cabbage, apples, and spices, you get a delicious kraut that tastes wonderful on its own or with pork dishes.
Sauerkraut typically uses cabbage, but apples make a great addition and will give you a fruit, salty kraut. You can also add any spices you want to flavor your kraut.
To make kraut, you’ll need to shred both cabbage and apples and choose any spices you may want to add. Cinnamon, ginger, and cloves work exceptionally well with apples and cabbage.
Then, you’ll mix the produce and spices together and massage with sea salt. Once the cabbage has softened a bit, pack the mixture into clean glass jars. Cover it with a brine of sea salt and water, and use weights to keep it under the liquid.
Seal the jars with an airlock cover, and let your kraut ferment for 1-4 weeks. It can then be stored in the refrigerator for months.
Finding Your Favorite Method of Preserving Apples
As you can see, there are so many ways to preserve an apple harvest. With all of these methods, there’s no reason to let any fruit go to waste! Try a few methods to find out what works best for you and which ones you think taste the best.
You can also learn how to preserve other produce to keep your apples company. Read about storing garlic correctly, or grow and dry herbs like basil, thyme, and oregano.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.