Preserving Backyard Apples
We have an ancient apple tree growing next to our house that provides us with apples. The view from our dining room window is of this apple tree. In spring, when blossoms cover the tree, we can watch the orioles, warblers, and bees that visit the tree and anticipate all the apples that will hang from the branches come fall. However, an apple grown on our tree is definitely not the same as the one we could be buy at the grocery store.
Our apples are not super-sized, glossy, or spherical. Instead they are small, have brown spots and are asymmetrical. But you know what, they seem infinitely fresher, crisper and more satisfying. We have found many uses for our apples, besides eating them fresh: apple pie filling, apple pie jam, applesauce and apple butter. And whenever I serve a pie or preserve made from these apples, I am sure to inform the people about to partake that “these apples came from our tree.”
We are unsure of the age of our apple tree. But it appears larger in diameter than the trees we have seen growing in orchards. It has undergone some chainsaw pruning in the past and has more of an oval than a round shape to its crown. The tree was never trained or pruned to make harvesting an easy chore. It simply reached for sunlight and grew up - it was likely a tree someone planted with good intentions, but for whatever reasons, the tree appears to have been neglected. As a result, we can reach only a tiny fraction of the apples by standing on the ground. Even a ladder propped on a branch provides only a small increase in our yield. Looking up, we can see beautiful, red apples hanging so temptingly from the upper branches.
In an attempt to use these “higher apples” rather than having them drop to the ground, bruise and rot, last summer we rigged up a net below the tree. Again, this increased our yield by only a small margin. I think we could make a better increase if we improved on our apple-catching device. Mom saw an image of an apple-catcher made from an old canvas tarp. The middle was cut out to fit around the tree and then a slit made from this hole out to an edge. Once around the tree, the slit was then stitched together to create a net to catch the falling apples. One corner of the tarp was lower than the others and caused the apples to gently roll into a bucket for easy collecting. Perhaps we will have enough foresight this year to rig up an apple catching tarp? Only time will tell. But if we don’t, I will pick what I can and scrounge up the least bruised apples and transform them into some preserves that we can enjoy any time of year.