Apples are the perfect preparedness food. They are familiar, inexpensive in season, versatile and can be easily stored in a number of low tech ways. I say this from a Western Mass bias. If you live in Texas, this might not apply.
Where to find them: I rarely pay for apples as they grow wild all over. If you must buy them, this is one food you might consider buying organic as pesticides are absorbed in the skin and if you peel an apple you remove a good deal of the nutrients and fiber. Whether you buy organic or pick up from a road side tree, always wash an apple well before eating. If you decide to spend a fall afternoon at a u-pick orchard, beware. It can be a fun way to spend a nice day but those orchards are selling the sizzle. The apples will not be a lot cheaper and you will probably be lured into buying some cider, a pie and a jar of fancy preserves. It is not necessarily a cheap day. You can save some money buy purchasing drops. These are apples with bruises that have dropped from the trees. You will have to preserve them pretty quickly as a small bruise will cause an apple to rot really quickly.
Once you get your apples home you have to act quickly to get them preserved. Early apples will get soft and mealy pretty fast while hard, late varieties will have a longer shelf-life. If you plan to keep apples for any length of time you will need a place that maintains a consistent, cold temperature but never dips below freezing. I keep my apples in the basement layered with dry maple leaves. Check the apples every few days. One bad apple actually can spoil the whole bunch and a bigger mess than a pile of sodden, moldy apples is hard to imagine.
I can about 60 jars of apple sauce a year. The process is pretty simple. Wash the apples and cut into chunks. Just leave the cores but cut out any yucky spots. Steam them in a few inches of water until they are soft. Watch them pretty closely and don’t let them boil to hard. Apples scorch easily and one bit of scorch will ruin the whole batch. Do not askme how I know this. When the apples are soft, run them through a food mill. I have a Squeezo. It’s a stupid name for a wonderful piece of equipment. If you do a lot of sauce, invest in one or go in with a friend. I have also used one of the big funnel shaped mills with the wooden reamer. That works well but takes more time. I do way too much sauce for a Foley Food Mill. When you have a nice bowl of sauce, sweeten it to taste with sugar or honey. I like a pink sauce so I sometimes add some cinnamon candies for the spice and the color. Follow the instuctions for canning your sauce. For a first-time canner, apple sauce is thing to start with. You can freeze it too.
Apples dry really well but they do require some pretreating or they turn dark. Some people just hang apple slices over a wood stove and others use a dehydrator. I like my Excalibur but I have had excellent results with air drying too.
If you want cider, find someone with a press. That is a specialty piece of equipment that generally costs more than it’s worth for an individual but is a good group purchase if you have a lot apples.
This year, I am trying to make vinegar. I about died when I saw organic vinegar in our little store for $18.00 a gallon! I bought some cider with the mother in it and will attempt to make my own. I am researching methods and recipes now. It looks like good old Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living has good instructions.
One of our favorite things to eat is toast with apple butter. It’s pretty easy. Take about 16 apples and simmer with 2 cups of cider. Put through the food mill and then simmer again until the butter is thick and dark. Do this slowly and over low temperature. It burns easily. Add 2 teaspoons of powdered cinnamon and a pinch of cloves. This will give you three pints which is a small enough amount to refrigerate if you eat it often. If you want to can it, double the recipe and do a ten minute water bath can. I have to confess that I don’t use a recipe for making butter. It’s pretty hard to mess up and I make big batches. I may not make any this year as I still have 6 jars left from last year. I guess I got carried away. I made thirty jars and you can only give so many away.
I canned apple juice last year. My girls like it but not as much as my grape juice. It tends to get sediment after a couple of months in storage. This year I am also making wine. Like I said. I have a lot of apples.
A few years ago we put in a small orchard. For the investment of thirty dollars a piece, we got a dozen fruit trees. Planting fruit trees is an exercise in optimism. I am planting in anticipation. I want my ashes scattered over the ground around those trees. My grandchildren will eat the fruit. I hope their parents tell them that we planted the orchard because we loved them, even before they were born