This is the time of year many of us are planning our gardens. We are tilling, starting seedlings and fertilizing. The one thing we are not doing is picking apples. So how is it there are so many varieties of premium apples available? Contrary to popular belief, they are not imported. In fact, almost every apple in our produce department is from right here in the United States. They are still available because of the tremendous strides that been have made in apple storage techniques.
Cold storage techniques have been used for many years. This key is to pick the apples at the absolute perfect time (not too green, not too ripe) and rush them into a cool place. A picked apple cannot be frozen; it will turn brown and rot quickly. Instead, it can be chilled to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, with added humidity, apples can be stored for up to two months with very little quality loss. Markets sell these stored apples through January and February.
Controlled Atmosphere (CA) techniques are relatively new. We have known for quite some time that a picked apple “breathes” just like people; apples absorb oxygen and release carbon dioxide. It was only recently discovered that if we remove most of the oxygen while storing apples and add carbon dioxide in a completely airtight environment, the apples remain virtually unchanged for months (or even years) at a time. If the U.S. crop is big enough, like it has been the last two years, apples can come out of CA storage for sale to markets all the way until August when the new crops are being harvested. Many apples come out of CA storage in such good shape that it is difficult to tell the difference between stored and fresh apples. Some apples even improve with CA storage. In the week ahead, look for “Pinata” apples and a new Golden Delicious/Jonathan hybrid called “Red Prince,” in our produce department. These varieties in particular are not sold until they are stored for at least two months, enabling them to develop a more distinctive color and flavor.