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Mitzi Parker: Apple season is almost here!

If you are planning a fall trip to the North Georgia mountains, it’s bound to include a stop to purchase apples. Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sight of so many different varieties? Or after returning home, find that you have bought more than you can possibly use before they start to spoil? Here are some tips to help you make wise choices this apple season and select varieties that you can preserve successfully for the winter.
Whether purchasing apples at the grocery store, roadside stand, an orchard, or picking them from your own backyard, their flavor is best when they are at the peak of maturity. Remember, size doesn’t determine maturity. Choose apples that are free of defects which include bruises, skin breaks and decayed spots. Don’t worry about “russeting” which is the little brown spots on the skin of the apples. It doesn’t affect the quality. Soft apples tend to have a mealy texture and overripe flavor; so it’s best to choose hard, firm apples.
Store apples in a cool, dark place and do not tightly cover or wrap. Use a perforated plastic or open paper bag, basket or wooden crate to keep apples at peak quality while enjoying their fresh flavor. If refrigerated, place them in the humidifier compartment or in a plastic or zipper-type vegetable bag with several holes punched in it. This protects the moisture and crispness of the apples. Do not refrigerate apples near foods that have strong odors since they may pick up those odors.
If you are interested in preserving apples, use fruit at peak flavor and quality for the best end results. The biggest decision is which preservation method fits your needs. This versatile fruit is delicious dried, made into applesauce or apple butter, or even combined with pears for apple pear jam. Apples do not make the highest quality slices when frozen or canned; however, they may be preserved by these methods.
Choose the preservation method that best suits the apple variety. For freezing, select Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan and Granny Smith. For making applesauce or apple butter, use Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gravenstein and McIntosh. Red Delicious apples do not cook or freeze well, so it’s best to eat those fresh. When making applesauce, apple butter or dried apple slices, be sure to process them as soon as possible after they are harvested.
Choose apples that are top quality; store them carefully, and preserve some of your favorite varieties. Spreading apple butter on hot bread or eating a warm dried apple pie on a cold winter day is a wonderful reward for preserving apples. And, an apple buying trip is a great reason for a fall outing this season!
Special thanks to Elizabeth Andress and Judy Harrison, University of Georgia, for sharing this educational material on apples!

Mitzi Parker is Sumter County Extension agent/Family and Consumer Science, University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. Contact her at 229-924-4476.