Apple Storage: How Long Do Apples Last

Apple Storage: How Long Do Apples Last

By: Amy Grant

If you have your own apple tree, then you know you will harvest far more than can be eaten in one sitting. Sure, you may have passed off a bunch on family and friends, but chances are good that you still have some left. So how long do apples last? What is the best way to preserve fresh apples? Read on to find out how to store apples properly for the longest shelf life.

How Long Do Apples Last?

The length of time apples can be stored depends on a number of factors. First, it depends on when you picked them. If you have picked them when overripe, they tend to break down rapidly, reducing the amount of apple storage time.

In order to determine when to harvest the apples, you need to look at their ground color. Ground color is the color of the apple’s skin, not including the portions that have become red. With red apples, look at the part of the apple facing the interior of the tree. Red apples will be ready to harvest when the ground color changes from leaf green to yellowish green or creamy. Yellow cultivars will be ready to harvest when the ground color turns golden. Apples with a yellowish-green ground color are suited as storing apples.

Keep in mind that some apples store better than others. For instance, Honey Crisp and Gala lose fruit quality within a couple of weeks from harvest. Stayman and Arkansas Black heirloom apples will last up to 5 months if stored properly. Fuji and Pink Lady store very well and may be perfectly good into spring. A general rule of thumb is that late maturing varieties store the best.

Apples that will be eaten right away may be ripened on the tree, but apples that are going into apple storage are picked mature, but hard, with a mature skin color yet hard flesh. So you harvest storing apples earlier than those you want to eat fresh immediately. When stored properly, some apples will last for up to 6 months. So how do you store apples properly?

How to Preserve Fresh Apples

As mentioned, for storage apples, pick when the apple’s skin color is mature but the fruit is still firm. Set aside any apples that have bruises, insect or disease damage, cracks, splits, or mechanical injury, as they will not store for any length of time. Use these instead to make pies or applesauce.

The key to storing apples is to store them in a cool area with relatively high humidity. If you store them in the refrigerator, the temperature should be around 32 F. (0 C.). The relative humidity should be about 90-95% to keep the fruit from shriveling. Small quantities of apples can be stored in a plastic bag with holes in the refrigerator. Larger yields should be stored in a cellar or basement with high humidity. Store the apples in boxes lined with plastic or foil to help retain moisture.

Check in on the stored apples every so often since the saying ‘one bad apple spoils the barrel’ is definitely true. Also, store apples away from other produce since apples give off ethylene gas that can hasten the ripening of other produce.

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Everyone that has at least one apple tree knows that when the air becomes cooler, apples will soon follow. All of these crisp and delicious fruits will not ripen at the same time. It is necessary to carefully watch the tree for any dropped fruit. If the apples begin falling to the ground, it’s time to take a closer look.

Because apples come in a variety of colors, it is important to know which variety you have and what it should look like when it is ripe. Pick one of the apples that appear to be ripe. Cut into it and inspect the flesh and seeds. If the seeds are dark and the flesh looks like it should, take a bite. It should taste crisp and juicy and delicious. If it does, finish the apple and start picking the others that look ripe.

It is important to repeat the process weekly. The remaining apples will continue to ripen in their own time. It is important to be vigilant about picking the ripe fruit because any dropped apples left to rot will draw insects that can damage the tree. Be sure to clean up any apples around the tree to prevent such problems.


Peel, core, and slice. If you’ve got apples to freeze, but no plan for their use, this is the way to go. Use later by the handful or bagful in any cooked recipes. Pies, muffins, cobblers and even applesauce can be made from frozen apples.

There are some fun peeling gadgets around and may save some time, but I tend to stick with my trusty swivel peeler. On the other hand, I can’t say enough about the value of a sturdy slicer/corer. An indispensable tool when you have a lot of apples to get through.

Once sliced, dip the apples in a bowl of water with a little lemon juice stirred in (about a tablespoon per gallon) to prevent browning.

To prevent clumping, arrange slices on a plate or baking tray lined with parchment paper and pre-freeze them for a couple of hours before bagging in an airtight container or ziploc bags.


Apple Canning Recipes

Canning apples gives you a surprising number of choices. While applesauce may be the first thing that comes to mind, there are so many ways to can apples!

Apple butter, cider syrup, and cider jelly are all commonly canned today using a water bath canner, but they’re listed above in “historical” ways to preserve apples because they’ve been around since before canning was invented. Canning extends their shelf life even more, but the original preservation method is in the creation of the flavorful apple preserve in the first place.

Applesauce

These days, when people think about putting up a big apple harvest, their minds go to applesauce. Canning applesauce is really easy, and after a short cook, the apples are ready to be processed in a water bath canner for just 15 minutes (pints) or 20 minutes (quarts).

The process is made a bit simpler if you make applesauce with a food mill. Just coarsely chop the apples, no peeling or seeding required. After a short cook, everything goes through the food mill and a smooth sauce comes out the other end.

We’ve canned 50+ pints of applesauce in under 2 hours using the food mill method.

In truth, applesauce doesn’t need anything but apples. That said, if you want a real treat, try making caramel applesauce…

Canned Apple Slices

If you want a simple apple canning recipe, then apple slices are about as easy as it gets. You don’t even have to cook them into applesauce, just slice them up, pack them in syrup and can away.

Canned apple slices are really versatile, and you can add a bit of thickener to make a pie, or simply strain them for use in all manner of recipes. Toss them on a salad, add them to a pork loin roast, or just eat them right out of the jar.

The process involves blanching the apples in water first, to help preserve quality during canning. That blanching water is full of flavor, and often discarded. If you’re truly into no waste, that waste apple water can be made into apple cider concentrate for canning too.

Home-canned apple slices (Image Courtesy of A Farm Girl in the Making)

Apple Pie Filling

While canned apples are versatile, I usually can apple pie filling instead. It’s ready to go, no thickening required. If I want a fresh apple for a mid-winter recipe, I’ll go to our basement. But when I want a pie, these beautiful jars are ready to go in a moment’s notice.

Saves a lot of time on busy weeknights, and I get to can my pie and eat it too!

(The same trick works for cherry pie filling and peach pie filling, so you’ve got plenty of choices…)

Canning Whole Apples

While canning apple slices may be more versatile, I love the novelty of just canning whole apples. Historically, many apple varieties were quite small. Heirloom apple varieties like Wickson, pomme gris or lady apples were sweet, flavorful and super tiny.

Since you’re canning these tiny apples in a spiced sugar syrup, crabapples work just as well and the sugars infuse over time to create a real treat.

Spiced Crab Apples (Image courtesy of The View from Great Island)

Apple Pickles

Pickles aren’t just for cucumbers, and apples can be pickled in the same way. Apples are naturally much more acidic than cucumbers, and safe for canning without added vinegar. That means the amount of vinegar added is all for flavor, to create a pickle as a tangy topping for all manner of dishes.

Slice the apples into rings and season with maple and star anise for a warm, comforting pickle like they do in this recipe from food52. Alternately, dice the apples and mix with lime and chillis for a tasty taco topping, as they do in this recipe from tasting table.

The most unique recipe I’ve seen yet though comes from Nish Kitchen, which grates the apples and then pickles them in curry spices.

Curry Pickled Apples (Image Courtesy of Nish Kitchen)

Apple Chutney

That last apple pickle recipe sets this next one up nicely. Apple chutney isn’t that much different than apple pickles, other than spices and intent. A chutney would never be eaten as a pickle right out of the jar, it’s meant to be used as a flavor-enhancing condiment for Indian cuisine.

Modern fusion cuisine means that apple chutney doesn’t have to have Indian spicing. This pork tenderloin with vanilla apple chutney looks amazing and takes a traditional Indian condiment in a very different direction. Similarly, cranberry apple chutney is just right for an American holiday table.

If you want to keep it traditional, try this simple recipe for apple chutney from Cadry’s Kitchen. Though she doesn’t include canning instructions, this recipe would be canned in the same manner as applesauce.

Apple Chutney (Image courtesy of Cadry’s Kitchen)

Apple Jam

While apple jelly is well known, somehow old fashioned apple jam has gone by the wayside. The process starts by macerating diced apples in sugar, which draws out their liquid into a syrup and firms up the texture.

The apples and syrup are then cooked into a homemade jam without added pectin, but with loads of apple flavor.

Pear jam uses basically the same recipe, but with pears obviously.

Apple Jelly

A bit different than cider jelly which only has one ingredient, apple jelly is a more modern recipe that cooks apples in water to extract their flavor and pectin. The apples are strained out and sugar is added to finish the jelly.

Most commonly, this is made as crabapple jelly because it’s a great way to use up crabapples that have few other edible uses.

Crabapple Jelly (Image Courtesy of Learning and Yearning)

Canning Fresh Cider

One of my favorite ways to preserve apples is by canning apple cider at home. I love mulled cider all winter long, and after we press apples on our double barrel cider press, I often can up the whole batch in quart jars for the winter. Lacking a press, this simple DIY cider press gets the job done for free.

The whole canning process is really quick, since the cider is full of sugar and acid. Some of the solids fall out of suspension to the bottom of the jar during canning, but it still has a characteristic “apple cider” taste that’s very unlike storebought apple juice.

Apple Salsa

Perhaps not the first thing that comes to mind when you’re canning apples, but apple salsa is really tasty. Apples are crunchy, sweet and acidic which makes them the perfect fresh salsa base.

Canning apple salsa removes that crisp crunch, but the flavor is still incredible.

Apple Salsa (Image Courtesy of A Farmgirl in the Making)


Keep them cool

The ideal storage temperature is 30 to 35 degrees F. with 90 to 95 percent relative humidity. If you don't have a lot of apples, the refrigerator is a good option. Place them in the crisper drawer in a plastic bag with holes in it or cover the apples with a damp paper towel. Don't store other vegetables in the same drawer, because apples give off ethylene gas, which can speed the decay of neighboring produce.

If you have larger quantities, look for a cool, dark (or dim) place that's relatively humid, such as a cellar or garage. It's best if the temperature stays close to freezing but not below! Wrap each apple — preferably with the stem on — in a piece of newspaper or kraft paper. The paper keeps the apples separate. Place the wrapped apples in a crate or bin, ideally in a single layer. Or store them on trays such as those in our Orchard Rack. For more ideas, see our full lineup of apple storage solutions, including as racks, stands and more.

Check the apples periodically and remove any that are spoiling. Use the large ones first because they tend to get soft before the smaller ones. Apples continue to ripen in storage, so place each variety on its own tray (or in separate crates) because they ripen at different rates.


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