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organic living journey it's apple season

The following is part of an Organic Journey guest post series, written by Amy a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

I feel like I just discovered another secret in this whole eating better for less journey.  Want to know what it is?  Well, I was reading another blogger’s tale of how she saves money eating well and noticed that she bought a huge box of tomatoes.  A box of tomatoes that no family could ever consume before they went bad.  Then later, while I was at my beloved farmer’s market, I noticed a man who had boxes of produce (and he didn’t appear to be buying for a restaurant!)  Another seed was planted into the sieve-like brain of mine.  I also have been gradually noticing that the prices for a box of produce at my farmer’s market are significantly cheaper than the price per pound.  The puzzle piece that put it all together for me happened this weekend though.

We went apple picking and after we picked, we went back to the store to do a little shopping.  There were these ½ bushel bags of apples for $15 ea.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know how to comparison shop from bushels to pounds.  I can, however, be creative in problem solving every now and then though.  One of our friends that went with us works at a gym.  I figured if he lifts weights every day, he could lift that bag of apples and give me a pretty good estimate of how much it weighed.  He estimated that it was between 40-45 lbs of apples!  My husband (who works in construction and thus does some heavy lifting of his own) checked it out as well (per my request, he’s not a doubting Thomas or anything) and concurred that the estimate was right.  Even if it was 40 lbs, that works out to being 37¢/lb!!!  The cheapest I can ever get apples for is 99¢/lb.  That is some major savings!  (full disclosure: It was a 2 hour trip one way with our clan.  So, if you are looking for sheer cost effectiveness, the price of my gas killed that.  But I figure the gas paid for a day of fun memories for our family.)  Here is the problem, our family can’t consume 40 lbs of apples before they go bad.  We could come close, but there would be waste.  And then the lightbulb clicked on.  Maybe one of the keys to major savings in this area is to buy produce in bulk when it is in season and at a great discount, and then preserve it.  Sound simple?  Yes.  Had I totally figured out that this applied to things besides strawberries and peaches?  No.  So, I snagged three of those ginormous bags of apples (in addition to what my kiddos had picked) and started brainstorming ways to preserve these apples.

When I was talking to a dear friend today and excitedly told her about my aha moment, she said that made her think one thing, “WORK!”  I’m not going to lie, it has taken some time and effort to preserve our apples this week, but if you have the right tools, it makes all the difference in the world.  Which leads to the first step.

Step One: You must buy one of these apple peeler/corer/slicers.  They are made by tons of companies, but there are phenomenal.  They are so easy to use that my five year old can do it.  More importantly, they save you hours upon hours of time.  If yours starts to act up, try drying your apples.  We found that ours was temperamental when the apples were wet.  In about 20 minutes, we can have 20 or so apples peeled, cored and sliced.  Why am I just now learning about this??

Step Two: Make applesauce.  I tried this once last year before doing step one.  It took the hubs and I hours of peeling, coring and slicing for one crockpot of applesauce.  That is why having the right tools is key to making this a doable baby step.  So, once your apples are prepped, you can toss them into the crockpot until it is full and toss in about 1 cup of water.  Turn it on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4.  Then mash it up (I used my immersion blender).  I tried several applesauce recipes with added sugar and cinnamon that my kids hated.  When you get apples picked fresh, they are so ridiculously sweet that they need nothing added.  If you want, you can use several different varieties of apples.  Supposedly that can help the flavor, but this stuff beats applesauce out of the jar hands down!  Now, I was hesitant to make a bunch of applesauce because I knew we couldn’t eat it all before it went bad, and then a friend mentioned on facebook that her family makes gobs of applesauce in the fall and then freeze it in quart size freezer bags.  BRILLIANT!!

Step Three:  Dehydrate.  Yes, I’m a bit obsessed with my new toy, I mean, dehydrator.  And you might have picked up on my new love of dried apples, but there is sooo much more that you can do with dried apples than just eat them for a snack.  Dehydration is an amazing way to preserve food.  You can rehydrate those dried apples later to put them in recipes.  Hello, yummy apple cinnamon raisin bread.  Or fried apple pies (oh wait, this is supposed to be about being healthy!)  Since my homemade peach fruit leathers have been such a hit, I’m wondering how applesauce would work as a fruit leather.  So many options!!

You could also can them, but that takes more effort than I want to think about right now.  I’m not against canning.  I’ve done it once.  It was just hot work, and I don’t really like to get super sweaty…especially when I’m inside in the air conditioning.  Just keepin’ it real.

Another question that you might have is whether or not my apples were organic, and no, they weren’t.  I did ask though about a few of the orchards in Ellijay, GA.  The common answer was that they try to use as little pesticides as possible.  Because of that, we peeled all of the apples and threw out the peel.  Instead of feeling like a failure for not getting organic (and apples are even on the dirty dozen list), I’m going to be fired up that we are all eating way more fruit.  Even my baby boy has started saying “ap-bull.”

How about you?  Is the thought of buying a box of produce as daunting to you as it was to me?  If this is old hat to you, what other ways have you found to preserve your apples?

    • Nd

      We are loving apple season at our house by buying locally grown apples and dehydrating them. They are great snacks.

    • organic mama

      If you ask for “2nds”, the imperfect or slightly bruised apples, they are even cheaper!!! I have gotten full bushels of 2nds for $6 or $7 dollars. Also, apple butter is just one step further than apple sauce. Add the spices and a little bit of sugar and cook over night in the crock pot….and voila – apple butter that can be canned and given away as gifts because everyone loves homemade apple butter! Canning in a water bath is super easy and I usually pick up canning jars from yard sales for pennies.

      • lj

        You are so right! I got 2nds (they’re just odd shaped, no bruises) and I paid 12.00 a bushel. In my area, they are going for 25.00-30.00 a bushel! And if you’re cooking them up anyway, who cares what shape they are :)

      • amysanders

        another friend just shared with me about seconds yesterday. i would think that you would have to go through the bags pretty fast though to keep them from spoiling. what did you observe?

    • Sublimebetty

      I love this series of posts, thanks so much for sharing!

      • amysanders

        thanks! it is definitely encouraging me to press on in taking baby steps. :)

    • Kirstie

      We have our own apple tree in our backyard and this year it produced more apples than you can imagine. I don’t know how many five gallon buckets we processed. These apples were organic (we don’t put anything on them). We then froze some, canned some and made lots of applesauce. They are delicious.

      • amysanders

        did you plant it yourself?

        • thechapleigh

          The fulfillment you get from watching your trees become productive is priceless — definately give it a shot!

    • lj

      This is too funny, because I just bought 2 bushels(boxes) of apples for my family of 3 soon to be 4. If you can find a victorio strainer, this will make applesauce a breeze. Just qtr your apples and take off the stem and blossom ends, bake them in the oven and put them thru the strainer. This separates the seeds, peeling, and yuck and mashes your apple and out comes beautiful applesauce. :) I canned mine and have about 42 pints. I also did pie filling. I cooked my thick sauce and used the peeler/slicer/corer to do the apples. Dip them in lemon water or something with acid to keep them white and stir them into your thickening. The recipe I use is able to be canned or frozen. I freeze mine because then the apples are never cooked and I have “fresh” pie filling to make cobblers, apple crisp, apple pie bars, and pie! I have one more batch of apples left from those boxes to put into pie filling then I’m done with apples!

      • amysanders

        yummy. do you mind sharing your pie filling recipe? i never thought of freezing it!

        • lj

          Nope, here it is…
          1 gallon sliced apples
          6 cups water
          3 cups sugar
          1 cup clear jel (aka Therma Flo or Perma Flo)
          1 tsp cinnamon
          1 Tablespoon vanilla
          3/4 cup butter
          2 Tablespoons lemon juice
          Cook everything, except the apples, until thickened. Then add your apples. Fill your jars, leaving about an inch of space at the top. Freeze. This will make about 12-13 pints.

          *Clear jel may be hard to find if you don’t have access to a bulk and natural store. I think Whole Foods may carry it. But you usually can’t find it at a regular grocery store. I’m not sure, but maybe you can substitute with cornstarch. I’ve never tried it with this recipe and freezing. Someone else may know…

          • amysanders

            the recipe i just used t make apple pie had flour as a thickener. i bet that would work too. thanks so much!

            • lj

              The only reason I can think of that it might have to be clear jel is because of freezing. Some stuff gets watery when it’s thawed. I know clear jel will stay thick, as it’s specifically for canning/freezing. But you could try flour and let us know how it thaws out. :)

    • wendyn.

      i really enjoy posts like these!!! this is awesome! Gotta plant an apple tree :)!!!!! Thanks! I don’t even want to think how much we’ve paid for green & red apples!!! (only had the occasional use of a Kroger coupon or Publix produce coupon to help!)

      • amysanders

        i wonder how long it would take an apple tree to mature enough to produce fruit?

        • thechapleigh

          we planted a few trees 4 years ago, and they produced fruit the second & third year. This year, nothing — because of the early thaw everyone else has talked about. Stark brothers has a one-year guarantee… if it dies in the first year, they will replace it. However, we have had some difficulties with some of our recent plantings… definately need to plant more than a couple to have success — both for pollenating/crossbreeding, as well as the potentials for insects & such. It’s harder when trying to go organic… requries patience :)

          • amysanders

            how big were the trees you planted?

            • thechapleigh

              they arrived in the mail, so definately under 4 ft. Not sapplings — those are frustrating — you want trees. We’ve had to learn by trial & error about pruning & how to mulch around them, & what to use for the “natural” way vs. chemically — thus we lost a few trees this year. Each year we add a few more; we are now up to probably 20-25 trees, all under 5 years, of various kinds (apples, peach, pear, plum, fig & various nuts, as well as a variety of berries.) The first couple of trees had fruit a few years back, but it’s been tougher lately, since we have switched to trying NOT to use chemicals. From the research my husband has done, this current year is a tough one, transitionally, for them, and I think it’s why we have had issues. It would definatley be to your advantage to befriend a farmer who has success — and without chemicals since that’s the way your posts are sounding ;)

            • amysanders

              thanks so much for the info! makes me wish you were my neighbor so that i could learn from all that you are doing.

    • I’m a canner. I love to can fruit. Jams, pie fillings, etc. So easy to do with very little expense! Apples don’t mean only sauce and dehydrated. Make your pie fillings and jam and you won’t have to buy the chemically preserved stuff!

    • Susie

      Just a tip for a fun family day out for cheap, Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge, Ga. has U-Pick on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It cost $10 for a bag to fill, regardless of how many people are in your group. You don’t even have to pay for a bag, they give free tractor rides through the orchard. Along with the $10 for the bag, they encourage you to eat all the apples you want while you’re in the orchard as part of the experience, no extra charge. If you go, be sure to go early, I think it starts at 10am. By noon the lines for U-Pick are extremely long. They have some picnic tables by the pond so you could pack a lunch or eat in the restaurant there on site. Be sure to check out their fried pies, they’re awesome. Our family really enjoyed a day in the orchard. They also sell several types of apples in the store that are already picked, $15 for a half bushel. You can taste them before you buy them in the store also, for free.

      • amysanders

        R and A Orchards is where we go in Ellijay. Similar experience there and super friendly people. And don’t you LOVE fried apple pies!?!!

    • Lana

      You can also make apple pies and freeze them either baked or unbaked. Unbaked pies can be baked straight from the freezer. For easy snacking apples can be cut up and soaked briefly in salt water. Place in ziploc and in the refrigerator. They will keep for several days without browning.

      • amysanders

        i had never thought of premaking to freeze pies. love it! do you use disposable pie tins to freeze them?

        • Couldn’t you also probably do pie pockets like McDonalds does?

          • amysanders

            brilliant. absolutely brilliant.

        • thechapleigh

          disposable tins work great — I also use these to make chicken potpies or leftover thanksgiving turkey pies (stuffing as the “crust”, then mashed potatoes and gravy, then cranberry stuff, any veggies, and top with a simple crust). YUM! Thanksgiving leftovers in February taste sooooo gooood!! And, the guests love to take home this “pie” to freeze for later as well :)

    • Nita in Nashville

      For our applesauce we through them in whole but of course washed. Then we put them through our large food mill and then had wonderful applesauce. To make applebutter I then add a little sugar, cinnamon and other spices, put it in a crockpot for about 12 hours with a little bit of applecider or juice. Wonderful on homemade buttermilk bisquits!

      • amysanders

        i never knew that’s how they made apple butter. yum! (all this talk of apple goodness is making me want apple pie!)

        • Nita in Nashville

          This is nice to do with pears and peaches as well. YUMMY!

    • Tiffany

      Also, you can run pears through on your peeler/slicer. I’ve done MANY quarts of pears this way. You can also run your potato through too! I just take the spiral slicer off the end.

      • amysanders

        i tried potatoes, but i hadn’t thought of using it on pears. thanks for the tip!

        • thechapleigh

          ohhhh… pear sauce is nearly the same thing as apple sauce!! I JUST learned this, as my neighbor had a HUGE wheelbarrow-full of pears from her tree that were going un-used — i LOVE putting to good use something that otherwise would have gone to waste! I first clean & heat in boiling water the apples or pears (with skins on , just quartered), then put them through a food mill. It’s super-easy to boiling-water can after that — no extra sugar, & just a bit of cinnamon, that’s it. Check out Blue Ball Canning book for the pear or apple sauce recipe.

    • Angela

      I’m soooo jealous of everyone!!! Here in Michigan there are no U-Pick apples this season. We had a string (few weeks) of 65-80 degree days in February. This tricked the apple trees into producing flowers. Being Michigan we had a freeze in March and it killed off 90% if not more of the flowers. Apple products are 2-3x the cost of the same items last year due to the freeze. A gallon of apple cider is running about $6.00 this year, normally $2.99 a gallon. Michigan apples are running $1.59/lb when normally they are $.69/lb at this time of the year. I was sooo looking forward to making applesauce.
      As Jenny stated the farmers market is a fabulous way to get dirt cheap produce. This past weekend I spent $16 on produce that would have cost me over $75 in the grocery stores. Out of that produce I got enough tomatoes to can about 12 quarts. I got about 10 quarts (freezer bags) of broccoli and cauliflower. There were other misc items too but the above alone would have cost me an arm and a leg in the store. This coming week I am getting pears to can ($.60/lb), HUGE red bell peppers (3/$1.00).
      Jenny if you want, I can send you a picture of my trip to the farmers market (Detroit’s Eatern Market) with the breakdown of what it was and what it produced. This way people can see just how much you can save.

    • Sasha

      I live on the coast of Virginia where apples don’t grow. The closest orchard is 90 minutes away, requires a $15 toll, and didn’t have apple picking this year due to a bad season so I bought a case of organic apples from Kroger for 89 c a pound. The orchard was 75 c a pound, not organic. I also asked at my local organic grocer if I could buy apples in bulk from their supplier and I’m waiting to hear back when they come in. I was happy to read today that I could make apple jelly from the peels!

    • M Franklin

      Check out the blog: one hundred dollars a month. She is growing 2000 lbs of veggies for her family this year. She recently got a bunch of apples and had several ideas of what to do with them. Love your posts on organic living!

    • Mary Walsh

      Great idea! I do the same thing! At the end of the season you can a box of tomatoes for $5-$10 dollars. You can chop them up and freeze them. i find by buying vegetables in season locally and growing some my self that I hardly have to buy at vegetables and groceries at the store. A food processor has helped a lot with slicing the food to dehydrate

      • amysanders

        what do you do with your frozen tomatoes?

        • Brady

          you can also make your own homecanned diced tomatoes, whole peeled tomatoes, tomato puree, and tomato sauce. Much cheaper when buying in bulk from local farmers and then canning in glass jars you use for years to come. We are still using jars that are 20 years old! Home canning tutorials are all over the internet and in many books and magazines. its soooo easy with just lemon juice and an inexpensive pressure cooker or canner for the stove top! Frozen tomatoes are great too and are great for soups, stews, and even defrosting for tacos and other mexican specialties!

        • thechapleigh

          I first roast the tomatoes (with a bit of oil, S&P) to bring out the sweetness, then cool & freeze. I add later on when making fresh spagheltti sauce. It’s my “lazy-way” of dealing with the smaller tomatoes from our garden that tend to split quickly after it rains.

    • Casey

      So excited about this post!! We are going to an apple orchard in NC tomorrow!! Thanks!!

    • Snowski824

      My grandma taught me that when you’re preserving apples for apple sauce to add the sugar and cinnamon when you’re ready to eat it. That way if something went wrong with the canning process and the apples go bad you didn’t waste your sugar and cinnamon. Hope that helps some.

    • Melody

      You can also make home made apple butter. You can eat some now and for about 3 months. Then you can also freeze the rest for about 8-9 months. I freeze in quart size bags. Recipe is simple. Peel, core and chop apples. Cook in slow cooker anywhere from 4-8 hours. It depends on your slow cooker ( I use my bread machine too). Transfer hot cooked apples to blender. Puree. Then add pectin. Jar it. Place in fridge for up to 3 months, freeze up to 8-9 months in freezer safe bags. I let mine cool on counter. Label with date. Then freeze flat. I have sandwich lovers so we go through jams and jellies quickly, and I like variety through the year. It is nice to have fresh apple butter in March. I do not add sweetener or spices.

    • Steph_P

      When we buy a lot of apples, we make a lot of “pie fillings.” Peel and slice the apples to make 8 cups of sliced apples, add 1 cup sugar, 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Stir together and let it set for 5-10 min. so the natural juices will come out of the apples (because of adding the sugar). Pour into a gallon-size bag and freeze. This is just the right amout for an apple pie or cobbler. You could also thaw and put in puff pasteries and bake for baked turnovers.
      I too, like to make applebutter in the crockpot! Take 2 qts of apples peeled and sliced, and 3 cups sugar in a crockpot and cook, stirring occasionally until it looks like applesauce. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves. Cook until dark and thickened. I put it in small containers and freeze.
      You can also use the peels from the apples to make apple jelly (don’t have a recipe, I usually google it).

    • thechapleigh

      Love these posts, please keep them coming!!

      • amy sanders

        glad that you do! i’m learning so much too. :) any topics you are wanting to learn more about? i’m always open to ideas!

        • thechapleigh

          I’d say the part I’m having to learn the fastest is centered around “how do I use what I have quickly so it doesn’t spoil, and can be EASILY used later”. I like to do my tough work in the mornings, so my cooking & processing is all done then — meals are very creative, using what we have rather than thinking “hmm, what do we want to eat?” You have already covered most of what I’d learned in the past year or two — I only wish you were around then! ;) But now that we have raw milk, my creativity has been about using it up, and it’s various forms, so that none is wasted…. yogurt, sour cream, cultured buttermilk, butter, old-fashioned buttermilk, cheese, & how to best use each of these (ie, cooking with butter vs oil since I”ve always got it on-hand & it’s healthier ~my opinion~; baking with yogurt or milk that is souring; culturing the milk or cream so that it’s use can be extended (buttermilk waffles are great!)… and that using the old-fashioned buttermilk for pancakes or waffles also works — back to using EVERYTHING — so after making butter from the cream we skim off the top of the milk, we definately want to use the buttermilk). Sorry for the ramble… so many thoughts reminding me of all I”ve learned via the internet & books this past year! But it all began with simple babysteps!!
          Just today I’ve (after a year of searching) located a local source of raw Honey!! It only took my kid’s field-trip to a small farmer’s place to have finally made this contact! Yeay!
          It’s inspiring to be reading from someone who is going along a very similar process I began not long ago at all… searching for health, creatively & without breaking the bank — you go girl!! completely agree with babysteps….

        • Beth

          Thanks, Amy for inspiring me to change my family’s eating habits for the better. I’ve been able to join a organic food co-op for next year thanks to your info. Since I’m new to buying organic, it would be VERY helpful to have a buy price list just for organic. Does Jenny already have one?