Despite weather challenges in 2012, Tennessee apple orchards will yield about 7.5 million lbs. of apples for harvest before a hard freeze ends the season. Typically the state produces closer to 9 million lbs. of apples between June and the end of October. This is good news for lovers of local, seasonal foods, who know that apples are one of the few foods that can be stored fresh through the winter.
Apples can be picked fresh off the tree right up until frost time, then, if carefully stored, useful up to a few months after picking. Most orchards grow several varieties, and although there are scores of apple varieties, most generally fall into one of two categories: cooking apples or "eating" apples.
Keep apples fresh for as long as possible with smart selection and cold, dry air. Apples that are the most ripe or have any blemishes, including spots or bruises, should be used immediately. Eat them right away or preserve them by freezing or canning. Keep blemish-free, firm apples refrigerated and away from moisture as much as possible. Depending on refrigerator conditions, freshly picked quality apples can stay fresh for months.
Always call before visiting an orchard, even if official hours of operation are posted on the grower's website. A sudden downpour or a sudden rush of customers can temporarily close an orchard until the rows between tree lines dry out or more apples have time to ripen.
Once there, talk to the grower, who'll have valuable information about which apples hold up the longest and which are best for particular uses. Many orchards also offer homemade treats like fried pies and jellies made with fruits grown right on the farm.
The Pick Tennessee Products website features a measures equivalency chart that simplifies using produce bought home straight from an orchard, farm or farm market. The measures chart goes all the way from bushels down to a "pinch," starting with an approximate weight for a bushel of a particular fruit or vegetable. From there a cook can keep dividing down the chart until familiar recipe measures, like quarts and cups, appear.
A typical bushel of apples weighs about 48 lbs., for instance. A half bushel is about 24 lbs. That half bushel is made up of two pecks, and since there are four pecks in a bushel, a peck of apples equals 12 pounds or eight quarts.
To access the equivalency chart from the Pick Tennessee Products home page, click on "Food" at the left hand side of the page. From "Food," click on "Fruits and Vegetables" to reveal the measures conversion guide.
Pick Tennessee Products, a Tennessee Department of Agriculture promotion, helps consumers identify and choose farm-direct, artisan and other locally made foods. The site includes lists of farms, farmers markets, seasonal recipes and seasonal on-farm activities.
Find Tennessee apple orchards and farmers markets with Tennessee apples at www.picktnproducts.org and follow Pick Tennessee Products on Facebook and Twitter.