Ground Apples: To the apple-cider heap?
September 17, 2008 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Apple picking: from the ground or the tree?

So in Illinois when I've picked apples its been from the tree. Apples on the ground go to make cider such as in Robert Frost's poem After Apple Picking:
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
or just for the cows/groundhogs/local animals to eat.

So today I baked some apples and they didn't turn out so well (too tart for the recipes I made) and my Swedish roommates informed me that it was because I picked them from the tree. I know it's not true because I've made tons of great baked apples from other trees, but it did make me notice that I do see a lot of locals here picking apples off the ground. It seems kind of baffling to me, but I thought maybe it's because America has more of a problem with foodbourne pathogens?

Do they do this in the rest of Europe? What about different parts of America? Are the apples really better?
posted by melissam to Food & Drink (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
In the Northeastern US, apples that have fallen off the tree are called "windfalls" and they're used for cider or animal feed. Apples that you're going to eat or cook with are picked off the tree. (In other words, the still-on-the-tree apples are considered better.)

This has been true since the 18th century, so I doubt it's anything to do with foodborne pathogens.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:34 AM on September 17, 2008

We do both; pick from the tree and the good ones from the ground (for cider, though I also use good ones from the ground for baking, etc). What my apple-growing grandpa always told us, though, was to only pick apples from trees that had apples on the ground, that lots of windfalls is an indication that the apples are ripe. My sense is that once a tree is ripe, all the apples on it are ripe at pretty much the same time (unlike, say, blueberries)-so we'll pick from that tree once they are falling.

True? Who knows.

Here's what our extension service says. I'm only half-right :)
posted by purenitrous at 10:39 AM on September 17, 2008

It might have to do with different apple varietals.

I know that the famous ciders of Normandy are made from windfall apples, and that there are some varieties of apples grown in the US where making cider from windfalls isn't recommended because the windfalls from those varieties are generally too green.

So I suppose it's possible that the varietals in Sweden tend to drop as soon as they're ripe enough to eat, and if something's still on the tree that's a sign it's not ripe enough yet.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:47 AM on September 17, 2008

You have to be careful with windfall apples, so that's why people generally don't use them - they're either really bruised, going cidery, full of worms or - even worse - hornets.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:52 AM on September 17, 2008

You heard the phrase "its only takes one rotten apple to spoil the barrel", right? Well it's literally true, and it would be foolish to risk spoilage mix in windfalls in with picked apples if they are not going to be used right away for this reason.

It's also the case that the ease with which an apple comes away form the tree is a sign of ripeness so an apple that has just fallen on the ground is likely to be ripe -- unsurprising if we consider the evolution of the apple to as an adaption for seed spreading via edible fruit. The trees that produce fruit that taste the best will be selected for.

How ever since ripeness is largely a sign on maximum sugar content, this carries a trade off that this makes ripe fruit susceptible to rot and parasitic infestation -- which is why you don't want to mix them.
posted by tallus at 11:50 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

In southeast Michigan there was an E. coli scare a few years back linked to the use of dropped apples for (unpasteurized) cider, likely transmitted from deer. So in areas overrun with parasite carriers, windfall apples are less suitable for raw or unpasteurized use.
posted by twoporedomain at 2:47 PM on September 17, 2008

This has been true since the 18th century, so I doubt it's anything to do with foodborne pathogens.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:34 PM on September 17 [+] [!]

Why on earth would you think 18th-c people would be unable to build food-safe practices? I'd assume just the opposite: windfall apples are more prone to pick up parasite eggs from livestock & wild animal feces, and therefore (after generations) societies have learned to only trust on-the-tree fruit for raw eating.

In cider, the eggs are far less likely to survive into the final product (acidity, competition from yeast, etc), and ditto for baking.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:08 PM on September 17, 2008

Why on earth would you think 18th-c people would be unable to build food-safe practices?

I don't. I'm saying that there wasn't a difference in how many food-borne pathogens there were in the US versus Sweden in the 18th century, even if there is today. So no relative difference between food-borne pathogen prevalence would explain the difference in apple harvesting practice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:28 PM on September 17, 2008

I worked as an apple picker in Kent, England, about five years ago. Every apple we picked there was from the tree, nothing allowed from the ground.

Also, incidentally, we weren't allowed to pick, pull, twist or pluck the apple from the tree. We had to 'roll' it off. Oh, and without using our fingers, since that might bruise it. We had to grasp it in our palm and roll it off upwards. For about ten quid a day.
posted by twirlypen at 3:46 PM on September 17, 2008

« Older What's the best practice for authenticating...   |   SeaTown Luggage Logistic Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.