So you’ve done your annual autumn duty and skipped through local apple orchards, merrily sipping cider, stuffing yourself with cider doughnuts, and filling bags with apples picked fresh from the tree. Lots and lots of apples. When it comes to apples, your life in September has resembled a Norman Rockwell painting.

You’ve already made several pies out of your apple stash. You’ve packed apples in school lunches, given them away to friends, and forced yourself to eat at least that one apple a day. Your family is starting to complain about too much apple bread on the breakfast table. But you still have apples. Lots and lots of apples.

What to do with them before they start to go mushy and rot? Here are a few suggestions.

Donate them

About a decade ago, Lucy Green planted two apple trees at her Portland home.

“I planted them as little sticks that I got for $10, for both of them, and I sort of forgot about them,” she said. “Then a couple of years ago, they each fruited a little bit, and then last year they fruited some, and then this year they’re gorgeous and they’re fruiting with bounty. So this is the first year that I had more apples than I knew what to do with.”

Green has been faced with a busy year at work, so while she eats a lot of her home-grown apples fresh and cooks with them as well – she recently had friends over to bake pies and make applesauce – a lot of the apples were ending up on the ground, and “clearly I wasn’t going to be able to stay on top of it.”

Then she met Lindsay Knapp, a master gardener who describes herself as “a former chef and a thrifty Yankee who abhors waste.” Last year, Knapp launched Forgotten Orchard, a Portland-area (for now) program that harvests unused fruit, from apples to elderberries, from roadsides and home growers and donates it to food banks and other programs for the hungry.

Knapp and her volunteers carry tote bags of fresh apples to organizations such as Preble Street Resource Center and Wayside Food Programs in Portland, and The Locker Project in Scarborough, which distributes them to food insecure schoolchildren and their families. Apples that are starting to lose their luster are processed into applesauce, dried apple slices and fruit leather. (Green received, as a thank you for her donation, a jar of pear-applesauce made by Knapp’s small crew. “This year we found two huge pear trees,” Knapp said. “I’m almost ridiculously excited about that.”)

Knapp and her volunteers roam neighborhoods looking for apple trees that might be producing an overabundance of apples, or neglected trees where the fruit is not of the best quality or appearance. She’s not shy about knocking on doors to ask for donations of fruit.

“This year, absolutely everyone I have asked has said yes,” Knapp said.

Knapp is excited about this year’s donated pears. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

That includes Mark Okrent and his wife, who have donated both apples and pears to the project.

When they bought their home in the Stroudwater neighborhood of Portland 20 years ago, it had a lot of fruit trees, Okrent said, which produce apples, pears, cherries, peaches and plums. The couple bakes with the fruit and makes jam. They give fruit to their children, and sometimes leave a bucket out on the street filled with fruit for the taking. “But a lot of it, frankly, was going to waste,” Okrent said, “and we were happy to give the excess to Lindsay. We have more than we need, and there are people who are going hungry.”

To donate apples, volunteer for processing apples, or just alert Knapp to potential donor trees, email her at  [email protected] or message her through the Forgotten Orchard Facebook page.

Turn them into a drink

Sylvi Roy, bar manager at the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, has a treat in store for her customers this fall – a bright, refreshing, not-too-sweet appletini. She makes a green apple cordial with Granny Smith apples, then mixes it with rum, vodka, ginger, cinnamon and lemon juice.

For amateur bartenders who don’t own a professional juicer, she recommends using sliced apples to make a simple syrup that can be used over several days instead. Apples can be infused directly into alcohol, but Roy said an apple-infused simple syrup holds flavor longer – up to seven days – and can also be used in nonalcoholic drinks.

Hayley Paskalides, left, assists Lindsay Knapp as she makes applesauce from donated apples and pears to be distributed to local food banks and school programs. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Start with 3 cups of a simple syrup – equal parts sugar and water – heated on the stove until the sugar dissolves. Add peeled, sliced apples – Roy estimates a dozen small apples, but just enough so that the fruit is covered by the simple syrup – along with a little cinnamon and ginger, to your own taste. Simmer the mixture over low heat for about a half hour, or until the apples are soft and a toothpick goes through them easily. Strain the syrup, and use it in cocktails (or pour it over ice cream, Roy suggests). Save the cooked apples to spoon over waffles, pancakes or ice cream.

Whiskey or rum seem like natural choices for apple-themed cocktails in the fall, but Roy said apple-flavored simple syrup can be used with most any spirit, even tequila (apple margarita, anyone?) and gin. “Gin has juniper and coriander – things that actually would be great in an apple pie, if you think about it,” she said.

She recommends adding an ounce of the syrup, along with an ounce of lemon juice, to two ounces of your chosen spirit, “and it’s going to taste terrific.”

Snack on dried fruit

One of the easiest ways to preserve apples is to dry them.

Apple scavenger Lindsay Knapp, founder of Forgotten Orchard, regularly turns donated apples into dried apple slices and fruit leather. They are good nutritional snacks to hand out to food-insecure kids and the homeless, but also make for a tasty treat at home.

The organization Forgotten Orchard collects unwanted fruit and either gives them to local food banks and school programs or processes them into applesauce or fruit leathers to donate. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Dehydrators can be expensive, but Knapp has had good luck picking them up second-hand at places like Goodwill for five or six bucks. (She recently scored one for just $3.) Dunk your apple slices (cut no more than a quarter-inch thick) in a little lemon water to prevent browning, then put them in to dry. “You literally plug the machine in and let the machine do its thing,” Knapp said.

Or, if you’ve already made applesauce, buy a silicone tray for your dehydrator and spread the puree on the tray to dry to make fruit leathers.

“When that dries, it shouldn’t be tacky to the touch,” Knapp said. “Your fingers shouldn’t stick to it.”

If you can’t find a dehydrator, use the oven. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick foil. Add thin strips (about a quarter-inch thick) of applesauce and leave the baking sheet in the oven for a few hours at 200 degrees, or dry the puree overnight at 140 degrees.

Make your own cider

There are several ways to make your own sweet cider. You can buy a small home cider press. That will put quite a dent in the wallet – the cheaper ones cost $100 to $300, the high-priced versions as much as $1,000 – for presses that produce a gallon or two of cider at a time – so if you go this route, be sure you’re ready to commit to lots of cider making in years to come. Or, you could split the cost with friends and share the press.

The Maine Tool Library will lend you a cider press, but first you have to pay an annual fee averaging $50 to join the library – or offer your services as a library volunteer. This could be a less expensive option than buying your own.

Here’s a third option: Take a weekend road trip up to Knox, a small town in Waldo County, stopping along the way to admire the fall colors or pick a pumpkin for Halloween. When you get to Knox, head for New Beat Farm, where you’ll find a custom cider pressing business, Pressed for Cider, that uses a restored 1950s-era cider press.

Debi Stephens and Ken Lamson load a restored 1950s-era cider press with apples in this 2018 photo. Photo courtesy of Debi Stephens

Debi Stephens, who runs Pressed for Cider with organic farmers Ken Lamson and Adrienne Lee, said she often has customers from Portland. The business only presses for the public on the weekends, and appointments are required. (Make one at pressedforcider.com.) In past years, the cider pressing has been a fun family-oriented event, Stephens said, but as it did last year, the business is following CDC guidelines for COVID-19. Since the building that houses the press is too small for safe social distancing, customers are not allowed inside to watch the process.

“We feel bad about it because it really is a family thing,” Stephens said. “It’s good to have people involved. We enjoy chatting, and watching people take the first sip of their cider.”

Customers can drop off their apples and wait in their cars for cider, or drive into Belfast for lunch, explore other towns in Waldo County or otherwise entertain themselves, returning when Pressed for Cider calls to say the pressing is complete.

Pressed for Cider requires a minimum of five bushels, which make about 15 gallons of cider. Stephens’ customer base runs the gamut, from family and friends who pool their smaller apple stashes to those who are really serious about apples and apple cider.

“There are people who have their own apple trees,” she said. “There are people who like to forage apples. They forage to put different apples into their cider so that the blend has more depth.”

Some of that cider later gets made into hard cider, or apple cider vinegar. “A lot of people do vinegar,” Stephens said. “More and more people are getting into that.”

Customers can bring their own containers (five-gallon buckets, glass carboys, gallon-sized glass jugs), but they must be clean. Prices vary depending on a number of factors, including the volume of apples and whether or not the customer brings containers, but Stephens said 15 gallons of cider bottled in the customer’s containers would cost about $41.25, or $2.75 per gallon.

Stephens said a big advantage over home pressing is the volume of juice you’ll get from an apple that’s been pressed by the hydraulics of a larger machine. “You’re getting everything out of those apples,” she said.

“We’re also doing a lot of the work,” she added. “We’re cleaning up. They can come and bring their apples, and walk away with some really yummy cider, and they don’t have to worry about cleaning up.”

Pressed for Cider will also package cider for freezing so you can enjoy it during the holidays and through winter.

“(Frozen) cider easily keeps up to seven months,” Stephens said. “It can do up to nine. A lot of people keep it longer. We don’t recommend that. We recommend that you try to drink it within the seven-month period, nine at tops. It just tastes better. But I love frozen cider. I love taking it out of the freezer and it’s all chunky with ice.”

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