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applesauce

Slow cooker applesauce will help get apples into your menu.

Last year, I was very disappointed because our apple tree had no apples.

Our tree had never been completely fruitless. I kept staring up at the tree, walking around it and looking for even one apple.

I couldn't find an apple on the tree, even at the very top. At first, I thought the squirrels had taken the apples, but usually they drop some on the ground or kick them out of the tree at our dogs.

This year, our mighty tree made up for last year's apple shortage. We have tubs of apples and we are thinking of the many ways we can use them.

I could eat an "apple a day" until next summer's backyard crop arrives. In fact, I add one to my lunch bag every day.

Apples truly are good for our health, and they often are used as the symbol of good nutrition.

Apples have been found to help with weight maintenance or loss and blood glucose control. They may reduce the risk for heart disease, cancer and some behaviors associated with Alzheimer's disease.

For example, apples provide pectin, a soluble fiber known to reduce or maintain blood cholesterol levels. Apples provide health-promoting antioxidant chemicals, especially directly below the peeling. Therefore, when possible, eat the apple skin, too.

Some researchers have conducted animal studies to see if the consumption of apple extracts reduces the risk for breast or prostate cancer.

When rats were fed apple extract equal to consuming one, three or six apples daily, the number of breast tumors decreased with the amount of the extract consumed. When "quercetin" (a naturally occurring plant chemical) was extracted from apples, rats consuming the extract were less likely to have prostate cancer.

Other researchers have studied the role of antioxidant-rich apples in protecting other organs, including our lungs from ozone and cigarette smoke. In a study of 2,512 men ages 45 to 59, researchers noted that eating five or more apples weekly was associated with maintaining lung function.

Apples might help maintain our brains, too. Researchers studied 21 nursing home residents with moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease. They added two (4-ounce) glasses of apple juice to their daily diet while maintaining their regular diet, vitamins and medications. Although no changes were reported by caregivers on the dementia rating scale, a 27 percent improvement was noted, especially in levels of anxiety, agitation and delusion.

Have I convinced you to eat more apples yet?

We have many types of apples that grow well in the Midwest, including Honeycrisp, Harelred, Haralson, Hazen and Zestar. Apples vary in color, flavor, storage life and culinary use. We also have a range of apples available in most grocery stores.

When choosing an apple, look for shiny, smooth skin and the characteristic color of the variety. Avoid bruised or punctured apples.

Store apples in a plastic bag away from strong-smelling foods. Apples may absorb the flavors of other foods. Apples also release ethylene gas, which may cause browning of other produce.

If you had bountiful apples this year, you may be deciding how to store them long-term. Visit www.ag.ndsu.edu/fieldtofork and check out the "Apple" section for details.

Here are some storage suggestions:

• Freeze them. Apples freeze well, but they require some preparation to prevent browning. Apples can be packed with or without sugar or syrup. You can use a syrup pack, sugar pack or unsweetened pack.

• Can them or make jelly. Making canned apple juice, apple jelly and apple sauce can be fun fall activities. Be sure to use research-tested recipes.

• Dry them. To dry apples, select mature, firm apples. Wash them well, then pare and core. Cut them in rings or slices ⅛- to 1¼-inch thick, or cut in quarters or eighths. Prepare an anti-darkening solution (ascorbic acid or other anti-darkening solution) made according to the manufacturer's directions. Dip the apple pieces in the solution for 10 minutes, then remove them from the solution and drain well. Arrange them in a single layer on dehydrator trays. Dry until soft, pliable and leathery, with no moist area in the center when cut (six to 12 hours). Pack cooled dried fruits in glass jars or moisture- and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes or bags.

• Use them in a variety of recipes. Besides enjoying apples fresh, try pairing them with sweet potatoes in a delicious baked dish, use them in fresh salads or spread slices with peanut butter for a satisfying snack. See www.ag.ndsu.edu/drappletree/apple-recipes for a collection of apple recipes.

This recipe will fill your home with a delicious aroma.

Slow Cooker Applesauce

4 large apples

Juice from 1 lemon

½ tsp. cinnamon

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

¼ c. water

Peel and core apples; cut into quarters. Add apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, brown sugar and water to a slow cooker; stir. Cover and cook on low four to six hours, until apples are very tender. Mash with the back of a fork or potato masher. Adjust sweetness to your preference by adding more sugar, if desired.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 1 g protein, 35 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber and no sodium.

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Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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