Picking Healthy With the Family: Apples

Photo of 3 kids holding apples

Fall brings cooler temps and changing tree colors, but nothing says fall more than a trip (or few trips) to the cider mill.

Cider mills and orchards are a big part of our family tradition and have been a part of my life as long as I can remember. I grew up with family who owned apple orchards in Mason County, so I was always around them. In fact, my great uncle used to own “Mason County Fruit Packers” or what I think is now called “Indian Summer”. My dad even worked there and I always had lots of apple juice and sauce around the house.  Being around cider mills (and even talking about them) makes me feel like a kid again!

Now that I have my own little family, every year my husband, kids and I go to various cider mills around our area. Sure, apples are available year round in most grocery stores, but there’s something special about going out together as a family and picking them fresh from a tree or farm. They just seem to taste so much better than the ones sitting under fluorescent lights in a grocery store.

Apples come in many sizes and colors. There are actually around 7,500 different varieties, with the United States growing 2,500 of those! The United States is second on the list of top producers of apples, with China as #1. You can find a decent variety at many u-pick cider mills and orchards, ranging from around five to more than a dozen different varieties.

Nutrition

Most people are aware that apples are nutritious. We all know the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” all too well. There’s a lot of truth to that statement! Apples are a low calorie treat, with no saturated fats or cholesterol; 100g of an apple contains only 50 calories. When eating apples, be sure to eat the peel as well, since most of the nutrients below are found there.

  • Vitamin C. Apples are loaded with vitamin C, which is needed for the growth and repair of your tissues. It’s also an antioxidant that can help your body develop tools to fight off infections. Further, it helps to find and eliminate harmful free radicals in your body that can lead to aging, and possibly cancer or heart disease.
  • “Phyto-nutrients” like polyphenols and flavonoids. If you’re not sure what polyphenols or flavonoids are, they are chemicals found in plants that act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. More research is needed to see if they actually play a beneficial role in the body, but in cell cultures they are shown to be effective.
  • B vitamins. This group of vitamins includes riboflavin, thiamin and B6, which are all co-factors for cellular metabolism and synthesis. More simply put: they turn the food you eat into energy.
  • Minerals. Nutrients such as potassium, phosphorus and calcium, can help regulate body fluids and help control heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Dietary fiber. Also known as insoluble fiber or “roughage.” This is a carbohydrate that slows digestion and allows you to feel fuller longer, helping you control your weight. It increases stool bulk and aids in preventing constipation.
  • Pectin. This soluble fiber draws water from your intestinal tract and forms a gel to also slow digestion. It helps prevent the body from absorbing LDL (bad) cholesterol leading to the prevention of coronary heart disease. Pectin is also thought to keep your intestinal flora healthy and in check, which means better nutrient break down, absorption and ability to fight off any viruses of bad bacteria.

Selecting and Picking Your Apples

Metro Detroit offers many locations for fresh apple picking. Our personal favorite is Hy’s Cider Mill in Romeo, Blake Farms in Armada, and Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills. Here are a few tips when selecting and picking your apples:

  • Look for firm, bruise-free apples.
  • Ripeness is not color dependent.
  • Apples ripen from the outside of the tree to the center.
  • Apples on the sunny side of the tree ripen first.
  • To pick an apple from the tree: Roll the apple upwards towards the branch and twist. Don’t pull straight down. If the apple falls, it’s fine!
  • Apples stop ripening once they’re picked.
  • To store apples : Keep them at room temperature for a few days, or store them in the refrigerator for two to three weeks. Apples also like to be kept in the cool garage or basement.
  • Don’t wash them until they are ready to be eaten.

Fun Apple Facts (That even I didn’t know!)

  • Apples are members of the rose family.
  • The study of apples is called pomology.
  • Lady apples are the oldest variety still in existence.
  • Apples originated in an area between the Caspian and Black Sea.
  • Pilgrims planted the first apple tree in Massachusetts.
  • In 2006–2007, 44,119,244 metric tons of apples were grown.
  • It takes 36 apples to make 1 gallon of cider.
  • A “Peck” = Approximately 10.5 lbs.
  • A “Bushel” = About 42 lbs.
  • They are grown in all 50 states.
  • Eight percent of all apples commercially available are grown in Michigan.
  • Apples are ranked #1 in antioxidant activity compared to 40 other available fruits and vegetables.
  • Red delicious most commonly grown variety in the United States.
  • Indians in the northwestern territory smoked apples to preserve them for the winter.

To find a cider mill or U-pick near you, visit pickyourown.org. It’s a great site that also includes recipes, and other interesting info on fruits and vegetables.

Where does your family like to go apple picking? Do you have a fall family tradition or recipe to share? I’d love to hear about it!

– Joohi Schrader, is a nutrition and food science major at Wayne State University, a mother of three amazing children, and a certified Square Foot Gardening instructor. She’s also a Parenting Program volunteer.

–––––

Sources:

“Apple Picking Tips”.  http://www.pickyourown.org/applepicking.htm

“Five Health Benefits of an Apple”.  http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/5_health_benefits_of_an_apple

National Institutes of Health: U.S. National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/

Self Nutrition Data. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1809/2

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