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Apples and Pears Coming Out Of Storage

Long after apples and pears are done being harvested in the fall we are still able to enjoy them by keeping them in storage.  Apples are separated into two kinds of storage, fresh and CA(Controlled Atmosphere).  Keeping them in storage delays the normal ripening and aging process.  The more time that passes the sugar, starch and acid content changes, water is lost and the fruit will began to deteriorate.

Most apples you will purchase before the new year are taken from fresh storage where the fruit is put into a chilled cellar or cooler and kept between 32-36 degrees F with high air humidity and some air circulation. You can compare this to storage in your refrigerator at home.

After fresh storage supply runs out, apples and pears are pulled from CA(Controlled Atmosphere) storage. The large, airtight CA rooms vary in size from 10,000 boxes to 100,000 boxes.  Apples and pears are stored in airtight coolers where the oxygen level in the air is reduced from the 21% of the air we breathe, to 1 or 2%, usually by the infusion of nitrogen gas.  The carbon dioxide level is also increased to slow down the maturation process to a near halt.  Temperatures are kept at a consistent 32–36 degrees F with 95 percent humidity. This is a non-chemical process and the exact conditions vary by apple and pear variety, allowing many varieties to be stored into the winter, spring and even summer months.  Temperatures are kept at a consistent 32–36 degrees F with 95 percent humidity.

It is really important that the apples and pears are picked at the proper maturity otherwise they will not store well in CA.  Apples picked too early or past their maturity will not store well. Growers will test their apples and pears for firmness, skin color, seed color, sugar level and flesh chlorophyll to predict when they mature enough to pick to be stored in CA.   Washington law has requirements on exactly how long fruit must be stored in CA to qualify as CA-certified.  State inspectors check every lot of fruit as the lot comes off the packing line to make sure the apples meet maturity requirements, the same requirements the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses for apples being exported.

Most California growers choose to get in and out of the market before the Pacific Northwest apple season begins so they are not in competition with the large volume of apples flooding the market.  A few California growers will go a little longer, overlapping with the Pacific Northwest supply, by keeping a small amount of apples in cold storage until the supply runs out. Cuyama Orchards, located in the mountainous area of Cuyama in Santa Barbara County, is one of the last California growers with apples in cold storage rooms. We anticipate their supply of Pink Lady’s will run out by early February.

Technology and the sheer volume of apples grown in the Pacific Northwest go hand in hand. As the CA storage technology increased so did the number of apple acres planted. It is no coincidence that there are so many apples grown in the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Washington.

When the apples and pears are brought out of hibernation for packing they will begin to ripen and break down quickly.  It is best to enjoy them right away and keep them in your refrigerator until eaten.  Once the CA (controlled atmosphere) storage of apples and pears run out, the supplies are augmented by apples and pears from the southern hemisphere until the season starts up again in the fall.

Some of the last varieties coming out of cold storage now include Braeburns, Galas, Fuji and Pink Lady.  Two new apples about to come out of cold storage are Enterprise and Empire. Enterprise has red skin and creamy white flesh with a sharp tart flavor that makes it great for cooking and eating out of hand.  The Empire has deep maroon red skin overlying a light green background. It is a sweet apple that comes from its parents, Macintosh and Delicious. It has been described as having a hint of melon or pineapple. Stay tuned for updates and photos as soon as they land at Earl’s.

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