Bitter pit on apples in storage

One of our gardening goals is to grow as much as we can for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner, I bet you do that too. Even if we end up with only enough servings for just Thanksgiving dinner, I call it a successful harvest.

Judy needed to come up with a dessert for Thanksgiving this year so she decided on homemade-from-scratch, gluten-free apple cobbler. Of course you need apples for apple cobbler so I went to my storage bin for the apples.

They were not the pristine apples I usually have, these were covered in small, unsightly spots. I’ve seen those symptoms before in years past. They had  “cork spot” sometimes called “bitter pit”.

To me, cork spot is a more accurate description than bitter pit. For one thing, apples don’t have a pit, they have an apple core. The other reason is because of the corky appearance and texture of the affected area. On the other hand, the spots do have a bitter taste, so “bitter pit” works too.

Some scientists separate bitter pit and cork spot into two different disorders with the difference being the timing when the spots show up. If they show up before harvest, it is cork spot. If it develops in storage they call it bitter pit. Either way it is not caused by any disease organism or insect.

Even though the disorder may not show up until Thanksgiving time, it has its beginning way back during the growing season when the apple was still on the tree. As the apple grows, there is some competition for water between the developing fruit and the growing leaves. That water competition may cause a calcium imbalance which weakens the cell wall in the fruit leaving it open for the symptoms to develop.

The corky textured spots occur just under the skin.
The corky textured spots occur just under the skin.

Pruning, of course, has a big effect on the number of leaves on a tree. So the proportion of apples to leaves can be different from year to year.

Rain or lack of it determines the amount of soil moisture available and that can change almost weekly during the growing season. So it is a complex set of events that contribute to the problem which is why you may not see it every year in your home grown apples.

Improper storage will often lead to bitter pit. In my case, I’m guessing it was because I did’t get the apples into storage quickly enough. That can cause the spots to show up before you have a chance to use the apples.

I had a few different varieties of apples in storage and some apples had spots and others didn’t — some varieties are more prone to bitter pit than others.

The corky texture of the spots made it much harder to peel the apples. Also, I ended up with smaller pieces because I had to cut away the affected area to get rid of the bitter taste.

Judy’s apple cobbler turned out great and was a big hit at the dinner, you couldn’t even tell it was gluten free!

I spared everyone from the convoluted story about the apples and their bitter pit spots.

Bob

Great tasting brussels sprouts for Christmas dinner thanks to El Nino

I had someone ask me a while back when she should pick her brussels sprouts. Most experienced gardeners will tell you that Brussels sprouts are best after a hard freeze, and that is certainly true.

Cool temperatures help the sprouts develop a complex flavor with more sweet notes and less bitterness.

We’ve had a hard freeze several weeks ago — the one that put an end to the gardening season. That was probably enough to start improving the flavor.

Brussels sprouts can tolerate fairly cold temperatures. Many years, I’ve been able to leave the plants out in the garden at least until Thanksgiving and during strong El Nino years, until Christmas. Since a strong El Nino has developed, it looks like we will have one of those seasons where brussels sprouts can be left out in the garden until New Year!

This is important if you want to get the absolute best tasting brussels sprouts possible. Brussels sprouts start losing their flavor just three days after picking. On the other hand, the flavor keeps improving as long as the sprouts stay on the plant. So you can see the advantage of leaving the sprouts on the plants until you are ready to cook them.

There are millions of people who will never eat brussels sprouts because they were forced to eat them when they were a child. They wonder why they were ever invented in the first place.

At one time, brussels sprouts were always picked by hand and those old commercial varieties tasted halfway decent. Then in the 1970’s and 80’s machines were engineered to harvest the sprouts. That meant physical changes had to be made to the brussels sprout plant itself in order to accommodate machine harvesting. In the rush to breed machine harvest-able plants, the cost came down drastically but the flavor was lost in the process. They became strong-flavored and bitter.

Things have changed in the past 20 years or so. Big improvements have been made by plant breeders to improve the taste of brussels sprouts, they’ve gained back the flavor that was lost during the early years of mechanization. It may be time to re-try brussels sprouts if you haven’t tasted them since you became an adult and now make your own food decisions.

This past season was cool enough to enhance brussels sprout growth. Ours grew nearly four feet tall.
This past season was cool enough to enhance brussels sprout growth. Ours grew nearly four feet tall.

Pick brussels sprouts by snapping them off the plant with a twist. Remove the outer layer of leaves. Some gardeners dig up the whole plant and save the sprouts on the stalk to pick off later.

The best way to cook brussels sprouts is to steam them until they are tender enough to be pierced by a fork, about 7-14 minutes. Some people cut a small “x” in the bottom of each stem to help them cook more evenly. Overcooked sprouts turn mushy and loose flavor and nutrients.

I plan to leave my plants in the garden as long as possible this season. And if very cold weather ever arrives, I’ll pick the remaining sprouts, blanch them and store them in the freezer.

Bob