Early summer apples were once essential to maintaining a year-round food supply. Late storage apples are harvested in October or November, and under the best conditions might keep until April or May. That leaves just a short break until the earliest summer apples begin ripening in June or July depending on your location.
With global trade, early apples are no longer popular since you can get fall varieties shipped halfway around the world to meet demand any time of the year. If you’re looking to grow more of your own fruit and concerned with keeping a year-round supply, try planting the earliest apple: Yellow Transparent.
Imported from Russia in the 1800s when the USDA was looking for extremely cold-hardy apples, this apple’s quick ripening time was essential in the short Siberian growing season. They’re easy to grow, resistant to disease, bear fruit at a young age, and are hardy to at least zone 3.
Yellow Transparent, like most summer apples, are not quite the same as their fall counterparts. They have to develop fast, and as a result, they don’t offer the same firmness or complex flavor that a fall apple provides.
In our part of Vermont, our last frost this year was June 7th. We picked our first Yellow Transparent on July 15th. That’s just over 5 weeks from bloom to maturity. Most fall apples take nearly 5 months to reach full size.
As a result of their quick development, yellow transparent apples tend to be crumbly in texture, and they store once ripe for only about a week. Since they’re impractical to ship, most people have never eaten a “crumbly” apple, and are a bit put off by something so far from their normal experience.
Yellow Transparent is somewhat acidic but otherwise sweet and mild, vaguely similar in taste to a yellow delicious, but crumbly rather than soft fleshed. To cut the acid, and enhance the flavor, they’re sometimes eaten with salt. Old-timers call early summer apples “salt apples” for that reason.
Once ripe, these apples spoil very quickly. A week of shelf life is optimistic for a yellow transparent at its peak.
To keep you in apples for more than a week, the tree is and ripens in stages. The apples ripen over the course of a month, starting at the top and most sun-exposed branches. You’ll notice bird pecked tree falls begin littering the ground, and then you know it’s time to pick your first summer apples.
Yellow Transparent apples break down easily in cooking and make an especially good creamy white applesauce. They’re also good for freezing, drying, juice, and wine. If you’re looking for local apples in the summertime to hold you over until fall, Yellow Transparent is a good choice.
I make my yellow transparent applesauce sauce with a food mill and the whole process is quick and easy, perfect for mid-summer canning. I’ve also started canning it in an outdoor canning kitchen, which saves on cleanup and doesn’t heat up the house.
Preserving summer apples is a bit trickier in the heat, but if there’s a will, there’s a way.