It’s a perfectly crisp fall day. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and the breeze is brisk and refreshing. You and your family head out to go apple picking. It’s a fun and festive way to spend an afternoon, and before you know it, you’re hauling back bushels of fresh, tart, juicy apples with dreams of apple pies, apple muffins, applesauce, and apple oatmeal.
You get home, unload your treasure—and that’s when reality starts to sink in. WHOA. You have a life and a job. You can’t spend the next week devoted to all things apple! Oops—you may have gotten a little wrapped up in the moment, and now you’ve got more apples than you know what do you with. Good news for you: apples are one of the very best storage fruits out there. In the proper conditions (which you can create even if you don’t have a root cellar), your apples will last you all through fall and maybe through winter! Let’s teach you the proper tips and tricks for how to store apples so your harvest won’t go to waste.
What are the best conditions (temperature, humidity, light) to store apples?
Apples like it cold (but not freezing), with relatively high humidity. An apple will store the longest at 32°F and 90% humidity. A dark spot is best. Don’t worry if you can’t get those exact conditions—that’s just to get the absolute longest storage time. Even with less-than-ideal conditions, apples can be stored for months.
What are the best apples for storage?
All apples can be stored for quite awhile with the proper conditions, but certain types will store longer. Thick-skinned, firm, and tart apples are the best for storage. Some apples of this style can store for up to six months or even a full year!
What are the best apple varieties for storage?
In general, a good rule of thumb is that the sweeter the apple, the shorter the storage time. There are thousands of apple varieties, so it’d be impossible to cover all the storage varieties in this post. But these are the ones you’re most likely to find at apple orchards, the farmers’ market, and the grocery store:
- Granny Smith
- Gold Rush
- Pink Lady
That doesn’t mean that you can’t store other apple varieties—you absolutely can! The ones listed here are just more likely to give you 6+ months of storage. We pick Winesaps from a local orchard and are able to get all the way through until spring with them! Winesaps are one of my favorites because they have the crunch and sweetness of a Honeycrisp, with a slightly tart aftertaste. YUM.
How to store apples in the short-term—the fridge is your friend!
If you have just a few apples that you’d like to keep crisp and fresh until you get around to eating them, the crisper drawer of your fridge is the way to go. Apples like very cool temperatures (near but not at or below freezing) and a humid environment—which is close to what happens in the fridge! If you live in a dry area, you might consider lightly misting the apples with a spray bottle filled with water every few days to keep the humidity level higher.
Make sure to keep apples away from other produce, as apples release a gas that speeds up the ripening of other produce. That’s why the crisper drawer is so great—it keeps the apples separated.
Storing apples in the crisper will get you long-term results—you can store apples here for six months or more—but it can be a little inconvenient to devote an entire crisper drawer (or two) to apple storage in the long term unless you have a spare fridge. So, let’s cover a method for long-term apple storage that doesn’t take up precious fridge real estate.
Where to store apples for the long-term without a root cellar:
Back in the day, everyone’s homes had root cellars—cool, dark rooms with high humidity—perfect for storing all kinds of garden and orchard goodies, apples included. Nowadays in modern homes, root cellars are few and far between, but most of us have at least one place in our home that has similar conditions to what apples are looking for. Here are a few options:
- Basement: If you have an unheated basement, that’s a perfect spot to keep apples. Even if your basement is heated, you might be able to close the vents in one room or section to create a cool environment. Most basements tend to have higher humidity, but if you live in a particularly dry place or heat with wood (which can be extremely drying), consider using a humidifier or misting the apples regularly with water from a spray bottle.
- Garage: An attached, unheated garage is a great spot to store apples as long as it doesn’t regularly freeze—that’s why the attached/unattached distinction is important. Depending on your climate, an unheated unattached garage might get too cold without the ambient heat from the house.
- Enclosed porch: If you live in a moderate climate, you might be able to get away with storing your apples in an enclosed porch. Again, just make sure it doesn’t freeze, and also make sure it doesn’t get too warm—apples shouldn’t be stored in a sunroom or sun porch.
- Cool room or closet: Every house seems to have at least one room that stays cooler than the others, and an unheated closet in that room might be the right place to store your apples. By the nature of this being in a heated part of the house, it will be warmer than ideal, which will get you a shorter storage time, but it’ll still work!
How to store apples for the winter:
Now that you know where you’re going to store your apples, let’s cover exactly how you should prepare them:
- Pick the right apples. Pick unblemished, unbruised, ripe apples from a preferred storage apple (see the list above). Bruised or cut apples will go bad quite quickly and can easily ruin an entire batch (hence the phrase “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch”). Apples with stems tend to store a touch longer than ones without, so if you can pick apples with the stems on, go for it.
- Protect each apple. For long term storage, it’s important that the apples don’t touch each other. Wrap each apple individually in newspaper or plain newsprint. If you choose to use recycled newspaper, make sure you double-check with the newspaper about what kinds of inks are used. The vast majority of newspapers nowadays print using soy-based inks, but some still use inks that are heavy with toxic metals and toxic chemicals—obviously not something you want up against your food for months. Also, never use the glossy inserts from newspapers—those more frequently use toxic inks, and they don’t protect the apples in the same way. Other options for wrapping the apples: brown paper bags, butcher paper, and paper towels. You can also skip wrapping the apples, and instead nestle the apples in a box or crate with clean straw, sawdust, or even clean, damp sand. Whatever you choose, make sure to wash your apples well right before enjoying.
- Pack the apples. Gently layer the wrapped apples in a small to medium size cardboard or wooden box. Treat the apples gently—don’t shove them in there, or you might bruise them. You might be tempted to pack your apples in large boxes, but you want to be checking your apples regularly for any that are starting to go off, and that’s hard to do when you have bushels packed into one huge box. It’s better to use multiple small boxes than one big box. If you frequently store apples, look into investing in an apple storage rack, which makes checking in on your apples much easier (and looks way prettier than cardboard boxes!).
- Store the apple boxes. Place your apple boxes in the spot you identified earlier—the basement, garage, or cool spot. Make sure to check your apples regularly for signs of rotting, and discard or use up any apples that seem to be going off. If your home is dry, consider regularly misting the top of the boxes (newsprint and all) with a light mist of plain water from a spray bottle. Don’t soak the paper—just a slight mist every week or so should do the trick.
- Use your apples. Don’t let “out of sight, out of mind” make you forget about your apples! I like to set a reminder on my phone for once a week to go “shopping” for this week’s batch of apples. I head to our basement, check the apple store for any bad apples, and then collect how many apples we’ll need to get through the week. And then I move them into our upstairs fridge for easy eating during the week.
Good news—some apples actually taste their best after storage!
You might expect that the freshest apples will taste the best, but that’s not necessarily the case. Some apple varieties actually get more flavorful and sweeter as they rest in storage. Gold Rush and Winesap both get more flavorful after a few months of storage.
Keep in mind, though: most apples in the grocery store have already been stored for quite some time.
If you want to stock up on apples while they’re on sale at the grocery store, good on you! But remember: most apples in the produce section of your grocery store have already been stored for quite awhile. Apple growers and distributors take full advantage of the long storage life of apples by using giant apple storage warehouses—which keeps grocery stores lousy with apples, even when it isn’t apple season. Because of this, your storage time might be greatly decreased with store-bought apples.
My protips for storing apples all winter long
- Tart, crisp, and less sweet varieties will store the longest. You can get decent storage time out of almost any apple, but for longest storage, look for specific storage varieties.
- Harvest apples with care. You want apples without bruising or blemishes. And try to keep the stem on them if you can.
- Avoid trying to store grocery store apples long-term. Most apples in the grocery store have already been stored for months before arriving at the store (especially if it’s not apple season). If your goal is long-term storage, picking fresh from an orchard, your own tree, or buying from the farmers’ market will be your best bet.
- Store apples in a cold and humid spot. The fridge is perfect for small batches or short term storage. An unheated basement, root cellar, unheated garage, or even a cool room or closet often works for large amounts.
- Don’t let apples freeze. This damages the flesh, which causes apples to ripen very quickly.
- Keep apples separate from other produce. Apples release a gas that quickly ripens other produce. Apples should be in a separate storage location unless you want to…
- Use apples to help speed up the ripening of other produce. Need to ripen an avocado quickly? What about a bunch of bananas? Grab one of your storage apples and place it with the unripe produce in a closed brown paper bag overnight. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the results in the morning!