Question: We have a number of apple trees at our place. Which apples make the best cider?

Answer: For the best cider, try to squeeze a mix of apples. Cider makers don't agree on much, but they are united in the belief that mixes produce the best juice. Several factors influence flavor in cider. These include the amounts of acid, tannin, and sugar in addition to the aromatic qualities in the apples. You can perk up bland juice from one apple variety dramatically by adding juice from tart, aromatic or astringent varieties. Don't worry about precise measurements.

Experiment until you find the taste that is most appealing to you. Avoid moldy, rotten or unripe fruit; they'll make bad tasting and sometimes toxic juice. Don't worry about apple scab, or other surface blemishes; they won't spoil the cider. If you use windfalls select them carefully. Apples which have spent too much time on the ground pick up acetobacter, the bacteria that converts sweet juice to vinegar. Reject any that are slimy feeling, soft or heavily bruised. Do not use windfall apples lying under the tree if there's a possibility of animal manure of any kind in the immediate vicinity or on the apples. For instance, cows or horses may be in and out of the orchard. In an urban setting, dogs and cats can also contribute undesirable material. Be sure to thoroughly wash the apples before grinding and pressing.

WSU Food specialists advise that apple juice should be pasteurized by heating the juice to at least 160 degrees F. to kill any harmful bacteria that may have been left on the apples. Check the temperature with a thermometer because you will maintain a taste more like unheated apple cider if you don't bring the cider to a full boil. Keep the cider refrigerated.

Question: When we bite into our king apples we find areas that appear to be watersoaked. What causes this?

Answer: If you bite into an apple and find that the area near the core has a watersoaked appearance to it, you are observing "watercore."

Watercore is a physiological disorder that develops in the fruit flesh while the fruit is on the tree. It increases in severity as fruit matures. Watercore is more likely to occur under conditions that also give good red color and good fruit maturity development, that is cool nights and bright, sunny days. Under these conditions, leaves are manufacturing considerable photosynthates (sugars) in the daytime that should eventually be stored as carbohydrates in the fruit. Cool night temperatures and sunny days are the key. The fruit is stuffed full of photosynthates that can not be converted to carbohydrates, resulting in watercore.

Watercore is not all bad. Fruit in this condition has a little higher early firmness and is quite juicy. Sometimes watercore apples are advertised as having an abundance of "nature's nectar." The only problem is that they will not keep as long as other apples. Generally you can count on storing watercore apples no more than about four months. Since watercore will be worse in over-mature apples, pick apples at the proper stage of maturity.

The following varieties are susceptible to watercore: king, Gravenstein, winter banana, Jonathan, delicious and Winesap.

The solution to the watercore problem is to use the apples, and a cider project may solve everything.

Question: We have mushrooms sprouting up all over our lawn. Where are they coming from? We are afraid someone might pick them and get sick. What is the best way to get rid of them?

Answer: The mushrooms that you are seeing are simply the fruiting bodies of underground fungus organisms which are feeding on decaying organic material.

The easiest way to control them is mechanically. Either rake them up each time they appear, or simply run the lawnmower over them. Warm temperatures and fall rains are conducive to their growth. They should disappear once colder temperatures arrive.

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