The winter is an excellent time for preserved food. With just a taste, you can be transported to a sunny summer day, or the crisp beginning of autumn. It makes the time consuming work of preserving the bounty at its peak worth the effort.
In our world of 24/7 produce availability, it’s hard for the average person to dig into the seasonal nature of the food we eat. And how could we? Nearly every item is on the shelf year round, and it almost always looks the same. The cucumbers you can buy right now? Grown in a hothouse in Mexico, or Peru. Those apples? Coming from Washington, picked back in September and kept in storage- that’s why they are so mealy right now. Take that same apple, and dry it at its peak and now you’ve got a treat suitable for the shortest month of the year.
This February, 6,500 students did a taste comparison- sweet vs. tart dried apples from Bella Viva Orchards in Hughson, CA. Farming the rich soil of the Central Valley is a Martino family tradition that Bella Viva carries out with pride. They produce and sell exceptional fresh and dried fruit, nuts and chocolate to loyal customers at farmer’s markets, in select restaurants and to online customers across the country.
Named for daughters, Vivian and Belle, Bella Viva means beautiful long life in Italian. The name captures the essence of Bella Viva Orchards and their mission. Growing the fruit that they dry and market enables them to have complete control over the fruit quality from the initial growing phase on through the final packaging and delivery.
Here are some fun facts about February’s Harvest of the Month:
- Drying is the oldest method of preserving food. The first European settlers in America often ate dried corn, apple, currants, grapes and meat. Sun drying was an easy way to prolong the life of food. Drying eliminates moisture from the food resulting in a longer shelf life. Organisms that make food spoil require moisture to survive, so foods that have been completely dried have the longest life.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and carbohydrates and low in fat. However, dried foods are more calorically dense than their fresh counterparts. The recommended serving size for dried fruits and vegetables is half that of fresh.
- The apple was brought to the United States by the Pilgrims in 1620. While the Native Americans taught the early settlers how to grow corn and vegetables, the settlers taught the Native Americans how to grow apples with apple tree seeds, seedlings, and small trees. They used apples to make apple juice, apple cider, dried apples, apple butter, and vinegar. The apples were even food for the pigs, cows, and horses.
- During the long, cold winters, the settlers could not grow fresh fruits and vegetables. So, instead they found ways to preserve them. The apples were peeled, cored, and hung out to dry on a big net or string tied to trees or posts. The warm air would evaporate the water inside the apples, and they would be dried in a few days.
- Apple trees are difficult to grow from seeds. It takes about 15 years for a tree grown from a seed to produce an apple. Most apple trees are grown by grafting or budding onto already existing rootstocks.
- There are approximately 7,500 varieties of apples. Growers take the best parts from different trees and stick them together with glue and tape. This is called grafting. Many growers graft the branches of a desired type of apple tree to a rootstock to produce a new plant. The rootstock includes a section of tree roots still attached to a bit of the tree trunk.
- Apples contain Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12, along with thiamin and niacin. They are rich in pectin which is known to reduce cholesterol. Apples contain as much fiber as a whole bowl of most popular cereals and are also good for diabetics. The soluble fiber in apples works to regulate blood sugar, and prevent its sudden fluctuation.
Dried apples are an excellent snack (try topping them with your favorite nut butter!). Or, if you’re feeling up to something a little more complex, try this homemade granola recipe from thewholetara.com featuring dried apples.
HEALING HONEY TOASTED APPLE CINNAMON GRANOLA
Prep time: 5 min
Cook time: 40 min
Total time: 45min
An easy to make, antioxidant-rich healing granola recipe with apples, almonds, cinnamon, and honey.
Author: Tara Milhem (www.thewholetara.com)
Serves: 6-8 servings
- 3 cups gluten-free rolled oats
- 1 cup sliced almonds
- ¾ cup unsweetened apple sauce
- ⅓ cup honey
- 1 Tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup dried apple rings, chopped
- ½ cup melted coconut oil, optional
- Preheat the oven to 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a large bowl place the oats and almonds. In a separate bowl add apple sauce, honey, cinnamon, vanilla, and salt. If you’re using coconut oil for a more nutty flavor, add it in now. Mix and then pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Stir until all of the oats are coated.
- Lay the oats in a flat layer onto the parchment paper and bake until oats turn golden brown, about 40 minutes. Check on the oats halfway through and stir them around. The granola won’t be 100% crunchy when you take them out of the oven, so let them cool to get crispy. Mix in dried apple rings. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.