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Produce Profile by Mark "Guido The Gardner" ® Ferro
Controlled Atmosphere Apples
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away." I'm sure this AMA endorsed phraseis familiar to most of us. At one time, this apple a day was only available in the late summer and into the fall. That being the natural harvest season for this popular fruit.

Regular cold refrigeration, and before that, root-cellering would extend the season some but not much.

Then the apple world was changed by two letters ... C. A. (No, not California!) This CA stands for controlled atmosphere. CA is a specific type of refrigerated storage which was developed in England in the 30's and used commercially in the U.S. beginning in the 40's. It involves the scientific control and monitoring of temperature, humidity and gas level sin huge sealed, storage rooms.

As a living, breathing fruit, apples do a fair amount of ripening off the tree. For instance, a Golden Delicious apple can be quite green when first picked, but that same apple will be almost banana yellow after a spell in regular cold storage. Even a fairly red variety like the rock-hard Braeburn will have its green background color change to yellow after ripening off of the branch.

Controlled atmosphere storage drastically slows down this ripening process. It is more like semi-suspended animation. Now some varieties behave better then others under these conditions, but the advantages of this setup are tremendous.

The boom or bust cycles of supply are greatly avoided as fruit is supplied to the market place over a longer period of time. This results in a fairly steady price for apples year round. (Compare this to asparagus for example, where the price is $3.99 a pound for Southern hemisphere supplies in the winter, and by March it's more like $1.49 a pound for Stockton 'grass.)No longer do apple crunchers have to gorge themselves in the fall to satisfy their apple cravings. Now, high quality supplies are available almost into fall, the next picking season!

And more specifically, this 2000-2001 season has brought LOTS of apples. Washington state's production was up this year and even though other US apple producing areas were down somewhat, there is still ample in controlled atmosphere storage. As of the middle of January, storage apple holdings were almost 10% higher than the same time in 1999.

Even though only the BEST quality apples qualify as CA candidates, once they come out of their comfy cocoon, the ball game changes. The fact is, that CA stored apples can lose that just picked crunchiness, (and much of their other appeal) fairly quickly if they are not kept refrigerated!

All the apples in the market now are coming out of controlled atmosphere storage. So make sure that you keep them cold-cold and plan on using them sooner than their fall picked counterparts.

As we approach our spring time, the southern hemisphere is concurrently approaching their fall. So we soon will be seeing fresh picked apples arriving from the southern hemisphere, primarily from Chile and New Zealand.

Pears are another fruit that are picked in the fall and kept under controlled atmosphere storage. Sure, pears taste wonderful in October. But pears have to be stored off the tree to ripen. That means that the late season entries like D' anjou, Comice or Bosc which are still available, are now very tasty.

A pear that has recently joined our domestic pears is the fresh crop Bartlett out of Chile, and an organic Bartlett out of Argentina, (a very active South American organic grower.) Other entries from the southern hemisphere will soon follow.

D' anjous will always be green with maybe a slight yellow cast. Bosc have that trademark russet coloring to them. Both will be quite firm to the touch. A few days at room temperature will soften them up just enough to make a nutritious snack. If they "give" a bit at the neck ... eat 'em up! The South American Bartlett will actually tell you when it is ripe by turning from green to yellow as it ripens.

And controlled atmosphere doesn't stop at apples and pears. The Chilean cherry season which supplies us in November, was extended into January from CA vaults. There are even Chilean boats that are currently bringing over stone fruit that are babied in CA containers on board the ships! The marvels of not-so-modern science!