Baked apples. . . grandma's favorite

Ahead of Rosh Hashana, heat wave damages fruit.

Apples 311 (photo credit: MCT)
Apples 311
(photo credit: MCT)
Apple growers in the Golan and Galilee on Sunday reported severe damage to their crops caused by last week’s extreme heat, with some 10,000 dunams (1,000 hectares) of apple orchards nearly wiped out by temperatures that reached 45º Celsius.
“This was the most severe heat wave we have ever experienced.
The apples were baked on the trees,” said Gabi Coneal, head of the fruit branch at Kibbutz Marom Golan. “The damage is nothing less than catastrophic.”
Coneal estimated that roughly 70 percent of the region’s produce was ruined, with most of the damage suffered by the region’s flagship product, the Top Red (or Starking) Apple, which features widely on Israelis’ tables on Rosh Hashana, when apples are dipped in honey in anticipation of a sweet year.
Rosh Hashana starts on the evening of September 8.
“Luckily we had already completed the harvest of most of the other summer fruit, so this year’s apricots, plums, peaches, pears and nectarines, as well as most of the wine grapes are in good shape, but when it comes to apples, I really can’t stress enough the level of damage we experienced. We worked all year tending the fruit, and to have it all ruined a month before harvest is really heartbreaking.”
Coneal said that other varieties of apples, like the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious varieties, had fared better, because the trees are protected by special nets that provide them with shade. But the Red Top Apples, which are unique to the region, were nearly all spoiled.
“It’s particularly sad because this year we were set to have a record harvest. The relatively warm winter caused the trees to produce an abnormally large amount of fruit and expectations were that it would be a great year for farmers, but this recent heat wave dashed our hopes.
Now we will be lucky to get a fraction of the expected earnings,” Coneal said.
It was vital that the Agriculture Ministry declare the heat wave a natural disaster so that the farmers could be compensated for their losses, he said.
“Because of the weather, the red apples didn’t get their color. They look more like potatoes than apples,” said Tal Wolf, quality assurance director of Kirur Galil, the company that stores the apples grown by local farmers under chilled conditions for consumption throughout the year.
“The damage also has implications for long-term storage,” Wolf said.
“Instead of the usual nine months that the fruit can be stored, this harvest will only hold for six months and go bad after being defrosted, much quicker than usual.”
When asked what the apples’ condition meant for consumers, she said Israelis would have to get used to a lower standard than they had become accustomed to.
“I hope that it won’t mean that we will start importing apples, because that will ruin the growers for certain,” Wolf said.
The farmers, along with the Fruit Growers Association, are in talks with the Natural Damages Insurance Fund to try to arrange compensation. On Sunday, the fund’s assessors visited the affected areas to assess the damage.
The fund’s spokesman said it was too early to tell the precise extent of the damage, but early estimates calculated it in the millions.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, declaring a natural disaster, which enables farmers to claim for uninsured damages, is only done under specific conditions.
“A declaration of a natural disaster begins with a survey by ministry experts in the field to determine whether a natural disaster did in fact take place. The survey is based on statistical tests examining the frequency and severity of the event to determine whether it passes the required threshold, the ministry spokeswoman said.
“The ministry also consults with a range of experts from the meteorological services and other agencies, according to the circumstances. If it is determined that a natural disaster did in fact take place, the agriculture minister [currently Shalom Simhon] makes a recommendation to the cabinet and it votes on the matter,” she said.
According to the Agriculture Ministry, Israeli farmers cultivate around 40,000 dunams of apple orchards, yielding 110,000 tons of produce a year. About 2,000 tons of apples are imported from the United States and Europe annually.
Because apples grow best in cold climates, Israel is on the fringe of the apple-growing belt. Most of its apples are grown in the North, in the hills of the Galilee and the Golan Heights.
For the past several years, Israel has been exporting to Syria several thousand tons of apples that are grown by Druse farmers on the Golan.
The honey harvest is not expected to be substantially affected. This year’s early spring blossoming means that the bees got an early start, and most of this year’s honey has already been harvested.