Wednesday, November 19, 2014

An Apple A Day

I really like apples and this year has been a great year for us with apples.

First, a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about spending a weekend with my friend and harvesting apples from his two trees. They were gracious enough to give my wife and me more than half of the haul from which we made the most wonderful applesauce and bottled it. Since that weekend, the bottles of applesauce have been steadily disappearing from my pantry shelves, which is precisely what is supposed to happen.

Second, on a recent trip to Utah, we stopped at a fruit seller and bought another box of apples. Not nearly as tasty (although they are very good) because I think that doing all that work yourself adds to the savor of the flavor.
Seven or eight layers of wonderful apples all resting on dividers
that are surprisingly effective at protecting the apples from bruising
and damage. Popular songs notwithstanding, one bad apple WILL
spoil the whole bunch.
Since we didn't want to make applesauce out of those apples, I decided to get out the old food dehydrator and see how the apple chips would turn out. This post deals with that process.

When we harvested the apples this summer, we stopped by a home production and storage store (best way to describe it) and made a couple of purchases, one of which was this apple peeler/corer/slicer tool. We had one for a while when I was a very young boy and I've always wanted one. It was an easy task to convince my wife of the necessity of this piece of old technology so we bought it.
Simple, effective, adjustable design that hasn't changed in well
over 150 years, except for the suction-cup base that holds it to
the counter-top. They didn't have that in 1860.
The actual process of peeling, coring and slicing for drying an apple is all accomplished by setting up the tool correctly. First, you have to make sure that the prongs that hold the apple are aligned with the corer. Second, you make sure that the peeler blade is adjusted to the proper width. (I'll show why in a second.) Third, fasten the device securely on the counter. The lever on the suction cup base is simple and fast.

After washing your apples, press the holding prongs into the center of the apple. Push them firmly into the apple parallel to the core.

Once it's seated properly, it looks like this.
Now, you turn the crank and the apple rotates and advances toward the business end where it is peeled and cored and sliced.

The peel begins to come off in a long, narrow ribbon as the blade makes contact. If you have aligned the blade properly, the peel comes off in a continuous strip and you don't leave any on the apple. Too narrow a cut and you get this:
The blade will skip a row and you will have a striped apple.

You can see how the slicer blade has now been engaged. It happens after the peel is removed. Continue turning the crank until the apple has been completely sliced. As it is being sliced, it is also being cored. You won't see this happening until you are done slicing. When you are done, simply slide the apple off the core.

This picture is actually upside down. 

The core slides off the prongs easily and the core and the peel get put into the bowl for the compost pile.

Continue until you have a bunch done and ready for the dehydrator. Here's what the process looks like as it's being done. It is surprizingly fast.

If you find that you have a bruise like the one on the right, you can simply cut that part out. It will dry, but it won't taste the same as the rest of the apple.

Next, since the apple is actually sliced in a continuous spiral, you need to make a single cut down the side. This will release each layer as a single slice.

Next, I lay the apples out on the trays of my dehydrator. Apples will turn a little brown as they are dried. Some folks don't like that. It makes no difference to the taste and I don't mind the color. If you want white slices, dip you apples into an acid bath like lemon juice in water or pineapple juice. That will keep the apple from oxydizing as it dries.
My trays are slotted and have a central columnar hole. I'm assuming that's
for even flow of air as it is heated, picks up moisture and rises out the top
of the dryer. 

Once all of the trays are full, I stack them on the base which has the heating coil. I put on the top and plug it into the wall. 24 to 48 hours later, depending on humidity, my apple slices are dried and done. It may take longer in your area or shorter depending on the quality of your dehydrator and your humidity. I have a cheap, non-fan-forced food dryer that I got for free. It's slow but it works. My humidity hovers around 10% so that really isn't a factor for me.
Filled trays on the heating base and with the top in place.
The top has an adjustable vent so I can regulate the amount
of airflow that rises out of the unit. I usually keep it wide
open for fruit.

Once during the drying process, I rotate the trays around so that the top ones get to be near the heating coil and the whole pile dries evenly and they get done at about the same time.

When they are done, which I test by tasting them, I cool them a bit and place them into locking plastic bags. I place these in my freezer for two or three days. This insures that if some nasty insect has laid an egg in them that it won't hatch. (That may be an old wives' tale but I'm not taking any chances.)
Dried and ready for packaging.

Packed and ready for munching.

You can eat these right out of the bag. You can soak them and put them into things you cook. My mother used to actually make apple pies out of dried apple slices. She would simmer them in water with sugar and cinnamon until they were re-hydrated and then bake them in the pie. You can crumble them up and put them in your oatmeal, cookie dough, batter-breads, or sprinkle them on salads. I love them when hiking.

It's a great way to store some of that summer goodness for later.

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