Friday, October 21, 2011

Preserving Floyd: Drying Apples

Some of you may remember this very helpful gadget from last fall's Extreme Deep Dish Apple Pie post.
Well, it's time to break it out again!

Michael and I ran down the road to Wade's Orchard to pick up our first bushel of apples to process.  I had previously called our acquaintance Tom with the abandoned orchard for permission to pick there again but received the bad news that his trees bore very little fruit this year.  He's not really sure what happened.  Maybe a frost nipped the blossoms or maybe it was the summer-long drought we had or a combination of both.  Tom got enough apples off nearly 100 trees for a single large batch of applesauce.  So it was off to Wade's for us where we learned that they are harvesting only about 50% of their orchard's usual output.  We got a half bushel of Golden Delicious for drying and a half bushel of Staymens for saucing.  For future reference a half bushel box of apples weighs in at approximately 22 pounds.  I also want to make quarts of apple pie filling and pints of Apple Craic and some apple leather for the kids.  If there's a shortage of apples this year I need to get crackin'!

Any apple will make tasty dried apples but Golden Delicious apples seem to have the right balance of sweet and tart along with a resistance to browning that makes them perfect for drying into a sweet chewy snack as well as a superior ingredient for salads, stuffings, roasting with pork or ham or root veggies, and baking into pastries.

Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples.  As you finish each apple toss it into a bowl with water and a splash of lemon juice.  This helps prevent browning.  If slicing by hand try to slice them as uniformly as possible so they all dry at the same speed.  Slicing on a mandoline will work.  I highly recommend the apple peeler, corer, slicer gadget above if you're doing apples by the bushel.  They run around $25 and are well worth the investment.

Next remove the apples and allow them to drain.
The apples we bought are "processing" apples.  They're not perfectly shaped, blemish free specimens.  You can see they have some spots and the occasional bruise.  These are perfect for canning purposes where they're going to be turned into something else.  At this stage I nip those spots out with a paring knife and then cut the spirals in half for slices.

The slices are then spread in a single layer on the dryer rack.  They can touch because they won't stick together as they dry.

Once all the racks are loaded the dehydrator is set for 135F and 10 hours.  If you don't have a dehydrator you can lay the apples on cooling racks for cookies and cakes or directly  (and carefully) on your oven racks and dry them in the oven at the lowest temperature with the door ajar.  If you can arrange to have a fan blow into the oven for circulation, even better.  Keep a close eye on the slices since they'll dry faster than in a dehydrator.

 The slices are done when they are no longer damp or sticky but are still flexible.  Allow them to cool completely in order to check them because it's easier to feel moisture content and stickiness than when they are warm.  If they're not quite ready reset the dehydrator or return them to the oven for a little longer.
A full load of apples in our dehydrator yields about 1 1/4 gallon jars (more or less) when dried.  A half bushel (approx. 22 lbs) fills the dehydrator three times.  So a half bushel of apples will yield approximately 3 3/4 - 4 gallon jars of apples.

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