Once upon a time, in the midwest state of Indiana, there was a young couple of questionable sanity. They wanted a farm to call all their own, but in the era of double digit interest rates, such a fantasy seemed unattainable. Then, they discovered a derelict property; 10 years abandoned - boarded up and in ruin. "Perfect!" They said. "We'll fix it right up!" Remarkably, the banker seemed to agree that such thing was possible and the mortgage loan was made.
That couple was my husband Rob and I. With our then-youthful energy on our side, we set about repairing and remodeling just about every feature on the 20 acres. The tenant farmer before had cut down nearly all the trees, so I set about “reforesting” the best way I knew on a limited budget. With sad, puny nursery stock on sale at bargain basement prices at the end of the season. Miraculously, most of what I dragged home (usually in the trunk of my car) did survive. Including 3 apple trees of unknown varieties.
As the trees grew and we learned about how to prune them to best produce, we realized that they were likely nursery rejects from the get-go; their weird trunk and branch configurations could not be pruned to grow into straight, sturdy trees. Apparently they didn’t get the memo, though, as they produced as prolifically as their structurally sound brethren. Sadly, the yellow apple tree on the left did eventually succumb to it’s weakness when, fully loaded with fruit, it split irreparably down the center; both halves ruined.
The trees produced, whether we pruned or sprayed, or not. I felt guilty that bushels and bushels of perfectly good apples went to waste. One year I canned many quarts of applesauce. Only to learn that we don’t really eat much applesauce. A person can only eat so many apples per day, and we quickly grew tired of the 49 iterations of fruit salad that I made. I fed as many as I dared to my small herd of horses, too, and still excess apples rotted on the ground.
A few years ago, I hatched a scheme to dry the apples. I surmised they would last longer that way, and make portable snacks that would be infinitely more healthy than potato chips. I schlepped a couple 5 gallon buckets of the nicest ones I could find into the kitchen sink and washed them up.
FWIW, two five-gallon buckets fill both sides of my kitchen sink to the top. I wash them all carefully and put on a dish towel to drain. After the applesauce fiasco, I’d decided I was not going to peel and core all those apples by hand, so I purchased one of these corer-peelers, and was anxious to try it out.
The corer-peeler worked exactly as expected. I ended up leaving the peeling on, because fiber. As you can see from the picture, my apples do have bad spots. The not-so-round ones were trickier to process, but not impossible. You can see the scraps in the bowl in the sink (those go to the horses) and behind that, yet another vat of fruit salad in the works – the pieces that were too small to dry ended up in that. I’d also like to give a shout-out to my all-time favorite knife – the USA-made Rada Utility model. It’s inexpensive, durable, and holds an edge very well. I am super picky about my knives; I have a number of more expensive knives that I don’t like nearly as well. (if you decide to try one of these, get the black resin handle, as the aluminum handle oxidizes in the dishwasher.) Rada enthusiasts recommend this sharpener. It’s inexpensive also, and I initially thought it ridiculous that such a simple looking do-dad could put an edge on a knife. But it really does work.
Back to the apples and my scheme to dry them en masse…
I had a food dehydrator… it was cute, did an okay job, but was woefully inadequate for the apple-pocalypse we were experiencing. I have a history of (ab)using my stove in manners that it was not intended, so decided to try the off-label endeavor of food dehydrating. I removed the metal racks and had Rob cut me a number of (3/8″ – 1/2″) wood dowel rods the exact length to fit the rack grooves. I washed them up well and gave each a coating of olive oil to keep the apples from sticking.
I learned the hard way that apples become wetter before they get dryer, so covering the entire bottom of the oven with foil was in order to catch those sugary drips. My oven does not have an exposed heating element, so this foil sits directly on the bottom. If I were to try this in an oven that did have the exposed element, I’d probably leave the bottom rack in and put the foil on top of that.
I discovered that the lowest heat setting my oven would maintain was 220˚ , which is considerably higher than google says food should be dehydrated at, but with two sinks full of apples processed, it was too late to turn back. I propped the oven door open with a folded dish towel, turned on the convection setting to 220˚, and went to bed, not knowing what I would awaken to the next morning.
I was pleasantly surprised to find the oven still running like I left it, the house smelling wonderful, and the apples about 80% dry. The peelings shrink less than the flesh, effectively creating a spacer effect that let the air circulate even more.
The oven was loaded to the gills; some sticks were drying faster than the others, so I rearranged them all with the wettest sticks closest to the convection fan. In 6-8 hours they were pretty much uniformly dry. The endeavor was a roaring success!
The bad news… (sort of)
All that work yielded this one bowl of apples. Which we promptly ate at the same speed as if they were potato chips. For days and days, I knuckled down, kept a batch going in the oven 24/7, thinking surely I’d dry enough apples to keep us in apple snacks for years. I ended up giving a few bags away at Christmas time, and we ate all the rest. They were gone by early spring.
So – I don’t know whether to recommend that you try this, or not? Here are some points to consider:
- I don’t know how long convection oven fans last. As with the time I used the glass cook top (against recommendation) for canning beef, my stove is old and I was somewhat prepared for the consequences if the strain of this extended use caused it to fail.
- I did not use any preparation on the apples before drying to prevent browning. I tried both Fruit Fresh and lemon juice on the first couple batches, but it didn’t seem to make any difference in how much they discolored during the drying process.
- I don’t know how long these last after they are dry. I kept them in gallon ziploc bags on the counter for at least a month and saw no sign of spoilage.
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Wanna read more?
Is this all I do? Post pictures and stories about life here on the farm? Nope! HoofPrints.com is my “real” job.
More posts about food and recipes are here
You can read more posts about horses here
For more fun on the farm, go here
Adventures in remodeling are here
Is the house haunted? There are some stories about that here
Laughable housekeeping advice is here
I always love reading your stories! I think you even have the gift of writing so you can explore writing a book sometime. We too have a farm (100 acres) and always have many, many projects. We even were raising some Angus beef cattle but realized after many years that they were ‘high maintenance.’ There are ALWAYS many projects, especially mowing the pastures. As we have aged and in our early 70’s we have matured in figuring out what we can manage. We use to have 6 horses but have reduced to 2 horses and a miniature donkey. She keeps us laughing all the time. I have purchased several items from your website and if I win the lottery, I’ll purchase just about anything. You can go to our website, duckbacklabs.com and see a little about us. We have always lived in the country except for our first year of marriage and would have it no other way. We are truly blessed and those of us here in the country are already doing the social spacing for the virus. I pray that we can all get through all of this crazy virus all over the world. Keep up the good job you are doing!
Thanks for the kind words, and for the encouragement. It means a lot. We raised cattle for a few years (until we ran out of money) and I so much enjoyed seeing the new calves being born; keeping everybody fed and healthy, etc, but the margins were just too tiny for our small gig to survive. Love your website for the Labradors – we had two – both were dumped here by unscrupulous breeders. Best. Dogs. Ever.