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Apple Drying

One of our fall projects, starting in 1999, is to dry apples we'd shaken down from the trees at the camp Dan works at.  We started with a store-bought dehydrator we'd borrowed from Kel's mom, but quickly switched to using our woodstove - which worked faster and better (not to mention cheaper!)  If you dry the apples well, they'll get crunchy--a lot tastier than those chewy store-bought dried apples.

To make your own woodstove dehydrator, you will need:

  • an aluminum window screen about the size of the top of your stove
  • four coffee mugs (or tin cups, or fire bricks, or...)

Put the mugs on top of the stove.  Wash the window screen and put it on top of the mugs.

Notes on the drying process:

  • Our stove has a 1" vented air space at the top, and a blower fan that kicks on when the stove goes above 300° F.  This means our fruit dries slower, but is less likely to burn, than on a non-vented woodstove.  (We had some friends who singed their apples in less than half an hour!)  You may need to adjust the amount of fire in your stove, the drying time and the height of your windowscreen. 
  • Different spots on the screen dry at different rates.  Just because the apples in the middle are done, doesn't mean the outside ones are done.  You may want to avoid putting fruit directly over the mugs (which block the heat.)
  • If your fruit seems almost dry, try cooling off a piece and testing it.  They often seem drier when cool.  (and, dry or mostly-dry fruit on a cooled-off stove may seem to get damp again when you build up another fire.  No big deal, it will "dry" again when the stove cools down.)
  • To avoid stuck-on fruit:  Lightly oil the screen with olive oil.  Turn the fruit over when it just starts to look dry.  
  • To get stuck-on fruit off:  Allow to dry completely.  Remove screen from woodstove and let cool.  Gently push your fingers up into the screen and "pop off" the fruit.  If that doesn't work, soak the screen in water and use a toothbrush to scrub the yuck off.

Notes on apples:

  • Need to be peeled and sliced about 1/8" thick.
  • Beg or borrow a peeler/corer/slicer.  (seen fairly frequently at rummage sales!)  It'll save you lots of time, especially if you have firm-textured apples that are nice and round.
  • Even if you have mushy lopsided apples, peel them by hand and use the corer/slicer.
  • You can store sliced apples in the refrigerator in water plus a little lemon juice (about 1/2 cup per gallon).  Sweeter/mushier apples will only store overnight; harder/sourer apples will store several days.
  • The longer you store sliced apples, the more water and lemon juice they soak up.  Ironically the soaked apples seem to dry quicker, and burn or brown more easily.  As they soak they get mushier and harder to handle.
  • They taste sweeter when they're dry.  We like the sour camp apples (slightly less sweet than Granny Smith) the best of all.
  • Five pounds of apples makes about two quart jars' worth (depending on size of apples and how tightly you pack the quart jars.)

Notes on other fruit:

we can't find any other fruits we like dried as much as we like apples.  *Starred ones we haven't tried ourselves, but Kel's mom has...

  • Bananas dry hard rather than crunchy.  They also seemed extremely concentrated in flavor... almost annoying.  The best we did was to take a potato peeler and peel thin strips of banana pulp straight on to the screen.  Hard to get off the screen, but they tasted like banana candy.
  • Pears also dry hard instead of crunchy.  The ones we tried (Bosc) seemed to have an unpleasant texture, too, when dry.
  • Strawberries shrivel up and stay tacky.  We didn't like them much dried.
  • *Kiwi is good - but takes some getting used to!  Gets almost transparent when dry. Slice very thinly.
  • *Lemons turn black but keep their lemony taste.  Store tightly closed... if left in open air they will re-hydrate themselves!

Other stuff we've dried:

mostly herbs.

  • Spearmint, Peppermint, Oregano, Thyme, Sage - all dried well and very quickly (3 hours or less.)  It worked best to dry the whole stem together and then pull the leaves off, rather than trying to pick the leaves off while fresh.
  • Chives - dry whole, then use scissors to trim to length.
  • Chive blossoms (eaten whole on gourmet salads - but very strong flavor) - dry whole.  Closed buds take longer to dry (up to 2 days).  They look gorgeous when dried and put in a mason jar, and they smell like french fried onions.

...feel free to email us with ideas, comments, etc!

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