Cinnamon Applesauce

Applesauce! It is the very easiest, fastest, and one of the most delicious ways to preserve apples. It’s great whether you have a couple of trees’ worth of apples that you need to take care of in a hurry, or you want to take advantage of your local grocery store’s super sale on fruit, or you just have a sudden hankering for some smoothly stewed, lightly spiced fruit. One reason I love making applesauce is that there’s so little waste: I stew the apples without peeling or coring, and sieve the coarse pieces out in the final steps, so all the delicious apple flesh is saved — unlike in other methods, when some flesh necessarily is thrown out with the peel and core. You can make a big batch, as I do, to make canned applesauce (I end up with about six pints), or reduce the size and make just a small batch to keep in the fridge. Either way, the basic process is the same except for the actual canning.

Apple season is about over at our home.  We’ve had apples coming out our ears this fall (speaking figuratively, of course), and I’ve used a lot of them in dried apples, jam, fruit leather of various types (all including apples), and an earlier batch of applesauce. A week ago, Aaron informed me he was commandeering the remainder of our apple harvest for pressing juice to brew a “hoppy” cider, so I preempted the coming reduction in produce by gathering a collection of attractive ones to make one more batch of dried apples and a batch of my own recipe of Harvest Apple jam, and filled a big pot with apples for a cooking up a final batch of applesauce. Today I’m finally finishing that one last batch of applesauce (the stewed apples have been sitting in the fridge while I’ve been battling a week of migraines), and now I’m sharing with you this easy, scrumptious fall-time favorite. Mmmm, mmmm, good! Oh, and in case you wondered, I left plenty for Aaron. He got four gallons of juice for his cider.

Before I launch into the applesauce recipe, two disclaimers, if you will. First: despite my background, growing up in a subsistence lifestyle — living alternately on a religious commune, a trapline, and back on the commune — and spending that time baking and cooking and preserving for all I was worth, I am not an expert on canning and preserving. I was a kid during that time, following other people’s instructions. My memories are a bit foggy, and I don’t have recipes from back then. My knowledge comes from picking my mom’s highly experienced and knowledgeable brain, begging my gardening and cooking friends on Facebook for advice, reading cookbooks like The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, scouring the Internet for ideas, and obsessively reading the FDA and USDA’s online pages and various university-hosted pages on home preserving safety, methods, and recipes. I’m sharing my newfound knowledge with you because I’m having so much fun learning about canning and making food, and I’m the kind of person who can’t not share what I know. Once a teacher, always a teacher — and combined with a predilection for writing, this is what you get. This blog is a record of my journey in gardening and home preserving, not a declaration of my expertise.

Second: Despite not being an expert, I have done my research. Recipes like this depend on a certain acidity level to be safe for canning. If you wish to modify my recipe, please please please do your own research before changing it in some way such as adding large amounts of water or mixing in other fruit. Apples are safe for canning on their own, without adding lemon juice for acidity, but if you want to change things up, make sure you check out some of the links I provided above before you do anything drastic.

And now some general words on canning. Those of you who have read others recipes of mine, you know how I operate:  I explain stuff a lot. I’m an overexplainer. If you want to skip all that, just scroll. Keep scrolling. A little more… There you go. You’ll find the actual applesauce recipe and processing instructions near the bottom. You’re welcome. (But don’t blame me if you miss something essential as you skim downward.)

Before you begin, make sure you have all your tools and materials ready. For this type of canning — called water bath, boiling-water, or hot pack canning — you don’t need a real pressure canner. You just need a pot big enough to hold all your jars, with a rack on the bottom to elevate them so they don’t contact the pot, and deep enough that the water can cover the jars by a full inch with plenty of room to boil. I do use a pressure canner, because it’s hard to find another pot that’s big enough to fit the above criteria, and because it makes me feel like I’m doing something exciting, but I have so far never used it for pressure canning  — I just use it as a giant pot for boiling water. I’ll be honest: the idea of actual pressure canning scares me. It would scare you, too, if you’d ever walked into a kitchen covered ceiling to floor in exploded jar and green bean fragments.

You need a few tools besides the large pot or canner, too. You can get most of these together in a set at a farm store like Wilco, at your local grocery store during canning season, or in an online search at many shopping sites. Besides your jars, the most essential tool is a set of canning tongs. These tongs have a curved, rubberized gripper that’s just right for grabbing hot jars and moving them in and out of boiling water, and the positioning of the handle is such that you can pour water out of them after sanitizing without scalding yourself. As I said, essential. Nearly as essential is a wide-bottomed funnel, which will help you fill jars without drips.

A less important, but still handy, tool is a magnetic lid lifter (useful for lifting flat lids out of hot water when you’ve sanitized them), or — my preference — a lid rack with a long handle, which you can lower into the recently-boiled water in your canner after sanitizing your jars, while you fill them. You also need something with which to release air pockets when you’re making foods like pickles, though it’s slightly less necessary with something like applesauce. A canning set comes with a flat plastic tool for this purpose, with one end notched for measuring the space at the top of the jar in case you’re obsessed with perfection. A butter knife works perfectly well if you don’t feel like purchasing a whole set of canning tools.

Jars, of course, are truly essential. For our family, pint jars (either widemouth or narrow-mouth) are just right for applesauce — I’ve found that if I use quarts, we use about half a jar immediately once one is opened, and then it sits in the fridge and molders. We end up wasting a lot that way. So I sacrifice a bit of shelf space and use the smaller pint jars. In terms of canning safety, it really doesn’t matter whether you use pints or quarts.

To can safely without risk of bacteria growing in your food, you need to start with sanitized jars. A lot of people recommend sanitizing your jars in the dishwasher, but I don’t like this approach, and here’s why: 1) If your dishwasher is running to sanitize your jars, you can’t use it to hold your dirty dishes while you prep your food. 2) You need to heat your canner full of water anyway so that you can water bath your jars full of food, and you might as well take that energy to sanitize the jars at the same time. 3) Your dishwasher doesn’t get as hot as a boiling pot of water. If your jars aren’t thoroughly sanitized, you need to process the food-filled jars longer — and the less you process the food, the better the flavor and the quality.

That’s why I start my canning sessions by placing my clean, lidless, pint jars into the canner –as many as the recipe suggests (in this case, six) plus another one just in case — and filling the jars and canner with water to at least an inch above the top of the jars, making sure there’s room for the water to boil. Then I put the lid on, place the canner on the largest burner, and turn the heat on high. It takes quite awhile, on my elderly cooktop anyway, for the canner to heat — sometimes I’m nearly done prepping the food before it’s done heating. When it does boil, I turn the heat down a bit and make sure it boils for at least ten minutes before I turn the heat off.

I leave the jars in the canner to stay hot, away from dust, and out of drafts until I’m ready to fill them. They need to stay hot because you’ll be filling them with hot food; you don’t want to pour hot food into cool jars, because there’s a chance they could break or become stressed (and break later). Ditto with hot jars sitting in a draft. You want them away from dust because dust can disrupt a good seal. So just leave them in the canner, where they’ll be safe, and you’ll have more counter space for working as well. Win-win.

Unlike the jars, you don’t want to boil the lids — boiling can degrade the rubber seal. If you have a nice lid rack like mine, you can lower the lids into the canner after you take the jars out, or once the canner stops boiling if you have room in the canner. This will sanitize them as much as they need, and will soften the rubber to ensure a good seal. If you don’t have a long-handled rack, put the lids into a shallow dish, pour some of the hot water from the canner over them so they’re all covered, and let them sit while you fill the jars. This is where that magnetic lid lifter comes in handy, so you can lift them out without burning your fingers. Otherwise, of course, you can pour the hot water off right before you’re ready to put them onto the jars.

On the topic of jar lids: I’m a very thrifty person. I reuse whatever I can. The one thing I don’t reuse is flat jar lids for canning. Why? Because I know that the heating process the lids undergo when the food-filled jars have been boiled for canning will begin to degrade the rubber seal. It may not be visible immediately, but it’s happening. Reused jar lids may seem to seal just fine, but might slowly lose their seal over time as the jars sit on the shelf, allowing the food to spoil. If this happens, the best-case scenario is that you lose your hard-won preserved food; the worst-case scenario is that the spoilage doesn’t leave any noticeable signs, and your family gets sick with food poisoning. So, please don’t reuse your jar lids. Additionally, as you’re counting out your brand-new, unused jar lids, check the rubber seal for any damage. If there are scratches or bubbles in the seal, throw them away. And if you, like me, save your used lids for casual food storage, double-check that you don’t have any damaged lids that accidentally got mixed in with your brand-new boxed ones — if the lids are bent or warped in any way, throw them away.

You need one more tool for making applesauce that’s not part of the general canning tool set. Exactly what this tool might be depends on your budget and the frequency with which you do this sort of thing. You need something for squashing apples. If you use my approach of not peeling or coring, you need something like a Foley food mill, a Kitchen Aid (or whatever brand you prefer) fruit and vegetable strainer attachment, or a chinois. If you don’t want to invest in a special tool, you could just use a potato masher or a blender — but you’d need to start by peeling and coring your apples first. Last year I used a food mill, and it was much better than my previous approach of pressing the apples through a sieve with a wooden spoon — but it was still fairly labor intensive. This year we splurged on a set of Kitchen Aid attachments, and using the fruit and vegetable strainer attachment has been heaven: so easy.

Now that you’ve patiently endured all my thoughts on canning, you’re ready to make applesauce! Start by collecting your fruit, about 8 pounds of apples. Eight pounds of whole apples fills up my tallest cooking pot to the brim, which is exactly how I determined how much I needed for a batch of applesauce. It does not matter what kind of apples you use. It really doesn’t. If you use super tart apples, you can add a bit more sugar to sweeten it to taste; if you use sweet ones, use less sugar. My personal approach, since I’m using apples from our own trees, is to choose the ugliest apples: misshapen, bruised, dented, tiny, whatever makes them undesirable for other uses. This approach might work if you’re buying from a U-Pick farm, too — you may be able to get a discount if you offer to take battered fruit off their hands. The point is, the appearance doesn’t matter for applesauce, and since you’re not peeling or coring, you may as well use up the ones that will be difficult or time-consuming to peel for other purposes. We have two trees, one that produces apples that might be Golden Delicious and one that produces pretty red apples with green streaks, much more tart than the yellow ones at their ripest. I don’t bother separating the two varieties for applesauce. I just choose the ugliest, and go from there.

Begin by cleaning the apples thoroughly: give them a rinse, and then fill your sink with water and dump the apples in for a good soaking. Even an organic orchard uses some kind of pesticide; just because it’s approved for organic use doesn’t mean you ought to eat it. Besides, who knows what kind of bug poop and bird spit might be on there? So wash those apples, no matter where you got them.

If you don’t have a tool for straining the peels, cores, and seeds out, you’ll need to start by peeling and coring the apples, in which case I strongly recommend an inexpensive ($20) tool like this:

This year Sofia is big enough to turn the peeler's handle!
This year Sofia is big enough to turn the peeler’s handle!

Otherwise, just cut each apple into halves or quarters, even the tiniest ones, and drop them into your largest pot. Cutting them serves two purposes. First of all, it helps them cook down faster and gets the juice flowing and the flavors mixing. Yum. But — and more importantly — it lets you see the inside of the apple before you put it into the pot. If you’re using beautiful, shiny, grocery store apples, this is a less crucial factor. If, however, you’ve chosen the ugliest apples from your own trees — or even fairly attractive ones — slicing them open is beyond essential; it is absolutely imperative. Allow me to illustrate:

While you’re cutting, keep in mind that they don’t need to be pretty. Bruises are okay. If you see a wormhole, just cut it out. If half the apple is bad, cut off the bad half and toss the good half into the pot. It doesn’t matter; it’s all going to cook down into mush.

When your apples are all cut and in the pot, give your pot a good look. Is there room for boiling and stirring? If not, now is the time to grab another large pot and dump half the batch into the second pot. That original eight or so pounds of apples, now quartered and bad parts cut off, fills my tall pot about to the handles, which gives me all the room I need to stir. If it were fuller than that, I’d need to cook it in two batches.

Pour in two cups of water to keep your apples from sticking and get the juices flowing. If you’re doing two batches, a cup in each pot is just right. Next, add no more than 1/2 cup of sugar for tart apples, or use 1/4 cup of sugar if your apples are sweeter. You could even skip the sugar and wait till the end to decide how much to sweeten your applesauce. I like adding sugar at the beginning because it helps pull the juice out of the apples, which in turn creates more liquid in the pot, making the apples cook down faster. Add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg. Other spices that might go well with applesauce, but that I don’t usually use, are allspice, cloves, and ginger. I generally just stick with cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg so that the fresh taste of apple is the starring flavor.

Set your pot on the stove on high heat with a lid, give it a stir to mix in the sugar and spices, and let it heat until you hear boiling. Give it a good stir, bringing the soft apples up from the bottom and letting the firm ones on top drop down. Turn the heat down to medium and let it keep on cooking, covered. Stir it thoroughly every fifteen minutes or so. You’ll know the apples have cooked long enough when they are uniformly mushy, and none of them hold their shape when poked. With a giant pot like I use, this takes about an hour. If you use smaller pots it won’t take as long.

When your apples are cooked, this is a good time to start your canner and jars heating as I described above.

Let the apples cool just a little before you sauce them so you don’t get burned. Put them through whatever type of food mill you have, or — if they’re peeled and cored — mash them up, or puree them in small batches in the blender. If you’re using the blender, fill it no more than halfway; drape a towel over the lid; hold the lid down very tightly; and start the blender at a low speed before moving up to puree speed. Pureeing hot food in a blender can be a trifle hazardous if you don’t take precautions.

If you’re using the Kitchen Aid fruit and vegetable strainer attachment, here’s some advice: No matter how badly you want to try reusing the rejected coils of apple junk that oozes out of the end of the attachment, do not — I repeat, DO NOT — put that stuff back through the strainer. You may think you can be extra thrifty and get some more applesauce out of it if, perhaps, you mix it with water to soften it. No. Don’t do it. You will have strainer pieces flying across the kitchen, fruit splattering your cupboards and counter, and rock-hard fruit matter that you’ll have to pry out of the innards of the strainer. Just don’t. I know that if you grew up in a family or culture that reuses everything and throws out nothing, it hurts to see that apparently useful fruit in the bowl waiting to be thrown out. If it’s too much to bear, find another use for it. Feed it to the chickens. Let the puppy eat it. Just…don’t put it through the strainer a second time. Baaaaaad idea.

However you achieve your transition from stewed apples to applesauce (and I highly recommend the Kitchen Aid strainer; I think a good, sturdy chinois would be second-best, with a food mill like my own coming in third), it’s now time to taste and reheat. This is the time to decide whether you want more (or any) sugar, if it needs more cinnamon, et cetera. These decisions don’t affect canning safety. You can sweeten and season to your heart’s content. You’ll find, I think, that most apples need very little sweetening; a quarter to a half cup of sugar for eight pounds of apples really is about right.

As you ponder sweetening choices, you should be reheating your applesauce. Bring it to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn it down to medium and let it boil gently, stirring occasionally, for a minute, paying attention to consistency. If it’s very thick and gloopy, drizzle in a bit of water until it’s smooth, continuing to heat it till it’s come back up to a boil. I realize this sounds vague and imprecise. That’s because the thickness of the applesauce will depend somewhat on the variety, ripeness, and quality of your apples. So you may need to add a little water, or you may not need to add any at all. Just make sure it’s easy to pour and boils easily without making big thick pops; otherwise it may not heat evenly in the canner, and you can’t be sure it’s been heated all the way through to a safe temperature.

Once the applesauce has boiled, lay a towel out on your counter — remember, it’s not a good idea to put hot jars onto a cool surface — close the window — because hot jars don’t like drafts — and lift the jars out of the canner onto the towel. Keep the water at its original level in the canner by pouring some of the water from the jars back into the canner, and some out into the sink. If you have a long-handled lid rack, lower it into the hot water once the jars are out. If you don’t, pour some of the hot water from a jar over the lids in a shallow pan.

Use a wide-bottomed funnel to guide you as you pour the applesauce into each jar, leaving 1/4 inch of space at the top of each jar. If you’re not sure you’re leaving enough headspace, this is a good time to use that notched green tool that came in the canning set you may have bought. You can also now use that tool to give each jar a zig-zag stir, to release any air bubbles inside. Or you could just give each jar a couple of good thumps on your toweled counter. If necessary, top off any jars that had large bubbles and have now lost fullness. By the way: Do you see how thick that applesauce is in the photos below? Notice the bubbles in the jar? That applesauce is just a trifle too thick — not so much that I was in a panic upon noticing it, but really I should have thinned it as I explained two paragraphs above to make sure it heated evenly in the canner.

Get a damp paper towel or clean cloth. Carefully wipe the rim of each jar, using a fresh area for each jar, making sure there are no stray splashes of applesauce remaining on the edge that could disrupt the seal. Once all the jars have been wiped, place a flat lid onto each jar, checking for flaws as you go and discarding any that have problems (of course, you already did this once, but perhaps you’re as paranoid as I am). Then place the rings and tighten them down. Turn the heat on under the canner, and use the tongs to lower the jars into the water. Replace the lid and bring the canner back to a boil.

Process the jars for ten minutes. Just to be clear, the timer for water bath processing begins when the water boils, not when you put the jars into the canner. After ten minutes, use the tongs to pull the jars out and place them back onto the towels. Do not touch the tops of the lids. You should hear the gentle, musical pop of lids sealing fairly soon, but some jars could take up to 24 hours. I repeat, do not touch them while you wait. If you push the center down, causing a “forced seal,” it’s impossible to know whether that jar would have sealed on its own or not.  So don’t touch them until they have all sealed and are thoroughly cooled, at which point you should be sure to write the contents and date on stick-on labels for each jar. Home-canned food can easily keep for a year.

If any jars don’t seal after 12 to 24 hours (or if you disregarded my stern command to not touch the jars, thus causing a forced seal), you have two choices. You could reheat the canner to boiling with the jars inside (I would gently unseal the forced-sealed ones first, using thumbs to push the lid off rather than a can opener, then put the lids back on), process for 10 minutes at boiling, and leave them again to see if they’ll seal. Or you could shrug and take what is most likely your single unsealed or force-sealed jar and put it into the fridge, where it will be the first jar of applesauce you’ll try out.

Applesauce is a perfect fall treat, but with apples available year-round in grocery stores, you could make this any time. It’s great for kids’ lunch boxes, as a side with roasted pork and sauerkraut, and myriad other uses. Enjoy!

Jars of applesauce.
Jars of applesauce.

Tree to Plate in Sixty Minutes

Having garden-fresh vegetables was commonplace when I was a teenager on a communal farm in Canada, but we didn’t live in the best climate for growing fruit, with the exception of a few berries. Living in Alaskan cities for a dozen years, I’d forgotten what it felt like to walk to the garden, pick a handful of veggies, and eat them for dinner a few minutes later. And fresh fruit? In both Northwest Ontario and Alaska, most fruit was shipped to grocery stores from far away and was fairly unappetizing by the time it arrived in fruit bowls at home.

This is our second summer in our beautiful two-acre Oregon home. It’s late August, and apples are ripening on the trees in our yard. A few mornings ago, I woke up with a sudden impulse to eat apple fritters. My mom was here for a short visit, so I had both motivation (being in one’s thirties doesn’t inoculate one against the desire to impress one’s mother) and opportunity to stroll out to the trees and do some picking while she made sure the kids didn’t cause a disaster while I was outside. I rolled out of bed, gave my hair three quick twists, and sneaked out through the garage, picking bucket in hand, without my absence being noticed by any small people.

An hour later, I had a full bucket of crisp apples, a bowl full of batter, and a plate of sugar-and-spice-tossed apple fritter rings. One hour. (That even included the amount time the puppy and I spent in the garage regretting that I’d forgotten the garage doorknob doesn’t unlock when turned from the kitchen side, so we were locked out briefly.) Those apples had been basking in early-morning sunlight sixty minutes previously; now they were glistening with sugar and about to be popped into hungry mouths.

I’m not sure why this amazes me so much, but it does — it boggles my mind that I live in a place that I have such easy access to fresh, delicious food right in my own yard. It never fails to fill me with a sense of gratitude and deep pleasure that the earth can provide such bounty, with such ease, and it’s right here for me to pick off a tree and eat…or, if I so desire, fry first and then eat. Yes, yes, I’m getting corny and sappy, and my best friend is rolling her eyes (that is, if she could even bring herself to read yet another gardening/cooking/ Oregon-has-the-world’s-best-climate post) — and I don’t care one bit, because I. just. love. living here.

I used the recipe from a website called Just a Taste, by , for the fritters. They’re what I think of as real fritters — the fruit is dipped in batter and fried, rather than being pieces of donut dough interspersed with chunks of apple. The recipe includes caramel sauce, which I didn’t use, and includes an optional suggestion for tossing the fritters in cinnamon sugar, which I did use — except I used pumpkin pie seasoning instead of cinnamon, and I also added some pumpkin pie seasoning to the fritter batter.

I made a good-sized batch of the pumpkin pie seasoning myself a month or so ago in about three minutes from a recipe I found at Country Cleaver, and I have been using it a lot lately. Yum.

Oat Apple Pancakes

On Sunday, I made one of my new favorite breakfasts: oat apple pancakes. Niko and Sofia both love them, and the apples soften enough while cooking that my toothless wonder won’t choke. I’ve been trying these out on the kids for a few weeks, but this was my first time making them for Aaron, who said with pleased surprise, “These are really good pancakes!” Coming from a man who is a much better cook than I am and a tad picky about his food, that was all the confirmation I needed. These are good. They’re easy, healthy, and dairy-free. You can expect to get about a dozen smallish pancakes from this batch.

Dairy is not typically a concern for me, but we discovered soon after having Sofia that she has a milk protein sensitivity, and I’ve had to cut out milk while we’re nursing. So if you’re avoiding dairy too, these are the pancakes for you. If you’re not, feel free to use ordinary milk instead of coconut milk, and melted butter instead of oil. They’ll be very similar.

Making oat flour
Making oat flour

The first thing you need to do is make some oat flour, unless you have some on hand. I don’t really use it that much, and I find it pretty easy just to make it as I need it. To make a cup of oat flour, just scoop about 1⅛ cups of rolled oats into the blender. Blend it on the highest setting, pausing now and then to shake it down or scrape the sides. You can stop when it feels velvety-soft.

Pause here for a rant on heating your pan. When you read baking recipes, the recipe always says right at the beginning, Preheat your oven to… But no one ever says to preheat your pan for frying. Here’s a secret: You need to preheat. If your pan isn’t hot when you start, you get weird pancakes. They don’t rise properly, they stick, and sometimes they spread too far and fall apart when you try to flip them. Now, I know recipes always say to use a hot pan or griddle, but I find that it takes longer than one would expect to really get it heated properly. There you are, pancakes ready to go, bubbles gently rising in the batter as you slowly lose fluffiness potential, waiting for the griddle to heat. I say, no more! Preheat that pan! I always turn the heat on at this point (as I’m ready to start mixing) at a medium-high temperature, and spray it with cooking oil or coat it with butter. By the time the pancakes are mixed, it will be just the perfect temperature. I turn it down to medium just before I pour the pancakes onto the griddle. And no more tossing the first pancakes of the morning into the trash. End preheating rant.

Combine dry ingredients thoroughly.
Combine dry ingredients thoroughly.

Next, use a medium mixing bowl to thoroughly mix the following dry ingredients: the oat flour (of course), ½ cup of all-purpose flour, 1½ teaspoons of baking powder, 1 teaspoon of baking soda,

Thin slices will cook nicely.
Thin slices will cook nicely.

and ½ teaspoon of salt.

Peel, core, and chop an apple. Aim for thin chunks abut ½ inch square. Too thick, and they won’t cook through.

The next part works best in the blender. You could use a whisk in a bowl instead of the blender, but you already dirtied it making the oat flour, so why not use it one more time before you wash it? It’s always a good idea to beat your eggs when adding them to pancakes – especially oat pancakes, which can be a little on the dense side – because the extra air helps add fluffiness. The blender makes the whipping fast and easy.

DSC03270So. Dump all this into the blender: Two eggs, 1 cup of almond or coconut milk (I suppose you could use soy, but I find the flavor off-putting), 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Why the vinegar? We’re imitating the effect of buttermilk. Buttermilk (and vinegar) is acidic and will react with baking soda, which is a base. The reaction creates bubbles of carbon dioxide. Translation: fluffy, crisp pancakes. Give it a whirl in the blender till it’s frothy and smooth.

Mix GENTLY so you don't get tough pancakes.
Mix GENTLY so you don’t get tough pancakes.

Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir it gently together. Add the chopped apples, stir gently again, and you’re

The edges should start to look dry when they're ready to flip.
The edges should start to look dry when they’re ready to flip.

ready to cook them. Use a ¼ cup measure or a small ladle to pour the batter onto your preheated, oiled baking surface. Let the pancakes cook until you see that the edges are looking set, almost dry. When you flip them, the backs should be golden brown and crisp. (If they’re not, just let them finish cooking on the second side and then flip them back to finish on the first side. No biggie.)

These are best eaten drizzled with honey. There’s just something about the way the sweet honey complements the nutty oat flavor, and the sweet-but-tart apples bring the flavors together like a bright ribbon binding a bouquet.

Here is a more concise format of this recipe.

Oat Pancakes

Making Dried Apples

Last spring, a year after moving to Oregon, we purchased our “forever home”: a 1979-built house on two acres of lovingly tended land. We were enormously excited to discover that we now own two apple trees. Neither of us had ever lived in apple country before. I had lived in northern British Columbia and Ontario before moving to Alaska, and Aaron had lived first in desert states and then in Alaska. Fresh apples from our own trees! Heaven! 

 
The day Aaron picked the apples, he harvested 300 pounds of usable apples, plus another 100 or so that had been damaged by worms. You can imagine we were anxious to find ways to use them all. Aaron used a lot of them to press for cider – that’s another story. I made what seemed like vast amounts of applesauce, apple leather, and dried apples. That is, the amounts seemed vast while I was toting around a 9-month-old, making frequent nursing breaks, and fielding endless questions from a curious 4-year-old. After the supply of apples was exhausted, of course, what I had made seemed far less than adequate. There’s always next year to make even more, right? (Yes, we’ll be getting much, much, much more this year.)

Learning to make dried apples was an exercise in patience, as I tried several approaches over three or four weeks. I feel that I’ve perfected the method now. I can’t get enough of those things – I could eat them all year and not get tired of them. (Hint: skim aaalllll the way to the bottom for a short-and-sweet recipe that will fill 4 dehydrator trays with apple slices.)

Step 1: Prep the apples.

When I started making dried apples, I left the skins on, used a cylinder-shaped coring tool to punch out the cores, and used a mandolin to slice the apples. The mandolin, being cheap and weak, didn’t work all that well — the slices weren’t all the same thickness, they were weirdly corrugated, and it cut aggravatingly on a slant — but it was much faster than slicing by hand. The corer was faulty too: it was difficult to aim correctly, and it was smaller than the actual apple cores, so I kept getting leftover core in the apple, and removing good apple flesh with the corer. 

Then one wonderful day, I visited Wilco, a local farm store, and came across an amazing device: an apple peeler-corer-slicer made by Weston, a maker of sturdy and useful farm-kitchen products. I adore this tool – not, however, as much as Niko and Sofia do. Sofia can actually turn the handle herself given a crisp enough apple, and ohhhh the thrill! 

   

  You can see details on the slicer here. Using this delightful tool, I now know that dried apples have a better texture without the peels. It’s not enough of a difference that I’d hand-peel dozens of apples if I didn’t have it, though, especially since everyone knows (says my mother) that all the good vitamins are in the skin. Right? 

Anyway, the point is, for dried apples, you want fairly thin slices, around 1/8 inch thickness. Slice in rounds from end to end after coring. They need to be the same thickness so they dry at the same rate, so unless you have a very steady hand, slicing them by hand isn’t that great. Good tools: a mandolin (a high-quality one), a Kitchen Aid-type slicer attachment, a manual countertop slicer. If you use a peeler-corer-slicer like mine, the apples will be cut in a giant spiral, so you can just make a slice right down one side of the spiral to get a stack of neat circles. Start with about 6 apples to fill 4 trays on a dehydrator.

Step 2: Blanch the slices.

 Don’t skip this step. When I started, I thought I would make lovely unsweetened dried apples that were as close to their original state as possible, thus preserving all the natural goodness and removing unnecessary sugar from my children’s diet. They were…okay. Mediocre. Nothing to write home about. Actually, they were tough and much more tart than the original apples. I came to the realization that blanching is really helpful. Also, dipping them into sugar water doesn’t increase the amount of sugar in this snack a substantial amount. They’re still barely sweetened, very healthy, vitamin-rich, high-fiber food items!

Over the final weeks of last summer, I tried various blanching methods until I finally got it just right. 

Fill a medium stock pot with 8-10 cups of water, leaving room to add apple slices. Add  1½ cups of brown sugar, ½ cup of honey, ¼ cup of cinnamon (the bulk section at the grocery store is your friend here – or Costco), and a hearty sprinkle of nutmeg – let’s say 1 teaspoon if you like it as much as I do. That is a lot of nutmeg; I am a big fan of nutmeg, and you can distinctly taste it in the dried apples, so cut it back if it’s not your favorite flavor. Heat the mixture just to boiling, then turn the heat down low. On my JennAir range, circa 1985, this keeps the water barely moving. I wouldn’t even call it a simmer. But the point isn’t to cook the apples – just give them some flavor, and soften them a bit so they’re not tough once dried. And the sugar actually seems to improve the texture, too. Leave them in the blanching liquid for 1-5 minutes at a simmer till barely soft, 5-10 minutes if the water is merely very hot (a good idea if a toddler is helping you), then scoop out. You won’t hurt them if you’re distracted by a squalling toddler and leave them in there for ten minutes or so, as long as it’s really not boiling, but they don’t need that kind of time.  The reason I’m giving such a wide range of time for blanching? When I was making these, I was slicing a pile of apples, tossing them in, slicing, tossing…till the pot seemed full, then stirring for a minute and scooping them all out, and I found they all turned out about the same. This is the least scientific cooking I’ve ever done, but amazingly enough, they’re just fine! I use a wide mesh ladle for scooping, which also works well for distributing them around the rack. 

 This is a good place to add a piece of advice: If you plan to make more dried apples, don’t dump out your blanching liquid when you’re done. Cover it and refrigerate it until you’re ready for the next batch. You should have plenty to do at least one more. No need to waste all that lovely cinnamon!

Step 3: Arrange on the drying racks.

Spread the slices on dehydrator racks, or on cooling racks on cookie trays. The important part here is to leave room for air circulation, while maximizing space. Translation: Don’t let the pieces touch. 

 I have learned to put a fruit leather tray under the bottom rack in the dehydrator to catch drips. It makes the bottom rack a little unsteady, so be cautious if you’re moving the dehydrator after filling the racks. The tray makes cleanup much, much easier, since it — unlike the dehydrator base — can be immersed in water. 

Step 4: Dry.

How long you let them dry depends on how you like your apples. I like mine two ways: just barely dried, so they’re velvety-soft, and crispy. For velvet-textured apples, turn the dehydrator’s temperature setting on 135-140 and dry for 4 hours. Check them periodically. The apples at the bottom of the stack of trays, and the smaller circles, dry faster, so some might be done after only three hours while others may need five. For crispy ones, set it for 140 at 6 pm, intending to turn off the dehydrator at bedtime, and then go into the garage at 9 the following morning to do laundry and discover it still running. That worked just perfectly for me. 

If you don’t have a dehydrator, place the baking sheets that you filled in step 3 into an oven set to “Warm” (unless the temperature setting on your oven goes all the way down to 135 – mine doesn’t) for about four hours, checking periodically to see how the texture is. It might be useful to first use an oven thermometer to see how hot “Warm” actually is, since you would need to adjust your time if it’s over 140.

Step 5: Devour.

            Eat them by the handful. Put them into school lunches. Cut them up into granola or cook them in hot oatmeal. Mix them with pretzels, cranberries, and nuts for a fall time snack. However you eat them, expect them to go fast. You’ll be lucky if they last a day. They’re that good!

Here’s a less chatty format for those who want to read a recipe the traditional way:

Dried Apples jpeg

This post has been updated with current photos, corresponding dates so readers who know me aren’t confused, and slightly improved information. Enjoy!

Drying Fruit and Memories

This summer, as our fruit (blueberries, cherries, raspberries, apples) began to ripen, Aaron came home one weekend with a dehydrator. It’s round and shiny-white, shaped like a donut with a too-small center hole, and has four drying trays plus a fruit leather tray liner and a liner for jerky. So I’ve spent the summer’s end learning to dry fruit. My greatest success by far has been apples, both slices and leather. You can see my method for drying apples here.

Now, I’m no stranger to drying fruit. For seven years, between ages four and eleven, I lived with my family (and another family for three years, plus assorted winter visitors for the next few years) on a remote homestead in British Columbia, Canada. My father trapped during the winter, and we used the money he earned from furs to buy supplies we needed to live each year. Yes, one shopping trip per year. And we had no refrigerator or freezer. No electricity at all, except for the weekly laundry day when we

This is very close to what our machine looked like, except my mother never looked that excited to use it. Nor did she wear a white-collared dress while operating it.
This is very close to what our machine looked like, except my mother never looked that excited to use it. Nor did she wear a white-collared dress while operating it.

would start up the generator to run the ancient wringer washer – a big improvement from the manual James washer that sat out back behind a shed. Fuel had to be boated down the Stikine River in huge 50-gallon drums in our 20-foot skiff, so we didn’t use that generator any more than we absolutely had to.

With no refrigeration or weekly shopping trips, we had only what fresh food we could forage or hunt from the forest, catch in the river, or grow in our garden. I know that sounds like the life of Hansel and Gretel, pre-stepmother, but it’s what we did. And we dried or canned as much as we could for winter, since we wouldn’t have access to any fresh food once hunting season was over. I liked the dried food best – it had less mush. Raspberries. High-bush cranberries (properly known as lingonberries). Saskatoons. Strawberries. Thimbleberries. And we occasionally had crab apples from a neighbor (which here means, anyone living within a 30-mile radius). Once we even had bananas.

At some point, my dad built a drying shed. He dug a square pit, about 3 feet deep, and put a barrel stove in the bottom of it – that’s a stove made from a large metal barrel. They’re actually pretty effective. You can get kits for them, with a door and legs and hardware for a chimney. This stove was rustic looking, not like the nicer one he made for our cabin, which had heat-resistant black paint covering it and a big flat silver tray fitted onto the top for heating a giant pot of water for laundry and baths. The one in the drying shed had whatever flakes of paint still clung to the original barrel, interspersed with large areas of gently rusted steel. No one cared what this one looked like. He built walls around the pit once the stove was in, with a tightly-fitting door covering the whole front side. The walls had supports all around for sliding trays made of window screen material. We would put whatever we were drying – meat, vegetables, fruit – onto the screens, slide them in, and let them sit with the stove gently heating them until they were dry.

I asked my mom how she dried fruit before my dad built the drying shed – I was

Our stove was less ornate , white-enameled, and had an enclosed warming oven where this stove has a shelf. Otherwise, it looks pretty familiar.
Our stove was less ornate , white-enameled, and had an enclosed warming oven where this stove has a shelf. Otherwise, it looks pretty familiar.

small enough at that point that I don’t remember much as far as culinary skills. She thinks she used the warming oven in our big cast-iron range (think Blueberries for Sal, and you should have a good picture of our stove). So I’m guessing all you readers with modern kitchens, but lacking a dehydrator or a niftily-built drying shed, could still use my method for drying apples – you would just need to turn your ovens on low.

No, I’m no stranger to drying fruit. But my memories are nearly useless living, as I do, in a rural area less than half an hour from a major city. Drying fruit should be accompanied by the aroma of smoke in the air, the unique smell of cranberries (I know, I KNOW, lingonberries, sorry) ripening amid fallen leaves. Drying fruit comes with the creak of a wooden door, the rush of earth-metal-fruit-scented air in my face, the smooth glide of a screen pulling free from the rails. Using a dehydrator, after a drying shed or a cast-iron range, feels somehow artificial. Perhaps I feel I’m not working hard enough. In any case, the apples are delicious, and while I miss the nostalgic connection to my roots, I’m happy to have the ease of my shiny new dehydrator – all I need now is more trays for bigger batches!

You can click here for a more modern approach to drying apples!