Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Apples, apples, apples!

The past week or so, I've been working my way through a huge bag of apples that I bought on a trip up north. For the past couple of years, I've been buying "deer apples" - apples that have flaws, holes, buises, or are just too small to sell. There really is nothing wrong with them, except that they don't quite fit the perfect, red, round, smooth image we have of apples.

There is no way I can eat all the apples I buy, nor would I want to. So I make dried apples slices and apple sauce. (Pies and other desserts are both too tempting and unlikely to be consumed in a timely manner.) In winter, or when I'm traveling, it's fun and healthy to have my dried apple slices to munch on. I also use them in oatmeal or other dishes. The apple sauce is sometimes given away to friends or added to yogurt or oatmeal.

This year I'm trying to be especially frugal and not waste anything. It's fun to see how much I can get out of the same batch of apples. This year, here's what I've produced:

1. Apples, plain. Obviously, I've eaten some apples. I've also given them away on Halloween. My next door neighbor told me her young grandchildren were fascinated by the tiny apples I gave away. Maybe they thought someone produced child-sized apples just for them.

2. Dried apple slices. These are so great when you are on the go. It's often hard to find healthy snacks when traveling, or sometimes fruits and veggies are hard to find even in restaurants. I can carry these dried apples when biking, XC skiing, hiking, or just as a treat.

I've had a dehydrator for years, and I love it. Besides apple slices, I dry tomatoes, cantaloupe, and even watermelon. (Yes, you can dehydrate watermelon. The pieces are chewy and taste like candy. All the sugar is concentrated. Yummy.) One year I bought a case of peaches when driving back from Michigan. Dried peaches were a real treat.

To peel, core, and spiral slice the apples, I bought a nifty device at Ace Hardware, but you can order it on-line as well. Your grandmother (or great-grandmother, depending on your age) probably had one of these. I can just fly through a pile of apples with this thing. It clamps onto your counter or cutting board, and you just stick an apple on the prongs, turn the crank, and it does everything. Works just as well today as it did three or four generations ago.

3. Apple sauce. The peels are a bit tough if you leave them on when you dry the apples, and they can even be a bit chewy in applesauce, depending on the variety. But I didn't want to throw away the peels, because they had some apple meat on them as well. So I just thew all the peels, and the end pieces that didn't get properly peeled, into a crock pot to cook up. I like to experiment, so in addition to brown sugar and cinnamon, I added a little red pepper, ginger, and nutmeg. Spicy apple sauce, why not?

After the apple sauce has cooked, and everything is both well mixed and soft, I put it all through a food mill to remove the peels and produce a smooth sauce. Another device that dates back to generations past: a Foley food mill. You just throw everything in the mill, turn the crank, and out comes apple sauce. What remains goes in the compost bin. I also use the food mill to make tomato sauce when tomatoes are cheap and plentiful.

Peeler/corer/slicer, crock pot, food mill, and dehydrator, not to mention a solid cutting board of good size and a good knife. Great things, these old kitchen gadgets.

But I'm still not done with the apple product production. When I put the apples in the crock pot, I added some water, to make sure the peels and chunks didn't burn. But I ended up putting too much in, and there was quite a bit of liquid when I went to make the apple sauce. I poured some of it off, so the apple sauce wouldn't be too thin and watery. But the liquid looked really good, so I tried drinking it. Wow! Great stuff. So, the last item from the peeled, cored, slices, cooked, spiced, and drained apples is

5. Spiced apple juice. And today I tried it three different ways. Plain, mixed with black tea, and mixed with dark rum. Although it's really good plain, and the tea-juice drink was very tasty, the cocktail of spiced apple juice and dark rum is amazing. So if my blogging is a bit odd, blame it on my spiced apple rum friend on the table here.

Finally, all the cores and few bad bits, plus the peels and dregs from milling the apple sauce goes in the compost bin. More food for next year's garden.

I'm very happy with what came out of that bag of apples.

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