We're still drying apples from last year's store. Well, to give credit where credit is due, the apples are doing a pretty good job of drying themselves. Some of the apples reside in our spare fridge in the basement, some in an old cooler in a chilly part of the basement. Almost all have softened, and many are basically rotten, but it actually smells really good down there, sweetly fragrant, orchardy; makes you think of hayrides, mulled cider. Apples may be unique in this quality of smelling good even when frankly spoiled.
The ones that are not spoiled are still not all that appetizing in appearance--shriveled, shrunken, they'd be garbage at worst, compost at best, to the too-fastidious eye. No one would put them into the kid's lunchbox, except as a cruel prank. But I don't look at them as halfway gone fresh apples; rather, I see them as being halfway to greatness as dried apples.
We dry them in this gizmo here, our mighty Nesco American Harvester. I started to research food dehydrators last fall, and quickly became bewildered in a maze of sizes, shapes, prices, energy efficiency. I gave up. Then one day at Menard's we came across the Nesco, on sale for around $30, I think. I remembered that Emily and Dan, our young heroes, use one of these babies. We snapped it up. Haven't looked back.
We also bought a corer-peeler device, which works a treat on fresh apples; with these soft, well-aged beauties I left the skin on, just cored and sliced. They only took a couple of hours to finish drying up to tart-sweet, chewy, aromatic morsels.
We use them as: Doggies treats--Annabel and Lily love them. People treats--Mary and I scarf them eagerly, too. In granola, in salads, and as a local (and free) alternative to many dried fruits in recipes. Today I'm going to make a recipe for lamb meatballs with beets that's been calling to me since I saw it in a recent Saveur. I've got the last of our garden beets from 2009, and Anne (Sheepy Hollow) Leck's awesome lamb. The recipe calls for currants; chopped dried apples will take their place.
You'll still find last year's apples at whatever farmers markets are open through the year, and there likely will be some at markets getting set to open in May. I know Denny Havlicek brought some holdovers to our market (Midtown Farmers' Market ) last spring (we hit the Lake Street parking lot May 1 this year, three weeks from Saturday, yikes!).
Remember: It's never too late to dehydrate.
Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw