The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Harvest Of Apples

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1986

Issue: September, 1986

We've all heard the old adage "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." In the mountains, every family planted fruit trees and apples were one of the stock items. Apples were depended upon as a major part of the diet through the winter months.

Apples were cut up and dried to keep for winter. The peelings were not thrown away, but put in a big pot on the stove to make apple jelly. That was only the beginning.

Apples were stored in layers of hay for winter eating. Apples were baked, fried, made into apple butter, pies, cakes, fried pies, applesauce... Nothing was wasted. If some of the apples started to go bad, they were fed as treats to horses and pigs.

A good orchard or even a couple of trees were a secure assurance to families that they would have enough food to make it through the winter. Fruit trees were a very valuable asset, almost as good as money in the bank, maybe better.

If you would like to prepare your own modern day larder of apples for winter, we are following this article with information about putting apples away.

You can buy apples by the bushel at produce markets or at orchards. Most orchards have apples that aren't up to commercial grading that are less expensive, but taste just as good. If you would like to contact orchards, ask about what they call "drops."

Different types of apples are better for different purposes. Some of the best slow ripening, long keeping apple varieties are Golden Delicious, Winesap, Stamen. Among those that cook down best for apple butter are Golden Delicious, Winesap, Stamen. Those that dry best are Rome Beauty, Grimes Golden Delicious, Stamen.

You may write for free information about Virginia Apples which include recipes from the Virginia State Apple Board, P.O. Box 718, Staunton, VA 24401. They ask that you send a self addressed stamped envelope with your request.

How To Dry Apples

You will need apples, a comfortable paring knife (you might rub blisters in the course of peeling a bushel of apples), a big container of water with 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in it and last of all, a means to dry the apples.

When you peel the apples, drop them in the container of salt water. When the container gets full of apples, take them out and slice them and arrange on a drying rack so they do not touch each other. The salt water keeps the apples from turning brown.

Some people buy a dehydrator to dry their fruit in. You can find them at most hardware or department stores. Air drying racks can be made like a shallow box, with wooden sides and a copper screen bottom. The wire allows air to flow and the apples dry easier. Old timers dried apples by laying them on a cloth, cheese cloth or a clean sheet. Some placed this cloth on the roof to get direct access to the sunlight. Another method is to thread a sewing needle with a course thread and string the apple slices and hang to dry.

You will want to dry apples on days that are not humid. Humid days can cause apples to mold before they dry.

If apple slices are dried on a rack or cloth, they will need turning as they dry, to allow moisture to escape better. The time it takes to dry varies, depending on the dampness in the air and heat. It takes patience and sometimes several days.

When the apples are thoroughly dry, you can place then in jars or air tight containers, or store them in cloth bags as my grandmother did. Apples dried on a string can remain on the string, hanging as decoration for your kitchen.

To use dried apples, wash them first and let them soak in a container of water overnight, or until they have absorbed as much water as they will. Add sugar and butter to your taste and stew them as you would fresh apples.

Fried Apples

Select fresh apples. Cut away bad spots and cut out cores and seeds, but do not peel. Apple peelings have a lot of flavor, nutrition and are good bulk in your diet.

Slice apples. Melt butter in a saucepan at medium heat. Have the patience to cook them slow. A higher temperature will only burn your butter, your apples or both.

Add sliced apples to melted butter and put sugar on top of apples. Add cinnamon and/or nutmeg if you desire.

Stir apples often to prevent sticking. Do not add water unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent sticking, then only add very small amounts. The apples should cook up firm and transparent. Do not put a cover on the apples while they are cooking as it will cause water to condense on the lid and drop in the apples and turn them to mush.

If you want the apples to cook to the consistency of applesauce, add water and cover to get that consistency. But, old fashioned fried apples had a firm consistency and fairly dripped with butter.

Apple Peeling Jelly

In a large pot with about a quart of water in it, place apple peelings until the water is as thick with peeling as it can get and peeling are not above water. Bring to a boil and continue boiling slowly until peelings are done and the liquid is a golden color. Take off the burner and cool. Strain through a cloth into another pot. Do not squeeze the cloth as it will make your jelly muddy instead of clear. Add equal amount of sugar to liquid and reheat. If you are using a commercial thickening agent, prepare it as to the directions on the container. If you have access to crab apples, they have a large quantity of natural pectin in them. It's what makes them so sour. If you add a couple of them to your peelings when they are cooked, they will thicken the jelly for you.

Boil the sugar-juice liquid until it starts to thicken or until it reaches the jelly stage on a cooking thermometer. Pour into small jars and seal with canning lids or melted paraffin.