Apples, Apples, and more… APPLES! Cheap and easy fruit processing ideas.

Naptime Gnome Idea #1

Manzana Mania!

I have the sweetest memories of sitting on the counter helping my mom process apples as a kid. We dried most of them in a dehydrator. Once they were dry I helped pack the bags. Eat one, put one in the bag, eat one, put one in the bag…. luckily they always came back from Apple Hill, Ca., with a Suburban FULL of apples!

It was the annual “girls’ trip” and the fruit, they picked themselves or purchased at roadside stands, lasted us through the year.  Since we never really ate sweets as kids, it was our version of candy. I still feel a little naughty sitting down with a bag full of dried fruit.  I REALLY love apples! I also happen to really LOVE free. So, it only follows that I REALLY LOVE free apples!!!

As luck would have it, we have an uncanny abundance of ridiculously talented people in our family (I can assure you there is no bias here), and you will meet more of them in greater depth in the future.  But for now, and the focus of this post, the outcome of Grandpa’s green thumb, and Grandma’s organization skills and how they land ME oodles of delicious FREE apples every year. THANK YOU GRANDMA AND GRANDPA! I LOVE YOU!!!

Between Grandma’s keen eye on the calendar, prompting time sensitive orchard tending and Grandpa’s gardening magic, their trees came up with an unparallelled bumper crop of apples. So after a day of picking, in which I somehow managed to wrangle kiddos all day, while Super Hubby (the only one, I may add, that wanted nothing to do with the picking in the first place) and Grandpa (“The Incredible”), picked enough apples to warm my little heart, but fill my laundry room with brimming vessels.

Did you sense that little touch of cynicism towards the end, nope, not your imagination, legit – here’s why…

Two major events have recently transpired in the world of the Nap Gnome: 

  1. The recent nap boycott, spearheaded by Little Bear, has limited the midday work session, at least until school starts in a few weeks (apparently the Gnome Labor Union has no pull in such matters).
  2. SOMEBODY inundated her beautiful new laundry room with apples!

The coupling of these events has forced the Naptime Gnome to shift to crepuscular habits.  In the race against rapid decomposition, the apples have been painstakingly processed to more shelf stable forms all in the glow of predawn and shadows of the evening.

Of course there was so much to do in the waking hours the Gnome was forced to allow us common folk to help a bit with the apple processing. The kidlets really enjoyed working the apple corer, and the sampling, always the sampling! So while the Gnome was originally slightly stressed at the prospect of this undertaking, it turned out that she rather enjoyed sharing the burden and the shift to cooler work hours! It’s no wonder so many desert creatures opt for crepuscular habits, who wouldn’t want to spend all their time out and about when the oven they call home is merely preheating?

Speaking of OVEN, that brings us to the favored methods of processing said apples. While everyone else is complaining about how blasted hot it is in Southern Nevada in the Summer, the Gnome has gone and used it to her advantage, so here we go!

Sun-Drying!

This was actually a happy accident we stumbled upon a few years ago when I borrowed my mom’s old dehydrator (that hadn’t been used in a decade, maybe two… but is that really relevant?:). 

So here’s the back story, after getting all the trays loaded with cleaned, cored, skinned and sliced apples (insert dance of joy here). Situating the dehydrator out on the back patio (so it wouldn’t unnecessarily heat up the house), plugging it in, loading it with said trays, turning it on and… CLICK… what?… Try that again… CLICK… uh oh.

It was in that moment, that it occurred to me, while standing in the backyard in VEGAS in AUGUST, that we lived in a great big dehydrator (ok, I know, should have been a little quicker on that one).

So I removed the tiles from our patio table to allow better air flow, set the trays in the sun with a fan blowing over the array to keep the flies away (which turned out to be overkill as not even the flies will brave Vegas in August, even to snag a free lunch), and presto, Mother Nature’s dehydrator! The following year and hither to, I simplified to no fan, and just a big sheet of solar screen (purchased at the Lowe’s end of the year sidewalk sale for a couple bucks) laid out over the tile-less table to allow for more apples. About 6 hours later, perfectly dried apples, ready to bag!

I prefer to bag them in plain paper lunch bags as they are less likely to stick together and they also make for cute, fast and simple gifts with the addition of two holes and a bit of ribbon. The little plastic bag pictured below represents one apple. That’s right, about 12 slices with a standard cork-screw corer/peeler (like this one) adds up to one apple… be careful with your portions… very… very… careful! Unless, of course, you are looking to, um, get things moving.

Fruit Leather
Fruit leather, fruit strips, or fruit roll-ups, whatever your family calls them, I don’t think I’ve met a kid that doesn’t appreciate one now and again, and again, and again! The best part is they’re super easy and you can use up all the scraps to make them!  


Basic Fruit Leather Directions

    1. Fill a blender about halfway with peeled and pitted fruit. The corer mentioned above is great for this too.
    2. Add juice (you only need enough to allow the fruit to blend smooth), if the fruit is drier you’ll need more.  With apples I usually end up adding almost enough juice to cover, but start blending with about half that much and add as needed to keep things mixing.
    3. Pour onto a smooth (the smoother the better), non-stick surface. I use silicone mats on cookie sheets. But you can also cover cookie sheets with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
    4. Spread the mixture evenly to about 1/4″ thick. Any thin spots could result in holes, but pouring too thick may not dry completely and may not keep.
    5. Place in the sun, away from trees where things may drop on it (or worse, get bird bombed!)
    6. Dry until it peels cleanly from the surface (they take the better part of the day in dry weather). If it feels tacky to the touch in the middle, you got some time to wait gnome-girl.
    7. If they are not dry by nightfall, bring them in and store in the fridge overnight and start again in the morning, or place in the oven at 100℉ (38 – 40℃) until dry. Otherwise you may end up with sampled goods once the mice come out to play! ~ Unfortunately, I’m speaking from experience… darn mouse!
    8. Once dry, peel and cut to desired shape/size, roll in plastic wrap or place in a sandwich bag.  

    These keep at least a year. We’ve never had one make it much longer than that, simply because I have to hide them just to get them to last THAT long. So their actual shelf-life is still undetermined by us. I just like to have them around until the next apple season!

    MIX IT UP!
    Try mixing various fruits and fruit juices. This year we thawed some cranberries that had been hiding in the freezer since Thanksgiving and juiced them to add to the apples. The result was quite tasty. We also juiced the last of the grapes from our vines to make apple-grape.  The third variety we played with this year was mostly apple and apple juice mixed with a handful of thawed mixed berries. So far, “apple-berry” is Little Bear’s favorite!
     

    Make your own juice
    You can use store-bought juice if you like, but we usually have so many mangled apples that we like to juice the ones we’ve cut boo-boos out of and use the thick juice (too thick to drink without straining) in the blender with the dry pithy apples, as they do not stick together well enough to peel nice “rings” apart to dry. I also juice the skins that come off the corer and 2/3’s of the core (I toss the seed portion). The pithy waste makes a great addition to compost or you can run it down the garbage disposal.  I once attempted to make cookies with it.  I was unpopular with the dessert monsters for some time to follow.

    Sweeter Treats
    I’ve read recipes in the past that add sweetener like honey, granulated sugar, corn syrup or agave.  I’ve never tried sweetening with anything but juice, but if you find yours are too tart, it may be worth a try! For a lower sugar leather you can use water instead of juice, it just evaporates off and leaves the fruit behind, but it tends to be less pliable.

    Add some protein
    I also tried a few with yogurt (basically did a generic smoothy recipe with plain yogurt, frozen bananas, apples, berries and apple juice). I liked the result, but I think I was the only one in the house that was a fan. You have to make sure you do not go too thin when pouring, as it cracked very easily while drying.

    Apple Sauce

    We’ve tried various apple sauce recipes and methods over the years, and honestly, I don’t think you can screw up apple sauce, but some are definitely better than others. We are not into canning, mostly because it’s a pain and requires more sugar than I like to use, but we freezer can as an alternative.

    Last year Mom and I attempted my grandparents tried and true recipe using a “Squeezo,” after two batches we decided that was way too much of a mess and we seemed to be loosing as much product as we were making.  The recipe we liked best was a crockpot method we found on the internet and I used a similar one this year.

    You’ll find I NEVER strictly stick to a recipe, so here is the link to the inspiration, and below is the method we used:

    • Fill a standard Crockpot with peeled, cored, sliced apples
    • Add 1/2 to 1 cup of sugar (OPTIONAL)
    • Cook on low until soft (5 – 6 hours)
    • Stir periodically
    • Add cinnamon to taste if desired
    • Mash with a potato masher or toss in the blender or mixer to make a smoother sauce
    • Pour into jars, let cool, and store in the freezer (lasts at least a year in the freezer, a week or so in the fridge)

    My favorite variety was 1/2 cup of sugar and about 1 tsp. of cinnamon and left chunky.

    Baby Food and Baking Apple Sauce
    We always do some no sugar/no cinnamon added. I like to freeze these in ice cube trays to use as baby food and for baking (the best part is when you want to make cookies just take out as many cubes as you need – measure your tray recesses by pouring water into one cubby and dumping into a measuring cup – and let them thaw in the mixer for a half hour and then add the rest of the ingredients. My ice cube trays are 1/8 cup (larger than average) so I never have to “measure,” just grab and toss!

    Instant Dessert All Year!
    Apple crisp is only moments away! Also great as apple compote on pancakes or waffles. The sweeter varieties can be spread like apple butter too. The dessert monsters around the house liked the full cup of sugar with a bit more cinnamon, left chunky, and then baked in a pie plate with a buttery crumble on top. YUM!

    Hungry? There’s an App(le) for that!

    ENJOY!

     P.S.:Do you have a favorite apple recipe? DO SHARE!!

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