[for "Living Within", September 2017]
Meterologically speaking, autumn is official - as of 1 September. We can expect the usual mists and mellow fruitfulness: apples, pears - quinces too if we are lucky - warm toned, potentially complex in flavour and longer-lasting than many of the softer fruit of summer; good to bake in a pudding, a pie, a tart, or a cake, or good to keep for a while too. I reached a tipping point this last weekend where the remains of a windfall of pretty pink-toned, small eating apples, originally gifted in large quantity by a friend, and lacking strength in flavour to match their beautiful appearance, had mellowed enough to need some preservation if they were not to risk slow demise under my eye (#blessedbethefruit).
To intensify their delicacy of flavour into something a little more interesting, and maybe also to try and counteract the dampening effect on spirits as the rain started to fall (again) outside, I learned how to dry them and made them into apple rings. I won’t lie, there is a bit of work in the preparation, but I also enjoyed the quiet contemplation afforded by the simple challenge of peeling each apple via one continuous spiralling strip.
If you are of a mind to give drying a go (and the results make very good snack material), the method I used follows.
First peel your apples (incidentally, you can also keep and dry the peel separately and use it to infuse with, or as a type of, tea). Then core with an apple corer - a simple but dedicated tool that pushes a cylinder of apple core out of the apple in one (or two) neat, clean pushes but keeps the outside shape of the apple intact.
Slice the apple as thinly and evenly as you can with a sharp knife, or a mandoline, to create cross-sections of apple with a hole in the middle. There is more than one method of drying: you can thread the rings on strings and do them the old fashioned way - hung up in garlands somewhere airy, not too light and not at all damp, and leave them for a week or more, until they are dried and still a bit chewy. Or you can dry them in a dehydrator if you happen to have one (I don’t).
The method that I chose was to dry them in a very low oven (not higher than about 100ºC). I put the rings that I had sliced in one layer on a sheet of baking parchment and sprinkled them with spice (cinnamon is often used with apples), left them for an hour before I checked them, and then checked them regularly until they had dried, were taking on a bit of a golden colour and would lift easily from the baking parchment (depending on your oven, the thickness of your apple slices and the result that you want to achieve - on a spectrum from: soft; chewy; not taking on too much colour, to: dried; golden; crisp - there is a certain amount of “more or less” to factor in).
Then I would have stored them in airtight jars - ready to be snacked on during the weeks ahead - only the family caught sight of them, were curious to try them, and as their curiosity turned to enjoyment, they somewhat absentmindedly, and over the course of a few hours more, polished them all off instead - which I guess is a testament to their success. They “should” keep for at least a week, or more; much will depend on how dry they start and how airtight the method of storage.
[Full Poem, based on the Nicolaes Maes picture (above) can be found via this link]