I was in a pickle (no pun intended) with this month’s challenge. It was a twofer — drying and dehydration, OR pressure canning — but I own neither a food dehydrator nor a pressure canner, and it’s not a good time for me to invest in either.
I opted for dehydration, since I figured I could dry fruit in the oven… and then watched as October crept steadily past me. With the holidays approaching and my training runs getting longer and longer, it was difficult to find a weekend day that I was going to be home long enough to leave fruit in the oven for long enough to dry it. I refuse to leave the oven on while I’m away from the house or asleep, for safety reasons — especially with the door propped with a wooden spoon. (While I realize that most cats are too smart to stick their nose in a hot oven… you don’t know my cats. Look. They are really, really special.)
This weekend I finally had a day to myself, and a handful of apples from my CSA that needed to be used. So after a little bit of research, I set out to make apple rings using my convection oven.
My apple corer is a gadget I seldom use — but every time I do, it makes it well worth the small allocation of storage space. I opted to leave the apple skins on, largely because they were a mixed variety of apples, and I’ve found that the peeler tends to be a little too powerful for apples without firm flesh. Besides — I like apple skins, and the texture of dried skins appeals to me.
I followed a recommendation to soak the cored apples in a 16:1 mixture of water to lemon juice in order to reduce browning, but I’m not sure how much of a difference it made. (When you avoid browning your apples, but then sprinkle them with brown spice, and put them in the oven, which browns things…?) I pressed the rings between a layer of clean towel to remove excess moisture, and laid them out on baking sheets. I didn’t have enough drying racks to add those, but hoped the nubbly texture of the baking sheets would help provide circulation under the apples. (Spoilers: It didn’t.) In the spirit of experimentation, I sprinkled one sheet with cinnamon, and the other with Penzey’s cake spice. My oven’s lowest temperature was 200F — higher than the recommended 150-170 — so I stuck a wooden spoon in the oven to prop the door, set a timer for five hours, and waited.
Periodically I checked the apples, shifting them around on the tray when they started to stick a little to the bottom. At five hours they were still crunchy on the inside. I tried closing the door and letting 200 degrees do its job, but without the extra air circulation of the open door, the apples just started to take on moisture again. It seems the propped door’s main purpose is to let moisture out!
After eight hours, the apples were still not as dry as I’d like — but I was done. I was tired of going into the kitchen to check on them. I pulled them out, let them cool, and tucked them into a tupperware container, deciding that I’d probably eat them before mold could set in anyway. Two cookie sheets’ worth of apple rings did not make for much yield, given the amount of time they were taking in the oven. I’d still had apple slices left over for a second batch, but was not up to the task.
I love dehydrated fruit and jerky. But this exercise was a frustrating flop for me. My almost-dehydrated-apple-rings are tasty (both with cinnamon and with cake spice!), but weren’t worth the hassle, and seem a scant reward for the investment. To be fair, October has been a very difficult month for me, and I wasn’t in the best frame of mind yesterday. But I’m convinced the oven-dehydration approach would be frustrating any day of the year.
That doesn’t mean that this month’s exercise wasn’t educational, though. Yesterday I learned that, if you want to dehydrate food, buy the gadget. Buy it! Sometimes gadgets are 100% justified. A dehydrator may end up on my Christmas wish list…
(Bonus: While the apple rings were drying, forever and ever and ever, I made another batch of last month’s maple bourbon apple butter, this time in a slow cooker with the proper citrus ingredient, and with splendid results!)