Monday, 13 November 2017

Processing apples

Harvest from one of our 12 trees
This year we had our first proper apple harvest, which prompted me to look into storing them for eating fresh through the winter. In a nutshell, I learnt that late-season apples are the best bet for storage and found out that hardly any of our apple varieties store well at all. So, Plan B: process them all before they were past their best, which turned out to be by early November for the two varieties with the best keeping qualities. We've now discovered that we actually prefer the apples in their processed forms rather than fresh, which is just as well.

We made every apple thing we could think of:
  • Dried apple rings
  • Apple sauce
  • Apple ice cream
  • Fruit leathers
  • Apple jelly
  • Apple wine
  • Cider
  • Cider vinegar
  • Apple cordial
  • Apple crumble (or pie)
  • Baked apples.

I forgot about apple butter, which is on the agenda for next year. Apart from the cider, everything turned out absolutely delicious. The cider is OK, but probably best mulled or turned into vinegar. Next year, wine or cordial only!

First off, I'd recommend the following equipment for speedy processing of apples:

  • steam juicer
  • electric dehydrator
  • apple corer
  • mandolin slicer.
Rosehips and apple thinnings in the steam juicer

I don't peel any of my apples - life's too short and there's all sorts of goodness in the skin. To separate the apples into juice and pulp, simply fill the steam juicer with your apples (zero processing needed) and steam for 90 to 120 minutes. Steaming times will depend on the apple type (one cooking variety took just 60 minutes to break down completely). Drain the juice (usually around one litre per fill) and reserve for further processing into jelly, wine, cider or cordial. Then mash through as much of the remaining pulp as possible. This results in a very fine apple sauce, which can form the base of fruit leather, ice cream or simply be bottled or frozen as apple sauce. Any few remaining bits left in the top of the steam juicer are gratefully received by chickens (if you have any) or can be composted.

Dried rings

Apple ring central
This is a great way of preserving apples. The dried rings are lovely to snack on and can also be used in baking throughout the year. Our main use for them is in our morning porridge, where they reconstitute into apple bits. Since we don't buy any fruit, I made 17 large jars of these, which will hopefully last us until June when the new season strawberries will be ripe.

To make apple rings, core the apples and mandolin slice to about 4mm (just under a quarter inch) thick. To prevent discolouration, dip into water with a little citric acid or lemon juice before dehydrating. Lay out the apple rings on your dehydrator trays so that they're not touching and dry at around 60°C/140°F. Drying times will vary depending on the dehydrator and your atmospheric conditions (anything from 4 to 10 hours) - best to check every hour from about the 4 hour mark and remove the rings that are dry. They should be leathery, but not brittle, and not show any signs of moisture when cut. Let them cool for 5-10 minutes and immediately store in an airtight jar.

Apple sauce

A very versatile and efficient way to store apples. You can either freeze it or bottle/can it (using the water bath method or heat the filled preserving jars in the oven at 170°C until bubbles start to form). Either use the puree from your steam juicer or core and mandolin slice 20-odd apples and cook on low heat with a little sugar, plus raisins or spices such as cinnamon or ginger, if desired. The sauce itself makes a lovely dessert, served on its own or with cream, creme fraiche or ice cream, or can be used as a pie filling at a later stage.

Ice cream

Follow our recipe for strawberry ice cream, but substitute the strawberry puree with fine apple sauce (from the steam juicer) and a generous pinch of cinnamon. This is one of the most delicious ice creams ever and we don't know why this isn't a known flavour.

Fruit leathers

Apple and quince fruit leather
The big discovery of the autumn. Wonderful, healthy snacks and fun to make! Simply make an apple sauce, add sugar, spices (cinnamon, ginger or chocolate are good) or other fruit of your choice (mash in quinces for a bit of zing or autumn raspberries, for example). Spread about 0.5cm thick on a piece of silicone sheet, plastic liner or similar and dry either in the dehydrator at 60°C/140°F for about 8 hours (scrape off the sheet about halfway through and place directly on the dehydrator mesh trays) or on the lowest setting on your oven (usually around 70°C). Leave to cool, cut into handy sized pieces with a pair of scissors and dust with icing sugar so that the pieces won't stick to one another (also looks nice). Store in an airtight glass jar.


A good way to use up some of the apple juice from the steamer. Apple is good in a jelly combined with rosehips, elderberry or infused with rose geranium.


Follow our recipe for hedge wine using the juice from the steam juicer. Try adding some rosehips, brambles, elderberries or blackcurrants to the apples in the steam juicer for a nice blend of flavours. These wines can also be used to make vinegar at a later stage (see below). In my opinion, apple wine is one of the best homebrews, delicious hot or cold.


Small batch of cider
Since we didn't know anyone with a cider press to make cider the traditional way and didn't want to invest in one, I used the ready-sterilized juice from the steam juicer. It was quite a lot of work, running the steam juicer five times to get five litres of juice for a small batch, but at least I got plenty of by-products for making fruit leather! The result is rather tart, but hopefully bottle conditioning will improve it - we added a little sugar at bottling stage to carbonate it. Otherwise it will all go into vinegar production.


To make vinegar from cider or wine, you need to add some 'mother' culture to your alcohol to convert it to acetic acid. You could just leave the cap off your bottle, tie over a clean rag and hope for the best. However, for surer results and to speed up the process, add a cup of unpasteurised cider vinegar to your alcohol for your first batch, then tie over a clean rag and store it in the dark for at least a couple of months before straining it and feeding your resulting gloopy 'mother' with some more hedge wine or cider.


Hot fruit cordials are a real delight in the cold days of late autumn and winter. Again, it's nice to combine the apples with rosehips, elderberries or blackcurrants for this. Once you've extracted the juice, add sugar to taste (usually 100-200g per litre) and then bottle/can for long-term storage. I'd err on the side of too little sugar, since you can always add a spoonful of honey to your hot cordial when you're diluting it with hot water. Unfortunately, I only made five half-litre bottles of apple & rosehip and apple & elderberry cordial this year and we're already on the last bottle. Next year, there will be a lot more of these.

Apple crumble (or pie)

Apple berry mix waiting to be crumbled
I'm usually too lazy to make things as involved as pies, but am happy to make a crumble every day! Core and slice the apples (with a mandolin slicer if you wish) and layer in an oven-proof dish. Sprinkle over 2-3 tbsp of brown sugar, depending on the tartness of the apples. Cover with a crumble mixture (100g flour, 50g sugar, 50g soft butter, a little bran if desired) and bake at 175°C/350°F for about 35 minutes or until crumble goes golden brown and apples are soft when pricked with a fork. Serve with creme fraiche, cream or ice cream.

Baked apples

Core the apples, stuff with dried fruit and chopped-up nuts of your choice, bake until they split and are all soft inside. Sprinkle over sugar mixed with cinnamon and serve with custard or double cream.

That's all our apples used up! And we now have a good system in place for efficient processing next year.

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