This article has been updated.
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. What to do with a bumper crop of apples? For a change of pace from applesauce and apple crisp, consider drying some of your apples for snacks and baking.
Apple rings take up little space, require no refrigeration, and last up to a year in an airtight container. And because the water’s been removed, they’re very lightweight, making them a perfect packable snack for school lunches, hiking or camping trips or for feeding kids on the go.
Apple rings contain no added sugar but are still wonderfully sweet, and they don’t need to be eaten up quickly.
I particularly like to use excess apples this way because unlike apple desserts, apple rings contain no added sugar but are still wonderfully sweet, and they don’t need to be eaten up quickly.
Dehydrating is a terrific way to use apples that otherwise might not make the grade for fresh eating. Maybe their texture’s not to your liking, or they’re not sweet enough. Dehydrating concentrates the sugars and eliminates texture problems, and it’s an especially easy preservation method.
A good dehydrator is an excellent investment if you’re planning on doing a lot of food drying. But it’s not vital to making apple rings, and the instructions that follow explain how to use your oven for smaller batches of apple rings.
How to make dried apple rings
1. Wash your apples, and peel them if you prefer. I like to leave the skin on for several reasons. First, the skin contains fiber and quercetin, an antioxidant that may help fight inflammation and damage from free radicals. Second, peeling is extra work, and who has time to spare when all this great produce needs preserving? Third, I don’t want to waste perfectly good food, especially when it makes this sweet treat even more nutritious.
2. Use an apple corer to remove cores. This results in the classic “ring” shape. Some people prefer to leave the core in to make the prep go faster, and because it leaves a pretty star pattern. Just toss the seeds, which contain tiny amounts of cyanide, so the CDC recommends not eating them.
3. Slice ⅛”- ⅓” thick. Thinner slices will dry faster, but they are also prone to getting crispy rather than chewy, so choose a thickness according to your preference. A mandolin may come in handy for slicing the apples if you have one.
4. Dipping your apple rings in a bowl of 1 part lemon juice mixed with 8 parts water before dehydrating will prevent browning, but you can skip this step if you don’t mind browner apple rings. Allow dipped rings to dry in a strainer or on a clean towel.
5. Lay the apple slices on dehydrator trays without overlapping and set to 110-135 degrees. Allow to dry for up to 12 hours. Check them after 10 hours to see if they’re dry. You can take them off when they’re still leathery or let them go till they get crispy.
6. Allow to cool completely, and store in a clean airtight container, like a canning jar. Or place them in a Ziploc plastic bag, sucking the air out before zipping it closed. They should keep for up to a year, longer if you store them in your refrigerator or freezer.
Drying applies using your oven
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can use your oven set at a low temperature, though this method will require more careful monitoring. Follow steps 1-4 above. Place the prepared apple rings on racks or cookie sheets lined with baking mats or parchment paper.
Set your oven to 200 degrees, and allow apples to bake for one hour. Rotate top and bottom racks. If using cookie sheets, you will also need to flip all the apples to help them dry evenly. (You can place a second cookie sheet on top, then flip the whole works in one move.)
Return the apples to the oven for one hour if you’d like your rings chewy and two hours if you’d prefer them crispy. Turn off the oven and prop open the door slightly, leaving apple slices until the oven cools. When apples are cooled completely, store in an airtight container.
If you find that your apples got too crispy, leaving them out to reabsorb a bit of moisture from the air (especially on humid days) will help return them to a more pliable state.
You can also use a solar dryer or homemade racks to dry the apple rings out in the sun.
While dried apples are great all by themselves, you can add spices if you prefer. Try cinnamon, or experiment with a little cardamom, cloves, nutmeg or allspice.
Sources for apples
If you don’t have your own apple trees, look into gleaning opportunities in your area for sources of free apples that might otherwise go to waste. (Check out Falling Fruit’s map of urban fruit trees).
Try putting out a call on Freecycle, and you will likely find people happy to have someone take the fruit they do not have the time or inclination to harvest themselves. Or ask that neighbor who never seems to pick many of hers if you can have some, and then give her some of your dried treats in return!
You can also look for good deals on seconds at your local orchard or farmers’ market or stock up when they’re on sale at the store.
Dried foods like apple rings make terrific homemade holiday gifts. Presented in a nicely labeled mason jar, apple rings can be a lovely present to share with friends and family. You can go a step further and save your cores for making apple-scrap vinegar, which could also be given as a gift.
If you still have more apples and need further ideas, check these out:
My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still.
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
From Robert Frost’s “After Apple Picking”