Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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When my 12-year-old thinks of pioneer farms, she envisions The Little House on the Prairie, complete with morning milking chores, walking to school on a country lane and stocking the stove with firewood in the evening. The Little House on the Prairie stirred many a child’s imagination with depictions of self-sufficiency in the 19th century, a step for many settlers towards traditional farming.
When Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder and settled in Missouri, her family worked 20 years to transform a rocky ridge into a farm with an apple orchard. Her pioneer childhood taught her a lot about farming and to celebrate a harvest activity on a pioneer farm, my daughter and I decided to make spiced apple rings. Not only do they make great after-school snacks (that pioneer kids would have eaten them with delight)–they are dead easy to make.
Most pioneers coveted apples and as they settled a new place, they planted apple trees. Apples spiced up life by providing many sweet treats, adding zest to the pioneer diet.
By far, the most common method of preserving fruits and some types of vegetables was to dry them. Fruit was set under cheesecloth in the sun (one homesteader insisted that the cabin roof was an ideal place to dry fruit), until it became shriveled and hard. This dried fruit was then hung in a cellar on a string or set aside in a cold and dark storeroom until needed. Months later, when the fruit was eaten, it was soaked in water, and then stewed with sugar, to make it palatable.
That’s how an 1831 Canadian cookbook used up dried apples in the kitchen.
Feel free to experiment at home.
Initially, we were going to go with unflavored apple rings but then, my daughter recalled reading that the Ingalls used cinnamon and other spices in their cooking. In fact, popular spices during the 1860s to 1870s included black pepper, Cassia (cinnamon), cloves, ginger, mace, mustard, nutmeg and pimento (berries from the allspice tree). Mace, the outer membrane of the nutmeg, was also extremely popular. We always have ground cinnamon at home so we decided to go all cinnamon, but we could also have made our own pumpkin spice mix as seasoning.
At my farmers market, I found Cox’s Orange Pippin apples from the season’s new crop and decided to experiment with them. Cox apples are sour/sweet, crunchy and firm, but other varieties such as Black Arkansas or Honeycrisp will do just as well. Remember that if the apple tastes good, apple rings will taste good too.
I used 6 apples and cut them into 1cm/1/3 in rings each. Out of each apple, I got 3 nice rings and we ate the leftovers as snacks. I didn’t peel them because I couldn’t be bothered. If you prefer to peel your apples, go ahead.
As we moved recently and things haven’t found their place yet, I couldn’t locate my apple corer. Therefore, my daughter used a round cookie cutter to cut rounds in the middle of each apple ring. If you’re going to thread your apples, these round holes will come in very handy. If not, just remove the pips and move on to the next step.
Once we cut all the rings, I set the rings aside in a bowl and sprinkled 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon on them, before tossing them with a wooden spoon. that was useless by the way, as all rings were very unevenly covered.
Of course, my daughter felt that I hadn’t been generous enough and after I lay all the apple rings on dehydrator trays, she sprinkled more cinnamon until maybe, it was too much. I hear that cinnamon is excellent for my health. It better be.
I set the dehydrator on 50C/120F during 14 hours and after 10 hours, turned the rings to make sure that both sides were covered. I also stacked the trays in the reverse border to provide balanced ventilation. After 14 hours, this is what my apple rings looked like. They were soft, dry, slightly springy and they are delicious.
Note: If you don’t have a dehydrator, dry the apple slices in the oven at the lowest setting possible on baking trays. It will take overnight.
After I strung the apple rings on a rustic thread, I hung my apple garland in the kitchen. I love it! I’ve never been dried any fruit and was afraid that my apples would turn brown but they didn’t. I love the way the green or red skin gives them a farm look.