Last night we received nearly a bushel of free apples from a neighbor, so today was all about using up the apples before they start to go bad in this terribly hot apartment. The first thing I knew I wanted was dried apple rings. They’re such a healthy and fun snack, and so easy to make… usually. First we washed the apples. Then we put them on a peeler/corer/slicer apparatus one by one and the boys took turns cranking the little handle. A few dozen apples later, we had a large mound of cores and skins and a huge bowl filled with apple rings and bits in cold water with a half lemon squeezed in to keep them from browning too fast. The best looking rings went straight onto some parchment paper in the oven. I had the oven set at its lowest setting, which was 170°F. The best temperature to dry apples at is 120-130, so our apples turned out a bit cooked tasting, but they’re still delicious! Those sat in there for a few hours and were flipped a few times to keep the drying even and check for doneness.

Next on the list was apple jelly. This was a perfect way to get some use out of all those skins and cores sitting on the counter. First order of business was to put them in a stock pot and pour enough water in with them to just barely cover the mass. I ended up chopping up an additional two apples because it just didn’t look like enough. If you are doing apple jelly, there’s no need to core or peel your apples. You can just cut them up as if you were getting ready to feed them to some deer in the yard – big chunks. They don’t have to be pretty because they’ll get all cooked and mushed up. The apple peel/core/chunk concoction boiled away with a lid on for about a half hour. Then I strained it through a quadruple layer of cheesecloth. This part gets HOT! If you don’t feel like dealing with the hot liquid on your hands, just bring the four corners of the cheesecloth up and tie them off on a heavy string to a cupboard handle above a bowl on the counter. It’ll finish dripping while you do chores. BUT if you are a glutton for punishment like I am, then you can just go for it and gently squeeze all the juice you can out of the hot mass of wrapped up apple pulp. Yes, you will get cloudy jelly. Who the hell cares? It still tastes wonderful.

Once you have your apple juice all strained, put it back on the stove top in a stockpot. Add the pectin and a dab of butter to keep the foam down, bring it to a boil, then add your sugar and wait for that fun rolling boil. Ok, when I say fun, I mean you better be paying attention because the jelly goes from placid pink pond to frothing volcano of foam faster than you can blink. It will go all over the stove top if you aren’t actively stirring and watching it. Keep it at a rolling, foamy, mess of a boil for one straight minute, then remove it from the heat and skim off whatever scum rises to the top. Immediately pour it into your prepared jars, wipe the rim, slap some lids on, tighten the rings, and process for however long the directions on the pectin say for your altitude. Mine was 5 minutes. After the timer goes off, I always put them on a towel on the counter and use the rest of the towel to cover the jars to let them cool slowly. With all the baking and canning going on, our apartment was like a sauna. I opened windows and doors (alarming our upstairs neighbor – apparently so much steam came out that he thought our place was on fire and rushed down to see if we needed help. Oops!) so the towel covering was important. If your hot jars encounter a chill breeze, they could crack or shatter.

Aren’t they gorgeous! The apple skins added such a pretty pink tint to the jelly. Usually when I make jelly it’s with yellow or transparent apples and turns out a clear yellowish/tan color, but I think I might stick to these blushing apples just because THAT looks divine. From 7 cups of juice and 9 cups of sugar, as per the pectin recipe, I got 4 pints and 6 half pints. One is missing because I took it and a pie up to the neighbor who gave us the apples.

Finally, after my canning mess was all cleaned up, I started on the pies. I made my crust from scratch, and can’t really tell you how I did it. You see, I’m one of those confounding bakers who never really measures. I eyeball everything. The jelly? I eyeballed it perfect – had 7 1/2 cups of juice thanks to those two final apples I added. It’s something you pick up after doing this kind of thing a lot. I’m sure there are lots of pie crust recipes out there for you to choose from, but if you are looking for tried and true, google Jackie Clay’s pie crust recipe. She’s my idol. She has all sorts of recipes and knowledge tucked away in the Backwoods Home magazines and on her personal blog. You can even buy her recipe book now. Anyway, find an easy recipe and go for it. Don’t mess with the store-bought junk that costs 5x what it costs to make it from scratch. One tip, though: use half butter, half lard. Butter is nice, but the lard makes it so flaky and perfect. I suppose Crisco could be used too, but I’ve been trying to convert to lard since we plan on raising our own hogs on the homestead.

I can’t really tell you how I made my filling either. I took enough apples to mound up inside the pie plate because apples cook down a lot in the oven. I added some flour, some white sugar, some cinnamon, and some brown sugar. Stirred it all up and plopped it all down on the pie crust. Then I did a quick lattice top, brushed it with butter, sprinkled it with white sugar and tossed it in the oven until it was bubbling and the crust was starting to brown.

As soon as it cooled, I cleaned up the edges a bit. It gooshed all over in the oven. Thankfully I put a layer of aluminum foil underneath the pies before I baked them, otherwise the oven would be a sticky burnt mess right now. I also used the extra pie crust dough to make cinnamon/sugar sticks once the pies were done, but I didn’t take pictures of those. I don’t like wasting things, so in the absence of chickens to gobble up leftovers, I find new uses for things like apple peels and bits of extra dough. It all turns out good. At least I haven’t heard any complaints so far.

Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season! I’ll see you in 2012!

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