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Apple For Your Eye 

by ARI LEVAUX & r & & r &

Dear Chef Ari,

I just moved into a new rental, which has a big apple tree in the backyard. My landlord says the apples are tasty, but he doesn't want to deal with them -- and in fact he'd be happy if I did, because then there wouldn't be as much of a mess on the ground for him to pick up.

I look into that tree and I see hundreds of pounds of food -- hundreds of thousands of calories! I can't wait for these apples to get ripe so I can store them away and eat them all winter.

But I'm working two jobs and raising two kids, and I don't have the time (or the desire) to be like Martha. How can I store these apples?

-- Love the Mess

Dear Love the Mess,

If you happen to have lots of freezer space, consider finding a cider press. This is a really fun way to turn even the gnarliest specimens into product that can be insanely delicious, so good that -- assuming infinite freezer space -- you might want to consider juicing the whole crop.

If you have the time to track down a cider press, I guarantee it'll provide a good time. You'll meet the kind of people who know someone who has a cider press, and these are good people, real Americans. Ask around at the farmers market, the local co-op or organic food store. Then get lots of clean jugs, and make sure someone in the vicinity knows how to use a cider press.

Your next two options necessitate some specialized gear as well: making applesauce requires canning gear (a big pot, special tongs, Mason jars and lids), and drying the apples requires a dehydrator. Someone like you, Love the Mess, should have both sets. Then you'll be able to process almost any fruit, vegetable, meat, fungus or combination thereof -- in a way that won't require freezer storage.

In addition to all-purpose stuff like canning gear or a dehydrator, the processing of apples by either canning or drying will be made much easier with a hand-cranked machine that peels the apple and turns the peel into one long coiled strip, like a Slinky.

My sweetie, whom I'll just call Little Mac, is mostly apple by weight, and she is the ultimate source on all things apple. She knows many homeowners around town like your landlord, people with "messy" trees to deal with. Little Mac could clean out your tree on a Tuesday and have it dried or sauced by Thursday. She uses the coring peeler, but with the peeler part disabled, because Mac loves the peel.

"Most of the minerals and vitamins are in the peel, and it's good to have some fiber in your applesauce," she says.

Applesauce can mean many different things, some of which are more sweetened and processed than what Little Mac and I call applesauce. What we call applesauce is basically apples in a jar.

Use the corer, with or without the peeler, and place the sliced apple flesh into a large pot, ideally with a thick bottom. Put a little water in the pot, just a cup or two, to make sure the apples don't scald.

Stir often to avoid scalding, and when the entire batch is hot and starting to fall apart, pack them into quart jars, following the canning instructions that came with your canning jars. Apples in quart jars require 25 minutes in a boiling water bath.

If you want to be like Little Mac and leave the peels in, they'll give a beautiful tint to the sauce, not to mention providing a tart, fibrous-yet-slimy surprise once in a while.

Or, use the corer (peeler) and then break the resulting Slinky into rounds and lay them on the dehydrator. A good dehydrator can run $200 or more. But if you use it all the time, it will pay for itself quickly. In the last few weeks, I've made tuna, salmon, deer and elk jerky, dried peaches, apricots, cherries, tomatoes and camping food (onions, greens, carrots, summer sausage, zucchini). In the coming weeks, I'll be doing apples, pears, plums, squash, eggplant and more peaches. Even if you don't have neighbors with messy trees, there will be different fruits, veggies or meats available in bulk -- depending on where you are and the season -- and the dehydrator allows you to shop for the whole year when the local crop is ripe and cheap.

When drying fruit, keep in mind that individual preferences vary with regard to dryness. Some folks like their fruit dry as an old shoe, others like it moist. I prefer my fruits, especially apricots, plums and peaches, as juicy as possible -- so juicy, in fact, that I keep them in the freezer. You may be tempted to argue that putting fruit in the freezer defeats the point of drying it. But drying vastly reduces the amount of freezer space the fruit occupies, and in my opinion improves the flavor and overall quality of the product.

But I like apples extra-crispy, so they crunch easily in my mouth, with no freezing required.

Good luck with that mess!

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