With autumn quickly approaching I start thinking of all things fall. My son returns to school, the mornings have that cool crispness to them and the apple trees in local orchards are laden with fruit that is almost ready for the harvest. One thing that my home province of Ontario, Canada and your beautiful state of Washington have in common is being the largest apple harvest producing regions in our countries.
Apples are a great food for the backcountry. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be on a bit of trail that passes through what used to be farmland. There is one spot where there is nothing left but a few crumbling fieldstone foundations and the remnants of an orchard that was probably planted 150 years ago. I’ve been known to grab a fresh apple right off the tree. Of course, you aren’t always going to be able to do that, especially in the mountains and above the tree line.
I’m going to share some of my favorite ways to include apples from home in your backcountry menu but before I do that let’s talk about nutrition, apple varieties, buying apples, and apple storage.
According to WHFoods, apples are a great source of antioxidants in the form of polyphenols. They, like many other fruits, are also a good source of fiber and packed full of vitamins. The skin on apples is very nutritious and vitamin laden.
Varieties such as Fuji, Gala, Red Delicious, Cripps Pink, and Honey Crisp are apples that are perfect for eating. Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Braeburn can are wonderful in baked applications but also make a good eating apple. Granny Smith are nice and tart, Golden Delicious are sweet and Braeburn are sweet-tart and have a very slight spice to them.
While the local grocery store is a convenient option, I often like to go to the orchard or a local farmers market. Why? I find doing the pick-your-own thing at the orchard is not only a fun family outing but it gives me the chance to get the best apples at that time. The farm staff will direct you to what is ready to be picked. Some apples, like the Cripps Pink, reach perfection later in the season than other varieties do. I also try to buy organic. The reason for this is because of the high nutrient content in the skin. I’m not quite so picky with fruit that I’m peeling anyway. You want to check the apples over for bruising and cuts in the skin as this will affect their quality.
While apples make a very pretty centerpiece when placed in a lovely bowl on the dining room table, you’ll want to keep them in the fridge until you are ready to prepare them for the backcounty. The crisper drawer is the best spot as apples stay fresher longer when stored in the cold. If you have a cold cellar in your home this can also be a good place to keep them.
So now that you have your primer on apples, let’s talk about how to use them in a more lightweight fashion on your wilderness excursions.
Dried apples, whether you make them yourself or buy them already dried, are a perfect addition to your trail menu. To make your own, slice the apples ¼-inch thick. If you choose to leave the skins on it is best to use organic, pesticide-free fruit. Dip the slices in a solution of Fruit Fresh or a mixture of 1 part lemon or lime juice and 3 parts water. Separate the slices to ensure that both sides get treated with the mixture. Dehydrate on screen-lined dehydrator trays at 120°F for 6 to 8 hours or until leathery. To check if they are done just tear a piece and there should not be beads of moisture but the apples should be pliable. A cup of dried apples will expand by about ¼ cup upon rehydration.
You can use dried apples in hot cereals, pancakes, stuffed French toast, granola, energy bars, wraps, baking, trail mix, or simply as something to munch on while you hike. You can also place a few rehydrated apple slices between two oatmeal cookies and drizzle a little bit of caramel sauce over top for a quick and yummy dessert. Rehydrated apples that have been heated in your pot with a bit of maple syrup and some walnut pieces can be a wonderful topping for a pancake or sweet biscuit. This can be for a decadent breakfast or a dessert, depending on your preferences.
Dried apples should be stored in a cool, dry place, away from light. They will keep for 8 months.
Apple crisps are somewhat similar to apple chips but they aren’t fried. To make apple crisps take 6 Royal Gala or Granny Smith apples, core and slice them into rings, with the skins on, 3/16 to ¼-inch thick. Place them in a mixture of 3 tablespoons of lemon juice to 1½ cups water. Separate the slices to ensure that both sides get treated with the mixture. Drain the apples and pat off any moisture with a paper towel or clean tea towel. Place on lined dehydrator trays and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Dry the apples at 135°F for 8 to 10 hours, until they are crispy like chips. Let cool and pack in a sturdy airtight container.
Apples are wonderful in savory dishes as well. I often use dried apples in coleslaw and other trail salads, in a wrap with chicken, or I use fresh apples in recipes like this one and then dehydrate the whole dish.
Harvest Pork and Apple Stew
Dehydration time: 7–10 hours
Makes 4–6 servings
The inspiration for this stew came to me while my family and I were hiking among the old stone foundations of a hillside farm and near an abandoned orchard one autumn. Rice or egg noodles are a great accompaniment for this dish.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound pork tenderloin
a handful of flour
1 onion, diced
1 stalk celery, sliced
1 can (10 ounces) condensed golden mushroom soup
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon thyme
2 tart apples, cored, peeled, and diced
1/4 cup fresh mushrooms – quartered
1/3 cup apple juice
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
Rice or bread (optional)
Cut the meat into 1-inch pieces. Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Coat the meat chunks in flour and then place them carefully in the pot, being careful not to splash oil on yourself. Brown the beef. Add the onions and celery, cooking until the onions wilt and become translucent.
Add the mushroom soup, honey, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, thyme, apples, mushrooms, apple juice, and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for an hour or more until the meat is tender when forked. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the stew to cool. Remove the pork and shred it with two forks.
Measure the stew and write this measurement on a sticky note. Put the pork and sauce on separate lined dehydrator trays and dry for 7 to 10 hours. Place all the dried ingredients in a ziplock freezer bag along with the sticky note. Pack rice or bread if desired.
Add enough boiling water to the dried stew to equal the measurement on your sticky note. Be sure to account for and add your dried ingredients to the rehydration container prior to adding the water. You can always add more water if you need to. Let the stew rehydrate for 30 to 40 minutes or until fully hydrated. Add more water if necessary. If the meat does not fully rehydrate, simmer it for about 5 minutes on your camp stove.
If you prefer, you can cook this meal “At Home” in a slow cooker.
Of course, I had to include a recipe for dessert.
Makes 2–3 servings
This apple crumble was modified from my Grandmother’s recipe so that it would be suitable for baking on the trail. I use an Outback Oven but you can make this in a Bakepacker or fry-bake pan with ease. Sometimes we mix up a little Nido to pour over the top before serving.
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 ½–2 cups dried apples
2 tablespoons butter
Mix flour and rolled oats together and place in a ziplock bag. Put brown sugar and salt in another smaller ziplock bag. Place 1 tablespoon of white sugar in a piece of plastic wrap and put it inside the brown sugar bag. Put the dried apples in another bag. Then place all the small bags of ingredients inside the bag containing the flour. Pack the butter with any other butter you are taking on your trip.
Cover the apples with boiling water. Let sit until rehydrated and then drain and set aside. Line the bottom and sides of a pot or pan with parchment paper. Place the rehydrated fruit in the bottom of the pot and sprinkle it with the white sugar. Add 2 tablespoons butter to the ziplock bag containing the brown sugar mixture, and knead until the sugar mixture and butter are creamed. Blend in flour and rolled oats. Sprinkle over the fruit mixture. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until the top is golden. Allow to cool slightly and serve.
If you will be having a campfire or are car camping, another idea is to have each person pack in a fresh apple and a small piece of foil. Cut the apple in half, remove the core, put a little butter, cinnamon, and brown sugar in the channels where the core was, put the two halves back together and wrap tightly in foil. Place the foil wrapped apple in the hot campfire coals and bake until the apple is tender.
As you can see, apples are very versatile and can be easily added to enhance your trail menu. With all this in mind, I’m off to go apple picking with the kids.