Friday, January 7, 2011

A Great Deal of A Peel

If it were true that an apple a day kept the doctor away, then there would be no Ph.D.'s in Washington State. Washington leads the United States in apple production with up to 100 million boxes of the fruits a year. And that is your wowee-zowee factlet for the week.

Some of those apples wind up on the past-their-sell-by-date rack at our local market, and when we find them there, being sold for a pittance, we know it's time to make applesauce.

Even in the nation's capital of apple growing, apples aren't cheap, usually ranging between $1.49 to $1.99 or more per pound. With the size of apples grown today approaching that of grapefruits, you don't get a lot of individual apples per pound unless you find someone selling windfalls or so-called "schoolboy" apples. We end up using them sparingly so the week's supply is available for taking to work and school for lunch. That's why we only use the slightly bruised ones from the sell-by rack or the ones getting sort of squishy at home for applesauce.

So it was a coup when we bought a dozen apples for three bucks that still looked great and were just starting to get less-than-crunchy, a batch that even included wonderfully tart Granny Smiths.

To make the whole experience totally back-to-the-land-feeling (never mind that we drove to and from the market, and that one of us was on an iPod), we dragged out that icon of Yankee ingenuity, the Apple/Potato Peeler/Corer/Slicer.

Why this marvelous device doesn't have a Shamwow guy to yak it up is beyond me. It's a stubborn but nifty tool that isn't particularly happy about dealing with oversized modern apples, but it's a great labor- and time-saver when it works. Which is most of the time.

Apparently many people have invented apple corer/peelers in the past (including Eli "Mr. Cotton Gin/What the heck's a gin?" Whitney of grade-school history class fame), but the one most commonly used in kitchens today was devised by a David Goodell in the mid-1800s in New Hampshire. Thanks, Dave.

My daughter did a bang-up job of discovering the many ways you could make a hash of using the tool, a discovery process that left her in gales of laughter: she reamed out a cylindrical core from an apple, except it was not the core but rather the flesh of the apple that she bored through; she sent apples through the corer without managing to peel them; she inserted the prongs into an apple and then wondered why it wasn't working, only to discover that she hadn't reset the darn thing and had performed the equivalent of removing a disk from a computer and then wondering why the disk wouldn't run.

Also the suction cup that holds the device to the counter kept failing so that it would buck into the air and spew apple mush down the side of the counter.

Then I would use it, and it would work just fine. I am not so sure that I am pleased that this is apparently the super power bestowed on me (I'd rather be able to fly, or become invisible at will), but oh well. It must be so, because in addition to nicely peeled apple slices, I also managed to produce a record-setting, single-piece apple peel.
It's a jumprope! It's a worm! It's--Super-peel!
Well, record-setting for our kitchen, that is. A tape measure showed that the apple peel stretched for nearly 9 feet (106 inches, to be exact).

Same peel, curled up for a nap.
That makes it a mere shoelace compared to the longest single continuous apple peel on record, which was 172 feet, 4 inches and carefully, carefully cut by one Kathy Wafler Madison, age 16, on October 16, 1976.

But her peel took eleven and a half hours to cut. We produced ours in less than 15 seconds, and it compares favorably with prizewinning peels in the under-18-years category at the Damerham Apple Day in Hampshire, UK.

Oh, and the applesauce came out great, too. Here are the apples just after going into the crockpot with some cinnamon, sugar, and water, where they simmered all night long on low. There are no pictures of the resulting applesauce after blending with an immersion mixer because it's already all gone.

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