Appalachia Appalachian Food Preserving/Canning

Bleached Apples?

old way of bleaching apples for drying

This is the season for apples in Appalachia. I’ve made applesauce, apple jelly, and apple preserves. Most years I dry at least a few apples, but the pesky squirrels didn’t leave me enough to dry this year.

Although I use my handy dandy dehydrator to dry my apples, I’ve always been interested in learning more about the way folks in Appalachia bleached (dried) apples by using a sulfur smoking method.

I once read a wonderful clear account of the tradition from John Parris’s These Storied Mountains. The ladies he interviewed for the short piece lived in the Bethel area of Haywood County NC.

On the day he visited, they were having an apple-paring bee. In other words several women had gathered together to enjoy the fellowship of one another as they worked on preserving apples for the coming winter months.

Basically the bleaching or drying technique was:

  • Apples were peeled, quartered, sliced and then placed into a basket
  • While the apples were being prepared, 2 ax heads were heating inside the wood stove
  • A metal pan was placed in the bottom of a wooden barrel that was sitting outside
  • Once the basket was filled, one of the red hot ax heads was placed in the bottom of the barrel in the metal pan
  • One teaspoon of sulfur was poured onto the hot ax
  • A stick ran through the basket handle and then the basket was hung down inside of the barrel
  • Lastly the barrel was covered with a thick piece of cloth.

After about 30 or 40 minutes the apples were considered bleached or dried.

As the apples finished they placed them inside a crock and covered it with cheesecloth. The ladies continued to dry apples and add them to the crock until it was filled. When the crock was completely filled, it was stored in a cool dry place until the apples were needed.

A few statements made by the ladies:

“First off, I want to tell you there is nothing better than bleached apples except ripe apples right off the tree. You can’t tell the difference nine months later.”

“I have bleached apples right up into May every year, and they’re just as fresh and crisp and juicy as when I peeled and quartered them.”

“We dried apples too back then. But when I found out about using sulfur I never dried any more. Bleaching them with sulfur is easier and better.”

When I first read the apple bleaching piece from the book I thought “Well that’s nice, but we’ve come a long way since then and I’m sure sulfur is poison and it’s a wonder those folks lived so long (one lady was in her 90s).”

Soon after I dismissed the idea of using sulfur I read about the health benefits of sulfur being added to dog food. That prompted me to do some Googling around. I quickly discovered sulfur is still used in preserving/drying/bleaching fruit…only today its large companies that are using sulfur not the average home preserver.

Even though the use of sulfur in the dried food industry is FDA approved, there are folks who think it’s dangerous and should be avoided.  And there are companies who dry fruit without using sulfur.

I know there are still folks out there who use sulfur to dry their apples each fall. Someday I hope to witness the technique for myself, until then I guess I’ll have to be satisfied with the account of Mr. Parris.



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  • Reply
    Auther Ray
    September 29, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    My Grandma used to quarter and slice apples and dry them on top of an old brooder house. When they were dry she would put them in an old canvass bag hanging from the back room ceiling to be cooked in fried apple pies. The apples looked like small pieces of brown leather.

  • Reply
    Richard Beauchamp
    November 26, 2017 at 6:28 am

    I have read about this and always wanted to try this, but never have . I would love to be able to witness this process and to taste the finished product.

  • Reply
    September 21, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Colleen-I’m not sure where you could get sulfur. Maybe a drugstore or health food store? If someone else knows maybe they’ll chime in with an answer. Thank you for the comments and have a great day!

  • Reply
    Cheryl Soehl
    September 20, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    Sulfites are added to many foods (and wine, read the label!) simply to preserve the original color and to make them more visually attractive. My first asthma attack was precipitated by sulfites sprayed on salad bar items at a fast food restaurant. This practice is now banned because it requires the mixing of the spray by employees and can result in life threatening reactions for some people.
    There are no benefits to this practice except to make foods cosmetically more appealing, and since those who are sensitive can be really adversely affected, it makes sense to avoid doing it.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 18, 2017 at 7:42 pm

    I am allergic to sulphur….please pass this on to Ed….thanks…..I don’t want folks to think that they cannot ever be allergic to sulphur…or it’s medical derivatives…I was told since I was swollen up like a whale…that I should not come in contact with sulphur in any form although as I was told it is already in ones body….
    Sulphur is an important building block of life that is typically safe and not toxic through inhalation, ingestion, eye and skin contact. Sulphur exists in many forms, and individuals allergic to elemental sulphur may also be allergic to sulfites used as preservatives in foods and medications, and sulfate compounds used in soaps, cosmetics and drugs. An allergic reaction to sulphur is categorized as a sulfonamide allergy, sulfite allergy or sulfate allergy….
    I won’t be taking the chance! Ha

  • Reply
    September 18, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Where does on buy sulfur nowaday?

  • Reply
    Ruth Binder
    September 18, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Very much enjoyed Vann’s photo blog of the Blue Ridge Apple Festival !!
    Ruth B., Broadview Heights, Ohio

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    September 18, 2017 at 2:55 pm

    My Mom bleached apples almost every year as I was growing up. What’s amazing is when the apples are cooked you do not get the sulfur taste. Bleached apples are as good as fresh in Apple Pies, Stack Cakes and Fried Apple Pies. Just reading today’s blog has my mouth watering thinking about the stack cakes and fried pies. Thanks for the memories.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    We burned wood when I was growing up, but I don’t remember using any Sulfur or Drying Apples at all. I do remember mama making lots of quart jars of Applesauce and those Stack Cakes. I don’t know nothing about it, but I buy Fried Apple Pies at McDonalds sometimes. They’re better than those Sugar Coated type at other Fast food places. …Ken

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    September 18, 2017 at 10:33 am

    My Grandmother bleached and dried apples using the sulfur method. Dad hated the smell of sulfur as well as the smell of Mom peeling boiled aigs…ha..
    I absolutely could not use this method….I am deathly allergic to sulfur. Found out when I was a sick kid with a sore throat, this is one med used early on before the constant use of penicillin. Wasn’t until I was an adult and married before I finally got an allergy to penicillin…overuse I suppose!
    I just dry my apples in the dehydrator…no bugs to worry with and they dry even as well…So storage is not a problem…Not all ways are great ways…however, I would give my granny a big old kiss if she could come down from heaven and make me a fried apple pie from those apples that were dried on cheesecloth in the hot attic…I really think the love in the recipes makes a difference….I try to keep a can on hand. It is the best spice one can think of to use, adding a pinch or two myownself!
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…let us know if you find the real tried and true method of sulfuring apples. I do think I would want to observe the method as well…I would think someone at the John Campbell School or the Fox Fire folks could lead you to a source….what do you think?

  • Reply
    September 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

    I’ve noticed the “unsulphured” label on some dried fruits, so I assumed most are done WITH sulphur but never knew how or even why, unless it was to kill off any insects or bacteria or such since I associate sulphur with soaps for skin conditions on animals (including human animals). Guess I assumed it was an industrial processing method, so it’s very interesting to learn that it’s really a traditional way of doing! And I’m still curious about whether the “bleaching” is replacing the drying process or if it’s done before or after the drying to better preserve the apples. I sure hope some of your readers can give you more firsthand information, Tipper! This is something I might try myself if I could get all the parts…a wooden barrel being the hardest one for me to find. Might have to improvise!

  • Reply
    larry griffith
    September 18, 2017 at 9:44 am

    My Grandparents sulfured apples. I ate them one time and that has lasted me a life time.
    I have used the homeopathic sulfur but it doesn’t have a sulfur taste.

  • Reply
    September 18, 2017 at 9:26 am

    All those ‘dangerous and poisonous’ things our folks used must have been the reason they had fewer ailments than we do. Or maybe they just didn’t have time to complain. Mom’s family lived long and healthy lives and used ‘suffer’ as long as I can remember. They used lye to make their soap for bathing and laundry while using extreme caution in handling. I wonder what they would think about how it is being used today.

  • Reply
    wanda Devers
    September 18, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I would like to see it done, too. I dry some apples if I have any and really like to can them. My pressure cooker gasket failed last week and I had to take the apples out and freeze them. I guess they’ll be more like applesauce.
    Mama always dried them outside but I use the dehydrator. Been dehydrating more this year. I’m doing some mushrooms now and some sweet peppers that were on sale.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    September 18, 2017 at 9:19 am

    This is so fascinating. Mountain people sure did know how to survive the winters.. I spent the day near Hendersonville for the apple harvest recently. Check out my photo blog .

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 18, 2017 at 8:41 am

    The idea of sulfur smoke brings back memories. We heated with a coal stove when I was growing up. The local coal was high sulfur and when the smoke ‘came to the ground’ we would smell the pungent sulfur. If the coal sat out in the weather and got wet, it would develop a whitish sulfur bloom. I never knew of anyone smoking fruit with sulfur though. Seeing as how sulfur is also caused ‘brimstone’ I can imagine all sorts of waggish remarks.
    Fruit cured with sulfur often gives me a twinge of asthma so I pass it up, though I am tempted by dried peaches or apricots. I saw some dried peaches at Jaemor’s Farm Market in Lula, Ga last week and they were marked “w/ sulfur dioxide”. If I don’t forget, I will ask them where they were dried and let you know because I think it may well be here in north Georgia.
    I did salvage our apples from the critters and dried them. First time I had used the dehydrator for that and was very pleased with how well it worked. Apples take less time than basil. Our daughter also dried plums and papaya. They were really good and had a beautiful color.
    On a different subject, we bought some October beans and saved enough seed for a short row. If I can squeeze ir in.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    September 18, 2017 at 8:10 am

    What an interesting process! And the name is interesting, too. I have heard of dried apples, but never “bleached” apples. Sulfur — even one bite of a piece of sulfur-treated fruit — gives me asthma. In the winter, I sometimes buy sulfur-free dried apricots at the health food store. They are soft and delicious, but they don’t have the pretty orange color of the sulfured fruit. And, of course, now we can get fresh apples the year round.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    September 18, 2017 at 8:09 am

    I remember my Mother peeling apples and we ended up with dried apples but I don’t have any idea how she did them.
    I do remember her giving me and my brother an apple to carve a face in and then we just put it on the windowsill til it dried.
    After it dried and became a funny face we just threw them in the trash.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 18, 2017 at 6:30 am

    I’ve never eaten sulfured apples but I’s sure like to taste some. I’ve had lots of dried apples but never sulfured. I cannot imagine how they could taste fresh and juicy. Guess I need to do a little studying on sulfur. I know it was used for animals with skin/itching problems, there is also a homeopathic sulfur remedy.
    I have a small piece of an old memory of a greenish yellow block like substance that I think was sulfur but I don’t remember where or when that particular memory slice came from.

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