I’ve written about drying apples before-but have always been interested in learning more about the way folks in Appalachia bleached apples by using a sulfur smoking method. Recently I read a wonderful clear account of the tradition from John Parris’s These Storied Mountains. The ladies he interviewed 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 at the home to enjoy the fellowship of one another as they worked on preserving apples for the coming winter months.
Basically the technique was: they peeled the apples and cut them into quarters; while they were preparing the apples they had 2 axe heads getting hot inside the wood stove; outside they had a wooden barrel with a metal pan in the bottom; when they had filled a basket with apples they took one of the red hot axe heads and placed it in the metal pan they had in the barrel; next they poured one teaspoon of sulfur on the axe head; ran a stick through the basket handle and hung the basket down inside of the barrel; lastly they covered the barrel with a thick piece of cloth. After about 30 or 40 minutes the apples were considered done. They placed the apples inside a crock and covered it with cheesecloth. The ladies continued to dry apples and add them to the crock until it was filled. Storing the crock in a cool dry place when it was filled.
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.”
After reading the apple bleaching chapter from the book-I’ll admit 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). Then I came across some information about sulfur in dog food-and how it could be good for animals. So this morning I did some googling-turns out sulfur is still used in preserving/drying/bleaching fruit-by major food companies. 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. There seems to be real proof that the sulfur used in the process is an irritant to folks who suffer from asthma. There are companies who sell dried fruit that do not use sulfur-you just have to look for them.
I buy dried fruit for the girls-I’m sure I’m in the minority but I’ve never read the ingredients to see if sulfur is one of them. Just strikes me as funny-reading about the old method of bleaching apples caused me to be a little high minded when it turns out I’ve probably been feeding my family something worse-cause you know the companies today use more than sulfur in their process.
Did your grandparents use the bleaching method? Did you know some companies still use sulfur to preserve fruit?