Use your solar oven as a food dehydrator to make apple chips. Food dehydrators can be noisy and cost money to operate. Use your silent solar oven as a free-to-use food dehydrator and save money preserving the apple harvest. Plus, you can do small batches all throughout the year to always have healthy snacks on hand.
If you’d like to learn more about various methods of outdoor, off-grid cooking be sure to check out our book, The Do It Yourself Homestead! With 400 pages of homesteading information, presented on four different levels of homesteading experience, you’re bound to find something you’ll enjoy!
Why Make Apple Chips?
Apple chips are worth taking the time to make, especially during apple harvest when they’re much cheaper.
- Apple chips are a wonderfully healthy snack that is universally pleasing – even the baby loves apple chips.
- They’re Paleo, GAPS and whole foods approved.
- They’re easy to make, too, requiring only a minimal amount of equipment; you’ll need a cutting board, a sharp knife or apple slicer and some kind of food dehydrator.
- You can also preserve small batches in any food dehydrator to have on hand for snacks throughout the year.
- As Shelle Wells points out in her book, Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook, dehydrated foods can add significant security and health to your food storage program.
Choosing Apples for Apple Chips
Sometimes it’s tempting to just throw whatever apples you have into the dehydrator, regardless of what condition they’re in. As Shelle Wells reminds us in her book Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook,
“Begin by choosing firm fruit that is at the peak of ripeness and flavor. Handle it gently to reduce the possibility of bruising, and process it as soon as possible after you bring it home. If you find some of the fruit has become bruised or is overripe by the time you get to it, process it as fruit leather.”
If you try to use bruised or smushy apples for apple chips you’re going to be very frustrated as you try to cut them uniformly and dry them well. Save yourself the headache and use quality fruit.
If you want to learn how to make fruit leather as Shelle suggests, click here.
If you’re new to dehydrating or just want to explore how to use your electric dehydrator more, be sure check out Shelle’s book. Even if you decide to just use your solar oven for dehydrating, there’s a lot of information on methods, food selection, storage tips and food uses. I use Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook all the time to inspire myself to try new dehydrated foods and methods. It’s full of the same common sense advice you’ll find on her website Rockin W Homestead.
Which Food Dehydrator to Use?
The hardest part about making apple chips is the drying process and each food dehydrator dries food for storage a little differently. There are basically three kinds of food dehydrator to choose from:
- Dehydrator unit
- Conventional oven
- Solar oven
- Homemade solar dehydrator
I usually use my Excalibur dehydrator for most items. However it does take a bit of time to dehydrate apples in it and it’s noisy. Plus, while it’s in use, it’s sucking energy from the wall.
A solar oven operates as a food dehydrator with only the power of the sun, which God made free to all. Certainly a mark in favor of the solar oven process.
If you don’t have solar oven, you can make apple chips:
- In a dehydrator – click here to learn how in a step by step tutorial.
- Click here to learn to make apple chips in an oven.
To learn to make your own solar dehydrator if you live in a dry climate, grab Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook and Shelle will teach you how in a whole section dedicated to that topic.
To learn about some other ways to preserve the apple harvest, including freezing, visit this post.
Solar Oven Air Circulation When Used as a Food Dehydrator
The only part of the process of using your solar oven as a food dehydrator that’s different with making solar oven apple chips as opposed to electric-dehydrated apple chips is the set up inside the oven. Setting up the apples correctly inside will provide proper air circulation for even and prompt dehydration.
Each solar oven is shaped a little differently. My S.O.S brand solar oven is rectangular sloping down from top to about 8 inches from the bottom. Look at what you have to decide how to ensure that the air moves around your product inside the oven. The idea with using your solar oven as a food dehydrator is to get your food as exposed to the air as possible while venting the moisture.
Using Racks Inside your Solar Oven for Bigger Batches
You can certainly do only one layer of sliced apples, laid out evenly on a baker’s rack in the bottom of your solar oven. If you’re family is small for apple amount is small, that might be enough for you.
I need to process bushels of apples most years and I feed seven people. Consequently, I need to dehdyrate my apple chips in the biggest batches possible. Here are some handy tips for doing that using baker’s cooling racks:
- If you have a stackable cooling rack (with several baker’s racks attached to each other in a stack) that will fit inside your oven, then use that to ensure air movement around your product.
- Use regular baker’s cooling racks and stack them with items placed in between for spacing. For example, I don’t have stackable racks, so my engineer husband used one of our small baking stones to balance a regular baking rack over those apples layered on the bottom.
The first time we tried dehydrating, I put the bottom layer of apples on a silicone mat and they dried pretty well but were still a bit on the soft side. The apples that were on the top rack were perfectly dried and crispy. The key to good dehydration is excellent air circulation around the product.
Solar Oven Moisture Escape When Used as a Food Dehydrator
When you use your solar oven as a food dehydrator, you have to vent the lid so that the moisture will escape. Solar ovens do really well at keeping moisture in, which is usually a good thing and one of the best parts of using a solar oven for regular cooking.
When dehydrating, though, you want all the moisture to escape by providing a way for it to vent out of the oven, without releasing all of the heat. Find a heat-resistant object that is between 1/2 inch to 1 inch thick. Wedge it it between the lid and edge of your solar oven and double check that it stays put the whole time you’re dehydrating.
We wedge a baking stone on one side of the oven between the lid and the rim of the oven body. We secure the solar oven clamps all over the unit, except where the stone is wedged. The stone stays wedged just fine and moisture evaporates out during the drying process. Whatever you choose to use as a wedge, make sure it can take the extreme heat that it will be exposed to in the solar oven. Those things get toasty!
How Long to Dehydrate?
You might read that apples can take 24 hours to dehydrate in a solar oven. It depends a lot on where you live, how sunny the day is and what the ambient temperature is. Living in the dry, warm climate of Utah our apple chips are done in about six hours. If you live where it’s more humid or the sun keeps ducking behind clouds, it will take longer.
To refresh your memory on how to correctly use a solar oven, please visit this post from Sun Oven.
To improve and lessen dehydrating time, be sure to use a slicer to get each apple piece that same thickness. The apple chips will dry evenly and quickly if they’re a uniform thickness. About 1/8th of an inch thickness will give you a nice sized apple chips that dehydrates quickly.
I highly recommend a consistent thickness of whatever product you’re trying to dehydrate. If the pieces are of uneven thicknesses, they will dry at uneven times and you’ll have to babysit your batch. It’s a lot easier to have everything finish dehydrating at the same time.
How to Store Apple Chips
As we wrote in our original apple chip post, it’s important to store your dehydrated apple chips as quickly as possible after they’ve cooled. If you live in a dry climate, your air will be more forgiving if you have to leave your tray of apple chips for a few hours. If you live in a humid climate, it’s very important that you don’t allow dehydrated food to sit out.
As Shelle Wells writes in her book Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook,
“Take it from my experience: if you leave your dried tomatoes on the counter overnight in a humid house, they will need to be reprocessed a second time the next day. Think of dehydrated food as a moisture sponge; it lvoe to absorb liquid and humidity.”
Shelle suggests storing your dehydrated foods in glass jars with tight lids directly after dehydrating. You can keep your eye on the jars for a few days and look for any condensation on the glass; if you see water collecting, you will need to re-process your apple chips.
If there’s mold present, dump the batch in the compost and try again.
After you’ve double checked that they’re dry, you can store your apple chips in any air-tight container. Consume them within the year for the best taste.
More Apple Stuff
If you still have some apples leftover after dehydrating all you’ll need, try these:
- Hawthorn Mulled Apple Cider from Nitty Gritty Mama
- 12 Ways to Preserve Apples from Grow, Forage, Cook, Ferment
- Make Apple Cider Soap with Nerdy Farm Wife – in fact, you can take Jan’s course in soapmaking, which is wonderful! See below: