The Itch And A Witch
Katydid Folklore

Bleaching Apples The Old Time Way

Drying Apples the old fashioned way

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."

Bleaching apples the old fashioned way

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?


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Shan-thank you for the comment! Im not sure what variety would be the best but I would guess a firm apple would. Maybe someone who knows more than I do will chime in with the answer!

What kind of Apple is used for bleaching Apple

I am going to sulfur apples this Monday , we do it every year I got my sulfur this year at cvs ,I use an apple peeler to peel core and slice the apples then put them in a egg basket and hang in a barrell and lite the sulfur on fire on an old plate and put under them and cover with an old quilt and then store in mason jars with wax paper under the lid

I have heard of this, but where would one be able to find the sulfur to use for this? I plan on giving it a try this year! I was also told you can do pears too. I wonder what else you can can preserve using this method!! :)

Ken-thank you so much for sharing your knowledge of this almost totally lost art of preserving apples!


Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving
Culture of Appalachia

My grandmother took a wooden whiskey barrel, set a flat stone in the bottom center. Placed a metal pan about six inches in Dia. on the stone, took a round roll of chicken wire, rolling it up just large enough to go around the pan in the bottom and reaching to near the top of the bbl. She then filled the bbl. with whole apples all around the screen wire. She then put sulphur in the pan, lit it on fire, then covered the top with a wooden cover, covering about 3/4 or more of the top of the bbl. After about 3-4 days the apples shrivelled up to look somewhat like a prune, but not nearly as wrinkled. they were then ready and could be kept for two or three years. When cut up and cooked in water, they came back to their original shape. Tasted great, but a little like sulphur. Do not get too near the suophur fumes for they will suffocate you quickly. We did this in a out building where no one would go near it. The sulphur heats the pan so hot hours after the sulphur has burned away, that it will instantly burn you if you touch it. It is one of the worst hurting burns and I speak from experience. If placed in a cerramic dish the sulphur will melt into the dish ruining it completely. Also the pan. So use something you do not want to reuse.

Mickey-Im not sure what kind of wood they used either. Hopefully someone else will know and add the information in a comment. If you do give the process a try-please let us know how it works out : )

Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving the
Culture of Appalachia

what kind of wood did our Granny use? My granny used a certain kind of wood but I can not remember. if any body could post What kind of wood used for sulfrated dried apples I would appreciate it. I am willing to try this.Thank You

Dan-drying the apples gives them a richness-sorta of a deeper flavor than just using regular apples. But Im sure regular apples would be tasty too : )

Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving the
Culture of Appalachia

I am drying apples right now to make a stack cake. My question is why are dried apples that are re-hydrated better that fresh apples that do not need to be re-hydrated. The recipe we are following says at the end " you may use fresh apples if you do not have any dried apples." Which would seem to indicate dried is better.

Chris-thank you for the comment! Ive never heard of any other fruit being bleached-only apples. You might google search and see if anything else shows up.


Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving the
Culture of Appalachia

Nichole-thank you for sharing your memories of dried apples on the Blind Pig! I hope you find a source for buying them : )


Blind Pig The Acorn
Celebrating and Preserving the
Culture of Appalachia

My Nanny and Great Aunt from KY were raised drying apples. They only used the sun drying method so the dried apples were brown. Every year for the holidays we would make dried apple stack cake and fried apple pies! Yummy. My Great Aunt is 93 now so she only gets the dried apples from neighbors so I miss getting my apples every year and I live in FL and I've been told you just can't dry them here because it's too humid. Anyone know where to buy good old fashioned naturally sun dried apples?

Can other fruits and vegetables be cured this way? If so, do you know any publications that may be helpful?

My twin sister and I live in Haywood County now...we were invited by an older couple at church to come visit them and see how "smoking apples" was done. We knew how our mama would dry apples on a big cloth on a sawhorse in the backyard...anyway, we went up on Tues., helped them peel and get the apples ready, then they showed us how they smoked the apples with sulphur, etc...then they put the apples in 1/2 gal. glass jars and covered (and then tied) the top of the jar with was fascinating!!! And we came home with a jar each!!

Interesting Article ... good read, am linking it to my account.

I use organic sulfur powder to treat my potatoes before planting them, keeps them from getting a fungus which causes them to rot. It may be the same as what ole timers you speak of used. I can buy it at the local co-op and the Pharmacist sells it from behind the counter at the local Drug Store. Any hardware store/seed store which sells seed potatoes would sell it too.

My father who died at 89 a few years back, sulphured apples and kept them all year round in large crocks simply covered with cloth over the mouths. APPLESTACK CAKE was heavenly made from them!

I have sulfured apples sitting in my kitchen at the present that my Mom and Dad do each and every yr. They are great eating!!! My parent are in their early seventies and grow about every bite the eat. Both are in Great health. They live in Owsley Co. Ky

Thank you for the comment! I do not know where you could find sulfur. Maybe a feed/hardware store? At least they might be able to point you in the right direction. If you try drying apples with the sulfur-please let me know how it turns out-I've always wanted to try it too : )

Blind Pig The Acorn

Celebrating and Preserving the

Culture of Appalachia

My mother remembers sulfuring apples when she was a little girl. I thought I'd try it this fall but was wondering where I can buy the sulfur. Any suggestions?

I helped my "MAMA" almost 60 years ago preserve apples using sulphur. She would heat a small black iron skillet and place in the bottom of the old ten gallon clay churn,she then would set a series of wooden racks(Dad had specially carved) then put the sulphur in the hot pan and cover the churn with a cloth and do this for a couple of days since there were 9 of us to feed. I could hardly wait those couple of days she required before eating. Then to make heaven come to earth she would dry a goodly amount of this fruit to later make "smoked fruit pies". We thought we were some of those poor people from the Appalachian mountains. There wasn't much money but with food like this with a touch of a good Godly MOTHER we didn't need much else.

mswnana-thanks for the comment! The ladies didn't dry the apples whole-they peeled them and cut them into quarters.Sounds like your family has a wonderful history of living in the mountains.

Blind Pig The Acorn

Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk

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My oldest sister used to dry apples and green beans (leather britches). This was taught to us by the Indians. We came to these mountains with the first settlers. I did not know about drying apples whole. I never spray my apple tree. What if I dried them worms and all?

Very interesting.

My mother and neighbor made "sulfur apples", but I never learned the process. Now at 65, I wish I had payed attention....they were so white and tasted wonderful. there was no sulfur taste at all. thank you for this post.

I know a lot of commercial companies use sulfur to preserve the color of dried fruits (without it they would turn brown).

I've heard a lot of people say its bad for you and some people say they are allergic to it.

Out here in Seattle though you got folks who allergic to just about everything - soy,wheat,dairy,spices,fruits,nuts,sulfer,perfume, just to name a few.

Sulfer has been used in traditionally used in medicine for skin disorders and it naturally occurring in foods like eggs.

So personally I think its alright in small doses :)

I have never heard of bleaching. As usual I learn something new from you every day. I should ask my mom since they probably did something like this when she was growing up.

Aren't there sulfites in wine that bug some people?
I think there's no getting around that preserving something means altering it, if you want to save something long past when nature intended it to rot you are using a process that might have consequences -- but I think it's good to use substances our body would come into contact with in nature and in amounts somewhat resembling what might turn up in the real world. So I suspect a lot of what used to be used was kind of toxic -- and nothing near so toxic as what is used in much food today.
Nice post.

Helen-thanks for the comment. I'm not sure how the smell didn't ruin the apples-I'm hoping someone else out there will have some first hand experience with the method.

Blind Pig & The Acorn
Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
All at

Peggy-Thank you! Do you remember what the bleached apples tasted like? I wondered if they tasted smoky?

Blind Pig & The Acorn
Music, Giveaways, Mountain Folk
All at

My grandmother bleached apples like this too!

I didn't realize the sulfur part was so fast. I remember the smell of the sulfur but never saw what she was doing with them. I guess we just ran away from the smell while they were busy doing the work :)

We were just talking about this the other day when you posted about drying apples. I remember her drying them out on big screens in the yard because the bees were so bad!

Thanks for helping me reunite with my heritage too. I've just finished canning my pickled beans - thanks for the GREAT pictures you posted - it helped me know that what I was doing was the right way. There aren't many people left to help us these days! You're doing a great service!

Hey Tipper-

Are you gonna try it? I think I would be more afraid of the axe heads made today. :)
I just love these posts.

Like most I've never heard of this. So I ask my mom and dad they have never heard of it. But I'm blessed with a 91 year old aunt how grew up in Smithville, Tennessee and yes they did it. She remember her mother and aunts doing it and how bad it smells.

That sounds like a doable thing and oh so delicious. Sounds like fun for the ladies, too.

Tipper, I never heard of my grandmother drying anything with sulfur. She put everything in the sun!
The sulfur treated fruits come out looking prettier and clearer but what I have read says it is not healthy for us. I don't know the chemistry, maybe it's a different kind of sulfur than we have in our bodies or maybe it is the burning of the sulfur that changes it.
So, I buy raisins at the health food store because they do not have sulfur.
I don't really believe anything the FDA has to say.
If the sulfur smoked fruit still retains moisture and tastes fresh, as the women said, then there must be something in the process that preserves the apples so that mold and bacteria won't grow in them.

I have never heard of this either, but it sure doesn't sound healthy, does it? My neighbors used to "can" sausage by cooking it in patties, putting the patties in jars and pouring the grease over them, then sealing the jars. My neighbor said they used to just put the patties in crocks and cover them with grease and put the crock in the cellar with a cloth over the top. You'd think they'd die of food poisoning but they lived to a ripe old age. I made the sausage like that once, but I put it in the pressure canner--just too chicken to take a chance!

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