Backroads: Apple Schnitzing

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A long line of women apple slicers. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

The term schnitz originated from the Pennsylvania Dutch word “snitz” which refers to a dried chunk of apple, and the German word “schnitzen,” meaning to carve or slice. Cutting up bushels of apples for drying or the making of apple butter is time consuming, repetitive work so gathering as many people together to do the job makes for an enjoyable evening of fun or as the old adage goes, “Many hands make light work.”

Apples take on a much different flavor and texture when they are dried. Through dehydration moisture is removed, which concentrates the flavor. Packing in airtight containers will keep the apples edible for up to a year and longer if frozen. Dried apples are a healthful snack and can be soaked in water or cider to rehydrate and then used in cooking and baking, much like fresh apples.

Sadie Kinsinger and William Hershberger team up at the schnitzing. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

This annual tradition has been going on for more than 50 years by members of the Amish/Mennonite community of Stuarts Draft and is sponsored by Pilgrim Fellowship Mennonite Church. In earlier years the cutting and drying of apples was held at the old cannery located in Draft. It is now held at the former Mt. Zion Amish School during the fall harvest season. This year’s schnitzing was held every Tuesday evening from Sept. 19 through Nov. 7 except one night in October when the church held its yearly revival. The schnitzing was open to the public as well as the Amish community.

My husband Billy and I were invited to the schnitzing by Mrs. Sadie Kinsinger. The evening we attended, around 55 people were in the process of peeling, coring and slicing 35 bushels of apples. Children, teens and adults participated. Smaller children carried peeled apples to the adults for cutting and picked up the core leavings. Older children strong enough to lift a five-gallon bucket of cut apples carried them to the dryer and poured them in. Happy chatter and laughter permeated the school as people worked side by side throughout the evening.

Paul Hershberger showing the peeling process. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

It was thought that Jonas Kanagy was responsible for manufacturing the large dryer used for the weekly schnitzing activities. The dryer, a propane furnace with forced air circulating under a large metal grid, can dry up to 35 bushels of apples at one time. It takes approximately 30 hours to completely dry that amount. When dry, the apples are packed in liners fitted inside 55 gallon drums and sealed.

The idea of sending dried apples to impoverished countries came when Clyde Bender, Jonas Kanagy and Hershel Bridge went on a mission trip to Haiti and saw the poor conditions and hunger that existed there. They came back and shared their concerns with their churches and began making plans to send dried apples to a children’s home based in Leogane, Haiti. They’ve done this through the Blue Ridge Mission in Plain City, Ohio, which is a collection site, and the mission, in turn, ships the apples as well as many other products to Haiti.

Apples in the dryer. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

Every Tuesday, Paul and Barbara Hershberger drive their truck to Fitzgerald Orchard in Tyro to pick up forty bushels of apples for that night’s cutting. Thirty-five bushels will be cut up and the remaining five bushels sold to anyone wanting to purchase fresh apples. As a rule of thumb, Paul said they usually try for seven to eight cuttings a year and deliver around 12 drums to the mission in Ohio to be shipped to Haiti.

The Leogane Children’s Home is a home for girls whose families live in the mountainous regions of Haiti, one of the poorest economic areas of the country. In addition to their regular schoolwork, the girls are taught trades such as crocheting, basketry and making Caribbean vanilla. Bringing it closer to home, Elizabeth Showalter, daughter of Trent and Marie Showalter, volunteers at the facility and on return trips home she brings back the girls’ handiwork and takes it to The Cheese Shop of Stuarts Draft where it is sold without commission. Profits go back to support the less fortunate in Haiti.

Girls at the Leogane Children’s Home receiving dried apples. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Showalter.

Another project accompanying the dried apples has been spearheaded by the Trent Showalter family, who collect bars of used soap from hotels and motels in the Waynesboro, Staunton and Lexington areas. After collection, the soap is cleaned, packaged and sent to The Leogane Children’s Home where it is melted down, formed into balls and distributed to Haiti’s mountain people for personal use and for washing clothes.

As with many other acts of kindness and love, the members of the Amish/Mennonite community pay for their charitable gifts to the less fortunate out of their own pockets, with no cost to the recipient. They are called the “Plain People,” but their message is profound. At this holy time of year, may we follow their example and find ways to give back to mankind in the name of love.

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