Does a fine job peeling, coring, and spiral-slicing apples in less time than prepping by hand, and the design engages all our fantasies about farmhouse pie.
Adjusting the blades is complicated; some of the parts seem flimsy; pretty much a fail with potatoes.
If you deal with mountains of apples for pies, applesauce, canning, or dehydrating, this is great to have around. Otherwise, pass.
The crank-handled apple peeler is a labor-saving appliance from the days before labor-saving appliances came with 220 volts. Indeed, venerable Wisconsin cookware maker West Bend slots the Peel Away in its Back to Basics gadget line (next to canners, snow cone makers, and a cotton candy machine). The Peel Away simultaneously peels and slices apples or potatoes for pies or gratins. It’s the sort of tool we’d find a prominent place for in the fantasy farmhouse kitchen of someone's pie-baking grandma, but is it practical for modern cooks? And should anyone bother finding a home for it on the kitchen counter, next to that super-deluxe food processor and fancy five-speed juicer?
This baby measures nearly 13 inches, from the tip of its shiny apple prongs to the end of its wooden crank. The body is cast iron, coated in enamel the exact shade of Red Delicious apples (of course). A three-pronged fork threads onto the shaft, an arc-shaped peeling blade is attached to a tension spring arm, and there's a circular coring and slicing blade (the blade arm adjusts to cut either 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch slices). There are two models—the clamp-on style and the vacuum-grip style—varying only in the way they secure to your counter (we tested the vacuum-grip model). It looks like a complicated bit of mechanics, but apart from attaching it to the counter, screwing on the fork, and aligning the blades, the Peel Away is ready to go. The finishes are easy enough to clean with warm, soapy water, and the peeler comes with a five-year warranty (though if West Bend finds out you took pliers or other hand tools to this baby, all bets are off). It comes with an instruction booklet that also includes 10 recipes, for apple pie, hash browns, apple crisp—stuff like that.
We put the Peel Away to work on the two things it was designed for: apples and russet potatoes. We peeled, we sliced, we took notes.
Apples: With a pile of six medium apples in front of us, we got busy. The good news: For five out of the six apples, the peel came off in one easy, continuous spiral. And it took three minutes to peel them all, which is pretty quick compared to the time it would have taken by hand. The not-so-good news: When we tried to adjust the slicing blade to cut smaller than the 1/4-inch maximum, we couldn’t properly align the peeling blade—the first apple we tried got stuck. So we resigned ourselves to 1/4-inch spirals.
Russet potatoes: This was harder and fiddlier than dealing with our apples. Actually, if you just want to peel your spuds, the Peel Away's not bad—you just have to loosen and lower the peeling blade’s arm. But if you also want to spiral-cut your potatoes (i.e., create a sort of continuous potato Slinky), you have to cut the spuds into pieces no longer than three inches. Even with that, though, the Peel Away did a pretty poor job, since potatoes are usually not as round or as symmetrical as apples; we ended up with uneven, poorly peeled spirals. We also tried the Peel Away for cutting shoestring potatoes (there are rather complicated instructions for this in the instruction booklet under Recipes), but the blade was hard to adjust, and we just couldn’t get it close enough to the shaft to cut properly. After adjusting and adjusting, we ended up with imperfectly peeled, jankily shaped pieces.
General stuff: Sort of a mixed scorecard with the Peel Away. The vacuum clamp worked fine once we figured out we had to press down really hard before turning the suction arm; the fork did a good job keeping the fruit and spuds in place; and the tool generally did a good job peeling and coring apples. Potatoes were frustrating, though, and shoestrings were an utter fail. Basically, if you make a lot of apple pies, the Peel Away might be for you. If not, it’ll probably lurk permanently at the back of that remote corner cabinet.
Photos by Chris Rochelle