Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Conversations with kids.

"Sweety, chew with your lips closed, PLEASE." (I ask for the 10th time during dinner.)

"Like this?" RAT

"Yes, thank you, just like that... but without the interpretive dance and humming."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Crabapples, two uses for this apple thing.

All of the apples I use for my applesauce are crabapples. Crabapples defined as "any apple less than 2 inches in diameter, with 5 seeds" qualify as crab. So, I already use crabapples for all kinds of goodness saucing and juicing and, this year, pies too. We have a weird mutant multi-graft crabapple with 4 different kinds of apples, thank you science. Three of the apples varieties are white fleshed ranging in skin color from Granny Smith green, to yellow with a very slight blush, to a bold red, their blossoms are white with pink or yellow centers. They are slightly tart but delicious every way I have tried preparing, just a wee bit small. Then there is the fourth branch, the ugly sister. The one that no one would ever assume was related to the other beauties. The one that is only there for utility, to do the grunt work. This post is about true crabapples. You know the ones. The crabapples that are the size of a quarter, look more like cherries than apples, and are so sour, you'd rather stick a lemon in your mouth than eat one, because you can't eat them. They are useless. They're only good for throwing at people (not that I've ever done that), as sling shot ammo (that either), or pollination. Right?

Well, no. I learned, though good for the previously mentioned things (I don't condone hurling them btw, unless safety glasses are worn by all, then HELL YEAH sling shot at targets or throw them at each other, they are awesome for this!)Um, they have at least TWO other uses.

That's right, this post is a two-fer! I will be taking you through crabapple jelly (my first jelly that required a jelly bag, eish), and crabapple pectin. Woohoo!

Let's start by introducing the crabapples we grow on the mysterious 4th branch. They are slightly oblong, about the diameter of a quarter, think the size of large white grapes, or very small plums.

They grow in clusters, have five seeds, beautiful rose pink flesh, and red violet skins. Also, they taste of evil, but we'll get there in a minute... 

The first step in either process we pick a bajillion of the tart little suckers. Ok, so, I have the kids do it, because ain't nobody got time fo that...when I have other stuff to do (eat bon bons and lay on the couch, or, clean stuff or whatever) and this mom pays a .50 cents a full bucket of apples. Yes, I stooped to payed labor. I regret nothing. So, the boys made like $4 collectively off this project. Not only did they pick them, they de-stemmed and sorted out the visibly bad ones too. Absolutely worth 4 bucks.

So we have about a 1/4 of a bushel, of pinky purple fruit. Onward!

Now you need to find a comfy chair, a big pot, a garbage bucket, and one of the three crazy sharp super nice paring knives you bought specifically for this season of preserving. Or any small knife would work, really.

Then trim the blossom end, ensure the stem was in fact plucked by the helpers, and cut the wee pink stinkers in half. Discard any wormy or icky fruit. No peeling, no coring. Easy peasy.

Repeat, forever, or till you are finished, took me about an hour sitting in the sun. It was rough.

All finished. The ready for stove weight was 10 pounds. My handy dandy Ball Canning Guide tells me that I can expect about 1 cup of juice per pound. So I expect about 10 cups. Right on.

Next step is to put your big beautiful pot of halved crabapples on the stove, add a couple cups of water, I *think* the recipe said around a cup of water per pound of fruit, but I'm pretty sure I only added 4, I live dangerously.

And then turn on your burner to medium high heat and top it all with a lid. Leave it be for a long while, till the skin peels off and the meat is mushy. Turn off heat and give them a stomp with a potato masher. Also, pause to enjoy the delicious aroma unlike anything else in the fruit world. Not apple-like at all. It will be floral and fruity, a joy to the ole-factory.

It smells SO good, but DON'T taste it. Seriously. I mentioned it tastes of evil earlier, I'm getting there, but it is also REALLY REALLY HOT. Enjoy the smell, only. Next comes the part I epicly fail at 7 out of 10 times. The dreaded jelly bag, or "drip stage". It really isn't so bad, or difficult, I am just really clumsy and terrible with this part. I am getting better now, but this was my first attempt and it was poorly executed. A smaller amount of this recipe can actually be drained in a Jelly bag, but 10 pounds really needs a muslin lined colander, or two.

I used one. I should have used two. I made a hell of a hot mess of my kitchen. Literally a HOT mess, that shit was boiling a few minutes ago. Seriously, BE careful! And for the love of all that is good DO NOT TASTE THE MUSH!

I understand the compulsion. You'll see a drip, or large piles of dropped mush, and think, "it smells SO good. I have to wipe up that drip anyway. I'll just take a taste."
So you do.
You swipe your finger through it and pop it into your mouth and, "HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! YUUUUUUUCK!" Tears spring to your eyes and you gag.

It tastes like your mouth the morning after a porcelain hugging ended night of drinking or when you wake up after the worst stomach flu you've ever had. So sour it tastes like stomach acid. It MUST be what evil tastes like. You'd eat a pile of your least favorite thing, right now, to get the taste out of your mouth.

It is vile and horrible, and, DAMMIT, you are STILL going to make Jelly out of it. You are making flavor of evil jelly, because...well you have put a lot of work into it so far and if you can like Hot Pepper Jelly, this has GOT to be salvageable.

So you shake off your full body shivers, and the memory of the taste of evil, tie up your bag and let it hang. Then spend about an hour cleaning up the mess you made initially and the other mess you made when you dropped the jelly bag into the already dripped juice splashing everything including yourself, in the process. It is perfectly acceptable to think "Maybe this isn't my thing." Shake it off and continue, you will get better.

Leave it to drip for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Ignore the fact there are no pictures of the bagging process, it was a complete disaster, it didn't require documentation.

The next morning you have a lovely 10 ish cups of evil juice.

I separated out 6 cups to make jelly, and left 4 cups for pectin. Now is where the two processes diverge.

Crabapple Jelly

Equal parts crabapple juice and sugar (Yes, equal parts, so 6 cups juice and 6 cups sugar)

Thats it. (The crabapple juice is acidic enough and has enough natural pectin you don't need any other ingredients.)

After the sugar and juice are mixed, take a taste, this is not a trick. I swear. This time it is palatable, almost good even. It gets even better once it boils. Put them in a pot on high heat and stir, oh, for-e-ver, but more likely 40 minutes to an hour or so depending on the natural pectin levels of your cabapples.

Sanitize your jars and start your lids in the stirring somewhere.

Boil your jelly so it can't be stirred down, and until you reach the sheet stage of jellying.

Turn off heat and pour into sanitized jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Process 10 minutes.

Marvel at your accomplishment of sweetening evil into something delicious on warm fresh bread.

I did mention another use for crabapple juice. It is even more simple than the two ingredient jelly. Yes, really.

 Crabapple Pectin

crabapple juice (4 cups I reserved)

Sanitize jars and lids. Pour juice into pot.

In a small glass container pour a bout 2 tablespoons of rubbing alcohol. 

Spoon out about a tablespoon of crabapple juice into the rubbing alcohol and stir. Your crabapple juice should solidify and gel. If not the first time, heat your juice to boiling and try again with new rubbing alcohol and boiling juice, if it still doesnt gel, try again after boiling 20 minutes. 

*DO NOT EAT the rubbing alcohol juice mixture!!! Do NOT taste it! Pour it down the drain, ALL OF IT! Rubbing alcohol is POISON!*

Go back to your pot of juice if you approve of your gel stage. Heat till boiling, pour into sanitized hot jars, and water bath 10 minutes.

I chose to can mine, mostly, in 1/4 pints, this is the amount of pectin required by most standard recipes. I ended up with 10, 1/4 pints and 3, 1/2 pints of pectin. More than enough for my jelly and jam making next spring. 

So there you have it. Two perfectly good ways to use a much misunderstood and underutilized fruit.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

About that...

I wasn't lying!
I swear, I didnt disappear again.
I, well, I did, but it wasn't because I crawled into a chair with a stack of books. I simply had far too lofty expectations of myself during the height of canning season. I have been processing our apples, daily, sometimes all day, for very nearly 6 weeks now and, thankfully, I only have a little over a bushel to go.
The tomatoes are manageable still, but I have been, and still am, crazy busy with the preserving. As I type this, I have a big ole pot on the stove, softening a 1/2 bushel of apples I am going to hang to juice for preserving tomorrow.

I haven't abandoned you or my blog. I have MANY informative, witty, funny, life and preserving related blog posts slowly being finished. But my writing time is limited...aaaaand I lost a post about crabapples that took me two days to get just right, and then I erased the whole thing and it autosaved my nothing before I could do anything about it. I might have cursed my technological dinosaur-hood to  Jupiter and back while bawling like I was watching Beaches. To say I was frustrated and sad is an understatement. So I am being very careful to back up my workings in other places as well as the magic blogger autosaves, so sorry for the slow going. On the upside, expect a post about crabapples soon.

Oh, and one about me building things for Mr. T! I do that now. I'm a power tool using, build complicated things with my own two handsies, chick, now. Its kinda great.

And one about bees.

And one about turkeys.

And one about my obsession with decorating for Halloween!

I have lots of stories started, but none finished. I am working on it. Swearsies.

And now I need to get back to my stove so I can *maybe* get some sleep tonight.

Do not fret though I will leave you with some cute photos.

DOT reading last Sundays comics,
today. Not a laughing matter, apparently.
A very sweet, nearly toothless, old lady dog,
wearing a sweater, looking shocked.
This makes me smile whenever I see it.
wearing my Grandmothers apron,
just as I have been daily for weeks.
Loving that she wore it to do the same things I am.
Looking a bit haggard,
but feeling very lucky to have so much homegrown food to preserve,
a wonderful home to keep clean,
a loving husband to spend my life with,
and healthy kiddos to chase after and haul to practice,
all mixed up together,
making me this way.
I'll take a little haggard with all that other wonderful.

Happy Thursday friends.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Spring and Summer of Preserving: April - July 2015, a picture gallery

First thing to harvest in the spring as
always are dandelions
for jelly and, this year, MEAD!
These garden beds were totally FREE!
I built them with my own two hands from the scraps of other projects,
and lined the bottoms with hardware cloth left over from my father,
and the soil came from our neighbors compost pile.
Of course the three more I build  after this I bought the lumber new.
April and May were spent mostly building things, weeding flower beds, and planting late spring veggies.
My sad little broccoli.
The main head was smaller than the
side shoots I cut a month later.
I was very unimpressed.

June brought strawberries, rhubarb, beets (grown for me by my dad), and black raspberries. Store bought sweet cherries also made an appearance for preserving because they were such a great deal this year.

The first strawberries of the year were
delicious and only lasted about 2 hours with
the boys here.

Rhubarb cobbler was really big here this year, everyone
but RAT really enjoys it.
My rhubarb, of which I have 6 plants, went crazy this year.
I gave away two plants to neighbors,
3 gallons to friends and family and still froze over 4 gallons. 

Oh, and I used it here.
And here, Rhu-berry Jam, or strawberry rhubarb jam.
In total, I made and canned 14 pints of this yumminess.
(MAT was a big helper with the stirring, the for-e-ver stirring.)

Then came the beets.
Last year my father started growing these for me.
This year, I brought home 30-ish pounds worth,
or a keg tub full.

I scrubbed and scrubbed and trimmed and trimmed.
About an hour later I had a big ole bucket of beets to roast and can,
and an old wash tub of tops to blanch and freeze.
I also found a recipe for Beet Wine that
 uses the reserved cooking liquid...but more on that later.

Beets and Rhu-berry Jam

Then the black raspberries came on, and it was a glorious season. Unfortunately, when we were digging out dirt to put in our pool, I didn't mention the pool yet, but we have one...where was I? Oh, right, When we were removing fill, Mr. T thought MY black raspberry patch looked like a great place to dump 1 ton of fill. So MY raspberries were shit this season. Thankfully my parents had an abundance of raspberries free for the picking, so the boys and I made the trip and made off like bandits.

Just about 2 gallons of black raspberries picked by MAT and myself one mild June morning.
This made 8 pints of jam and 8 pints of black raspberry syrup, which is SINFULLY good.

About two days after the raspberry picking, sweet cherries went on sale at the grocery, so I bought 25 lbs. I made sweet pie filling, danish sauce, and syrup.

I have made a lot of syrups this season, partially because MAT, being 10, has found a love of making pancakes, which I wholeheartedly support, because he's better at it than I am. And partially because I have found a love of mixing homemade syrups with Seltzer water.

Also, have lovely syrups to drizzle over things encourages me to bake things, like this poundcake.

The syrups were fresh off the stove and absolutely the best breakfast we had all summer...I mean...yes we had cake for breakfast, and we don't regret it. Sometimes, moms and sons need cake for breakfast.

It was SO good.
Yes, I did lick the plate and spoons after I snapped this photo.

Then it was July, and it brought the heat and stopped the rains, which started in April and fell nearly every day, yes, really, for months. But it did stop, finally.

One particularly lovely morning, before it climbed above 80, while my kiddos still slept, before I drank coffee, I threw on my long sleeves, jeans, big boots, and hosed myself down with bug spray. I grabbed my baskets and went off to forage. I have been learning a lot about wild edibles over the last several months and have been paying closer attention to what grows on our property and the unsprayed local roadways. Staghorn Sumac grows with abundance EVERYWHERE around here. It lines the roadway both north and south of our property as well as growing along our own tree lines.
I picked about a half bushel all together. Slowly dehydrated it over several days. Then pulled the berries off and stored them in 3 quart jars. I plan on using them for spice and flavoring various dishes. Wild foraging is a new passion of mine.
It's totally free food! 

Oh, and I made sumac-ade, or cold sumac tea, or Indiana lemonade. Whatever you call it, it was sour and tasty...and I am totally making mead out of it too.  Just soak the berries in cold water overnight...or three days because you forgot about it, strain out the tree bits and you have this lovely pink sour yumminess that is great with a dollop of honey, then ice, on a hot day.

One day, about midmonth, my "Naked Neighbors" (my 60+ gardening wiz neighbors down the road, who garden only in bathing suits, and call on me to garden sit or take extra homegrown goodness often. They are a hoot! and very generous. I keep them stocked with honey.) called and told me they had two rows of beans that needed picking, so I went and picked all the beans. It was very appreciated because our beans did diddly squat this season. 

DOT is a VERY helpful garden helper this year. Really.
He truly helps with every task. He's growing SO fast. 
And that concludes our preserving from April-July 2015.

Sorry it was fast and dirty. Maybe next year I will be on it and be able to get you the individual play by play.

And now, before I return to my  very abundant apples and Naked Neighbor pears (also, silly style abundant this season) I leave you with some gratuitous kiddo photos. Because they grew a lot in the time I've been away, and they have new tricks!

MAT, at 10 and 1/2, cooks a variety of delicious things including eggs, pancakes, grilled cheese, soup, and spaghetti.
RAT sticks to only breakfast classics.

And DOT, Mr. T, and I, reap all the benefits.

Be prepared, apple, pear, and honey harvest posts are coming.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Don't call it a comeback...

Really, just don't.
I'm not sure what this is.
I'm... dipping my toes, testing the water, absolutely NOT diving in head first.
No guarantees, no promises, no expectations.

If you are still here and a subscriber, thank you.
I didn't mean to be away so long.
I don't even know why I was.
There weren't any life changing things.
No catastrophe that kept me away or off the interweb entirely.

I just...haven't been here.

I retreated into many many spectacularly good, and bad, books. Which isn't a bad thing on its own, but what I was doing was avoidance of reality, for no particular reason.

I read, did the absolute bare minimum of housework, fed my family far too much easy junk food, and abandoned my writing.

In June, when school let out, and the boys were home, I realized how much I had checked out as a parent. How much I was not being the parent I wanted to be. How much I wasnt being the me I wanted to be. And that sucks. So I worked on myself all summer. Reconnecting with my kids and husband. Reconnecting to my inner Ma Ingles. Reconnecting to the frugal, involved, do it myself woman I was and want to be, always.

I am going to try to blog regularly and write regularly, again. To finish my forgotten and abandoned writing, crafting, cooking things regularly. I have been working all summer to grow, make or preserve as much food for my family as I can.
I haven't done much of any of that in, oh, almost two years, and I am looking to remedy that and get back.

But don't call it a comeback, because, well, I've been known to be full of empty promises before...

Friday, September 20, 2013

2013 Harvest: Apple Season, Sauce Edition

This is the start to a series I am doing about our harvest and preservation for this year. It is as much to show you all what can be easily grown/raised (seriously I am embarrassed to show you my garden, it is a nightmare, I bet our yields would triple if I would just weed and feed the damn thing anytime after July 1st), preserved, and as a record to show myself that, eventually, we WILL get to the point of only buying dry goods and milk. It is still a long way off, but this years yields will be a great starting point.I will cover what we grow, barter for, and what we are happily the recipients of when others have surplus, but not today, today is about apples, specifically applesauce.

 Apple season is in full swing, it has been for about a month.

DOT is an excellent apple picking helper.
the shiver that went with this face was priceless

My tables are covered in baskets of produce, but we are interested in the ones of apples. The crock pots bubbling, bowls of discard and my making 9 quarts of apple sauce, at least, a day for the last week can attest, apple season has been good this year. And it is a beautiful thing, friends. My storage and canning room shelves are filling and filling. I officially ran out of space yesterday, though things have been getting stacked rather precariously for about a week now. It's wonderful. To know we have stores of food to eat, that aside from sugar, salt, lemon, and lids, cost us nothing. We have been very fortunate to have friends and neighbors randomly drop off or invite us to pick their surplus, to which I promptly reply, "what are you doing right now? Tomorrow? Would you mind if you came home and it was all gone?" with a smile. When my father call and asks, "How many ___ do you want?" I reply, "as many as you want to bring me." Because, to be honest, replying "All of them" is just too greedy for my tongue, but it is how I feel. Those surpluses I will discuss later, this post is about applesauce.

We have 5 apple trees on the property, and no, I have no idea what kinds they are except two are eating apples (they have feet), one is a cooking apple (its fruit are kind of width wise oval roundy shaped), one dropped its apples the first week of August when we were gone so aside from knowing they were red we know nothing else (and I am sick over the waste), and the 5th is a crab apple with three different varieties, two of which are fantastic sauce apples. So I have been saucing my little heart out. I figured out, easy applesauce is the best way to do it. I have been coring and peeling all my adult life to make applesauce, but no more. I recently had someone tell me THE way to make apple sauce, I was skeptical, but I am a believer now.

 First, you collect your apples. It REALLY helps when you have an adorable helper. DOT has been an excellent helper this harvest season. He was the breakthrough mind who convinced me that green tomato salsa verde and green tomato relish would be in our pantry when, trying to help, he broke two tomato vines down and then picked every single tomato, of which NONE were even close to ripe, and then was so proud of himself I just said "ok, lets use these! Thank you so much! What a big helper!" and then I proceeded to ask him not to pick anything without me telling him to. He was so proud, and the green tomato concoctions turned out wonderful, but that's another day.

So you pick (up) your apples. We wait till they fall because, well, picking is tedious and I got started a bit late so many many usable ripe apples were already on the ground before I started. (The "bad" ones are being fed to the ducks, chickens and geese, I cant wait to see if it will impact the flavor of the meat when we take them to butcher at the end of the month. Plus, I think they might get a little drunk off the fermented ones, good for them.)

I keep thinking if we had started earlier we would have apple juice and cider and I could start apple cider vinegar and... oh well, next year. So, you pick, then you wash, and try not to lose your mind over the bounty that you have so stupidly squandered in the past. Hindsight and all that.

Anyway, easy applesauce, you wash the apples, and in my case since the apples I sauce are on average the size of a golf ball, I cut them in half, bigger apples, smaller chunks. The only reason I halve them is to check for bugs and badspots, and you would be surprised how quickly one gets over the sight of fruit worms crawling on their hands, since we don't spray our trees, nor does anyone else we get fruit from, it happens fairly frequently. The ick factor is still pretty high, but the freak out reaction evaporates.

So, halve them, or quarter for larger apples, and treat for browning. I just filled up one side of the sink and poured some lemon juice in it. I'm sure there is a proper proportion, but I haven't looked up.

Then from sink into big ass pot, or on occasion, two big ass pots, yes I have run two large batches at once, it was very labor intensive, for about 40 minutes, otherwise, it just made me wish our basement stove was hooked up so I could put more pots on at once... I may have a problem, I know.
You toss your halved, treated apples in a pot with a bit of water and cook the firmness right out. Once the water boils it takes about 20-30 minutes to soften them. Make a note to enjoy the smell. Applesauce in the making is a delightful scent and a strong sense memory for me. I very clearly remember helping my paternal grandmother make apple sauce often during my childhood and teen years. And the smell of cooking apples makes me think of her every time, it is welcome every time. I hope my children, and one day, long, long from now, I will make applesauce with my grandchildren too.

Once the apples are cooked into submission, in small batches( I use a two cup measuring cup for each batch) run your softened apples through a food mill. I have two, one hand crank stainless steel bowl version, which was a gift, and I can't stand using it, and this one that was handed down to me from Mr. T's maternal grandmother to me. It was her mothers before that. So, I love it all the more for the history and use it every chance I get, also, its way easier to degunk between batches than that bowl contraption.

This is the part the boys love watching, because, well, it's messy and cool and hey! warm apple sauce within spooning distance.

Then return your brand new sauce to the stove, add some lemon juice, again, I just wing it, and if you want sweetened now is the time to add your sugar, we don't because I like tart applesauce and if it is essentially naked it is easier to use in other things later, like apple butter, which is a later post.

Bring to boil and pour it into hot sterile jars, lid em, process water bath 20 minutes, quarts or pints.

Then start all over and do it again tomorrow! No seriously. Do it till you run out of quart jars (it's happened twice already), then start on some pints, and even single servings if you have a surplus of jelly jars (Mr. T happened to bring home two dozen 1/2 pints and also a laundry basket over flowing with wide mouth pints, 7 dozen to be exact, from work Monday night this week saying "Darren found 'em on the side of the road, he knows you can things so... here you go." Seriously love my husband and Darren a little too, even though we've never met.)
The color variation from batch to batch is fun.
My second batch was made of red crab apples, most were sadly lost to the ground as I was not in full preservation mode when they fell.
I was in, "get the kids to school and fill out paperwork, don't forget anything" mode.
The third row from the left is the red crab batch and its a little rose colored.

the count is 56 quarts, 8 pints, and 30, 1/2 pints canned for the season

And then when you feel you have enough. You sit back, enjoy the view of your full shelves, promise some to friends and family, specifically those who gave you jars, and then resolve to make LOTS and lots of apple butter. Of course, that comes after vowing to make up the amount to replace the jars you promise to others, but apple butter is a must with the rest of the apples that haven't fallen yet. Many different kinds and decadent flavors, because, we both know the apples are there, and you are going to sauce them, its just too fun and easy not too.

Apple season is far from over and I'm sure more sauce will be sauced this season, but I feel comfortable with our more than jar a week store. I still have the cooking apples to make pie filling out of ...and dumplings to bake, and to store the eating season is a wonderful time of the year... Pear season is too, and don'tcha know, they happen at the same time. We aren't fortunate to have a pear tree yet, but we know the owners of three, and they are very very generous. We are quite fortunate in our family, friends, and neighbors as well a terribly lucky with our crops this year.

Happy Friday! I hope your harvest season, and end of summer, are treating you well!