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!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I got a new tattoo...

 In May my dear friend, Michelle, came up to visit for the weekend and we got tattoos. She got a laurel wreath around the Greek numerals for 13.1 miles to commemorate her first half marathon. Yes, she does half marathons, and Warrior Dash, and triathlons, and she's a smoker.

Yes, she makes me feel like a lazy ass, but she is incredible and inspiring, and I could probably do those things too, if I got up and out and did them, but I don't... Anyway. She got a beautiful, simple, elegant, and totally significant sign of achievement and I got...a spastic, pink haired, green polk-a-doted, electrocuted looking unicorn, with a gold tooth.

Yes. I. Did. And I love it. Every time I look at it, I smile.

It is silly, and weird, and wonderful, and nothing less than exactly what I wanted.

It took no time at all, hurt less than I expected for the underarm, and makes my day better each time I see it.

I could not have asked for more.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The thrill of a new roof.

 So in May, after much deliberation and cray cray saving, we dove feet first into our roof repair, extension, and our first contractor paying renovation. We were told it would take ten days. A month and a half, no more wood burning fire place, a cars worth of cash, and a stupid amount of rain and hiccups later, we have a covered porch, new soffats, and a no longer leaky roof. Huzzah!
Please enjoy the highlights.
 The first two are before pictures.
 Work begins.
 They stripped the old shingles in 2 hours with 4 guys, it was spectacular.

 Initially we were going to keep the wood burner chimney. However as soon as we opened it up we realized it was a totally wacky size and not at all safe. So, we made the quick decision to nix the fireplace and eventually swap it for a gas version that vents out the side of the house.

 And after all the headache, and stress, and fun too, we have a BEAUTIFUL 500 sq ft covered porch that we use constantly. It was exactly what I envisioned when we purchased this house and I could not be happier with it. No more leaky roof. No more beautiful, but rather unusable, frying pan of a deck. And most importantly, a beautiful space for the family to use, and we do, all the time. 
It's wondrous how much better a junky morning is with a cup of coffee on the deck.