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.