A Rebellion in Applesauce

There’s a regression happening in food.  People are going backward instead of forward (well, unless you count folks like Ferran Adria and Grant Achatz and those of their ilk in the world of “progressive cuisine”).  We’re headed back to simpler times, using ingredients that our ancestors might have recognized.  We’re shying away from things that are created in laboratories and large factories and opting instead for things that grow in the dirt and are prepared in our own kitchens.  Its scandalous, really.  We’re bucking the system.  Such rebels.For many of us, this is the impetus for that rebellion.  As parents, we want what’s best for our kids.  We want them to be happy and healthy, we want them to succeed and to be the best “them” they can be.  These little lives?  They’re precious, absolutely priceless.  And we, as their parents, are responsible for those lives.  Why we wouldn’t want to lay the best possible foundation for them is beyond me.

Part of that is preparing the best possible food for them – and that means getting in the kitchen and cooking.  In our house, it means chopping vegetables, peeling apples, making stock from scratch and baking bread.  It means we shy away from the center aisles of the grocery store and stick to the perimeter, buying only those things that came directly from a plant or animal.  In many cases, it means taking time out of our busy schedules to go stand in line in a parking lot to pick up our pastured meat, or schlepping out to the chicken coop in the rain to get the eggs off the nest.  It takes some effort, it’s certainly not always convenient, but it’s completely worth it.

It’s apple season in Georgia right now.  We’ve got another month or so before it comes to an end, but I always feel like I have to stock up on crisp, juicy local apples while the gettin’s good.  We’ll eat a good number of them whole, as they make excellent lunch-box additions and handy afternoon snacks; the rest will be broken down and processed in some form or fashion to make them last through the winter and into spring (if, that is, we don’t gobble them all up in the first month – we do love our apples in this house).

We’ve planted three apple trees in our backyard, but they are not yet bearing fruit.  I imagine it will be another two or three years before they begin to produce in any measurable quantity.  Luckily, we live within decent driving distance of a number of apple orchards, all of which produce a nice variety of heirloom apples.If you’re looking to get started in the world of food preservation, may I suggest that you start with applesauce?  It’s one of the simplest things you can make, and it takes very little time from start to finish.  The only ingredients are apples and water (and really, some people don’t even count water as an ingredient), and the most time consuming part of the recipe is the peeling and coring of the apples.  I guess if you have one of those fancy-dancy apple peeler/corer contraptions, then even that isn’t a big deal for you.  For this batch of applesauce, I chose to use a combination of tart Winesaps and sweet Pink Ladies.  I’ve been making applesauce for almost 6 years now, and I have to say I think this is the best version I’ve ever made.  I never add sweetener to my applesauce – why would you?  Apples contain so much natural fructose, it seems like overkill to sweeten them further.  Sometimes I’ll throw a cinnamon stick in the mix, just for a little added depth, but this time around it was the definition of simplicity.  Apples.  In all their autumnal glory.  That is all.

Applesauce
prep time: 20 minutes
cook time: 30-45 minutes
processing time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 24 medium-sized apples, peeled, cored and cut into large dice
  • water
  1. Add 1 inch of water to a large stock pot
  2. Add the peeled, cored and diced apples
  3. Cook over medium heat until apples have softened.  The time on this will vary, given the type of apple you use.  My Pink Ladies broke down much faster than the Winesaps did.  Keep an eye on it, you don’t want it to stick and scorch.
  4. Mash with a potato masher, or puree using a stick blender or food processor
  5. Ladle hot sauce into hot, sterilized pint jars
  6. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes

It really is that simple.  And you won’t believe how good it tastes – I promise.  It is so much better than any commercially produced  applesauce you can buy.  In fact, I purchased some natural applesauce not long ago from a well-known name brand with no added sweetener.  It tasted like nothing – it was soupy and watery, and it had absolutely no flavor.  When I tasted the batch I made yesterday, it was like a revelation.  Sweet, tart, pure apple flavor.  My youngest gobbled up the overflow in about six seconds.

It may seem silly to call this a rebellion.  I realize we’re not marching in the streets and overthrowing governments.  It’s a quiet movement, one that’s happening in homes and communities.  It’s a rebellion about education, about our health, about our children.  We’re changing the future one family at the time.  We’re telling the advertisers and the industrial food conglomerates that we don’t want them to brainwash our children, we don’t believe their hype about their chemically-laden, processed and packaged “convenience” foods.  We’re recognizing that it’s okay to spend time in the kitchen, that it’s actually necessary for the health of our families.  It’s certainly not always easy, and we’re all probably guilty of  falling prey to the occasional convenience food.  But at least we’re trying to make a difference. 

This post is part of Eating Rules October: Unprocessed challenge. 

A Rebellion in Applesauce on Punk Domestics

Peach Habanero Basil Jam

I think for some of us there is an ingrained need, an inherited proclivity, to put food by.  Not so much out of physical necessity or fear of running short of foodstores come winter, but because we have a genetic predisposition to do so.  Whether it’s because we want to ensure the ability to eat local produce year-round, or because we are control freaks who need to know exactly what ingredients go into every little thing that we eat, when we see mounds of fruits and vegetables we immediately get excited at the prospect of standing over a hot stove in the high heat of August so that we can load our pantry shelves with gleaming glass jars of jams, jellies, tomatoes and other assorted foodstuffs.  It may be hot, hard work, but for us the reward is far greater than the effort needed to achieve it.

On Monday, after dropping my oldest at day camp, my mother and I strapped the baby in his car seat and headed an hour south of home to the state farmers market in Forest Park, GA.  While it is called the “state farmers market”, it is really more of a giant produce market – with products hailing from as far away as California and Mexico.  However, there is a row of stalls dedicated to Georgia farmers, and the market produce stand features local and regional options as well.

We wandered the stalls, marveling at some of the more exotic options, but mostly keeping our eye out for peaches and plums.  We both have fond memories of my grandmother’s peach jam and plum jelly – put up every year from the fruit that grew on trees just outside the kitchen window at their home in rural Mississippi.  I can remember clearly standing in the shade of the peach tree, biting into the warm flesh of a perfectly ripe peach that I had just plucked from overhead.  And while I would love to tell you that we have our own miniature orchard in our backyard, that just isn’t the case.  Luckily we live in an area where peaches and plums are readily available this time of year.

Needless to say, we came away from our perusal with more than a few bits of fruit.  That is to say, 50 lbs. of peaches, 25 lbs. of plums and 24 lbs. of cherries.  Oh, and 24 lbs. of strawberries.

I know – it’s a little ridiculous.  But the prices were too good to pass up, and the prospect of freezing and preserving all of that lovely fruit for use throughout the winter was equally as enticing.

We got everything home and immediately set to work processing the ripest of the fruit.  The cherries we pitted and froze in gallon bags.  I’ll figure out what I want to do with them later.  The strawberries were so ripe, we chose to make jam out of most of them, and then freeze a couple of gallons.I also made a few sheets of fruit leather from the strawberries.  I’ll do an entire post on the processing of the strawberries, and the strange circumstances that led us to buy 24 lbs. of almost (but not quite) rotten strawberries later.

Today, I’m focusing on peaches.  50 lbs. of peaches is a lot, in case you were wondering.  We froze three gallons worth, and I managed to ruin at least 10 cups (and one stock pot) in my first attempt at jam – you really do need to keep an eye on things like fruit and sugar when you’re cooking them over high heat.  Scorched peaches and sugar are not the most pleasant scents with which to start your day.

The second and third attempts were much more successful, and I’m now the proud owner of nine pints of peach jam – three of which are spiced up a bit with the addition of some heat from habanero peppers and given a floral note from a few sprigs of purple basil.

Peach Habanero Basil Jam
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 2-3 hours
processing time: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 5 cups peaches, peeled, halved and pitted
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 habanero peppers, stems removed and four slits cut into the sides (leave them whole)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 large sprigs of purple basil
  • 1 packet liquid fruit pectin

  1. Combine peaches, sugar, peppers and lemon juice in a 4 quart (or larger) saucepan.  Stir to mix, then let sit for 10 minutes or so to allow the peaches to release some of their juices.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce to low and allow to gently boil and reduce to a jam-like consistency.  This could take as many as 2-3 hours.  Do not rush it – that’s how I ruined the first batch.  Stir occasionally to prevent sticking.
  3. Once the mixture has reduced and thickened, stir in the basil and let it steep for a few minutes.
  4. While the basil is steeping, prepare your jars (I used a mixture of pint and half-pint jars) – sterilize jars and rings in simmering water.
  5. After the basil has steeped for a few minutes, add the pectin to the peach mixture and bring to a hard boil.  Allow to boil hard for five minutes.
  6. Remove from the heat, remove habanero peppers and basil sprigs from the mixture and discard; fill the hot sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space.
  7. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 20-25 minutes (20 for half-pint, 25 for pint).
  8. Remove from the water bath and allow to cool on the counter.
  9. Enjoy!

The resulting jam is decidedly peachy in flavor, with just the slightest heat.  The basil isn’t terribly prevalent, but it lends a nice back note to the whole thing.  I’ve eaten some on toast for the last two mornings at breakfast, and it is a great way to start the day.  I think it would also be a great glaze on a roasted chicken or a pork loin.

What kinds of things are you putting by this summer? Or is the prospect of spending hours on end in a hot kitchen just too much to bear?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Capturing the Sun in a Jar

Our little family just returned from eight sun-filled, relaxing days on the garden island of Kauai.  Our transition back to reality has been slow and somewhat painful.  I could chalk it up to jet lag and be done with it, but I don’t think that would do it justice.The truth is, there are a handful of places in this world that, the minute I set foot within their borders, I feel like I’ve slipped on a favorite pair of comfy pajamas.  Kauai is one of them.  Nearly eight years ago, my husband and I chose this quiet little island as our honeymoon destination, and ever since we’ve dreamed of going back.

A couple of years ago, my parents-in-law purchased a time share on Kauai, and they invited all of us (our family, my husband’s two brothers and their wives and children) to join them there for a week this summer.  While it was a completely different experience from the one we had when we were newlyweds, it was just as remarkable in its own way.
We aren’t really big “doers” when we go on vacation.  There are a lot of really cool outdoor adventures to be had on Kauai, and one day I imagine we’ll participate in some of them.  We’ve just never felt a lot of pressure to do a million things while we’re there – probably because we know in our hearts that we’ll be back again one day.

On this last trip, we took in some sites, and marveled at the gorgeous scenery.  We visited a number of little towns, and enjoyed some delicious food from some well-known local joints along the way.  The pizza in Kilauea topped with garden fresh veggies was the perfect quick lunch on the way home from the lighthouse;  the shrimp in Waimea was tender, spicy, crispy and delicious; the Puka dogs in Poipu were just as weird and wonderful as I imagined they’d be after seeing them featured on No Reservations last year; and the burger at Bubba’s, made with Kauai grass fed beef, was juicy and flavorful.  The people are friendly, the food is good, and the scenery is magical.  Is it any wonder that I feel right at home there? The minute I set foot on the island eight years ago, I knew I belonged there.  And this most recent trip has just re-confirmed my suspicions.

So, returning to real life has been a little bit of a challenge.  In addition to adjusting to the time change, it almost feels like we left a little piece of ourselves on the garden isle.  I guess we’ll just have to head back one day soon to retrieve it.

In the meantime, I’m keeping myself busy in the garden, trying to keep up with the growing number of sun-ripened tomatoes that seem to be spilling forth from their tangled vines.  I returned home to find the table on the deck weighted down with a ridiculous number of giant pink brandywines, little black princes and tiny jellybean grape tomatoes.  Ever since I’ve been doing my best to eat them or process them before they turn to moldy mush.

We’ve eaten our weight in this delicious pasta salad – a pound of tri-colored rotini tossed with an equal measure of quartered grape tomatoes and/or diced brandywine tomatoes, four ounces of chevre, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme.

I’ve made salsa using these lovely little golden grape tomatoes, some of the black princes, and minced jalapenos.  I canned seven pints of a mixture of brandywines, romas and black princes the other day (and there are more on their way this week).

But my favorite application has to be these little nuggets of pure tomatoey goodness – dehydrated multi-colored jellybean grape tomatoes.

I found myself the other day with a giant mound of these little yellow, red and green wonders (they’re prolific suckers – I had six full trays of them in my dehydrator, all from a couple of days of picking).  I halved them and tossed them with about 1/2 a teaspoon of pickling salt.  Then I laid them out on the trays of my dehydrator (although you could sun-dry them, too) and let them dry at 125F for about 12 hours (the instructions said to leave them for 5-9 hours, but mine were still awfully wet at the 9-hour mark, so I let them go a few hours longer – now they’re nice and raisin-like).

I’ve eaten a few of them straight from the jar, and their flavor is reminiscent of what I imagine a ray of sunshine would taste like if you could gather it in a cup and drink it – infused with warmth and comfort, umami at its very core.  I can’t wait to use them in this pesto recipe from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

So, while we don’t have the sun and sand at our back door anymore, we can at least capture a little bit of sunshine and keep it close.  When it comes time for the leaves to fall from the trees, and the gray winter days seem neverending, we can open that little jar of flavor and infuse our meals with a little summer warmth.  And close our eyes and dream of Kauai.