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

When All Else Fails, Make Granola

A week or so ago, I posted something to this blog’s Facebook page about trying a recipe, and hoping it wasn’t a total disaster.  My cousin commented almost immediately, saying that she doubted anything I ever made was a total disaster.  While flattered, I laughed out loud when I read the comment – if she only knew how many miserable failures I’ve had in the kitchen (and elsewhere).  Some of them to the point that they’re completely inedible.  I just don’t write about the failures.  Maybe I should.

I think if you love to cook, you can’t be afraid to fail.  There’s always going to be that one batch of cookies that you burn, or that jelly that didn’t set or the bread dough that just didn’t rise for whatever reason.  The important thing is that you try to learn from those mistakes and move on.  Sure, sometimes it can be painful to your ego (and to your wallet, in some cases), but it’s not the end of the world.  I’ve curdled a dozen egg yolks making custard, and had an equal number of egg whites that never whipped to stiff peaks.  I’ve turned multiple batches of failed sourdough bread into sourdough breadcrumbs.  I’ve tossed out a stockpot that had sugar burned so badly on the bottom that it was irreparably damaged.  Believe me – I’ve had plenty of disasters in the kitchen.  Sometimes they push me to try harder, and sometimes they make me take a step back and reevaluate whether I really have the time and the inclination to babysit a sourdough starter.

The answer to the second question, by the way, is no.  At least not right now.

Speaking of stockpots....

Yesterday was one of those days.  You know the ones – where nothing seems to go quite the way you’d planned?  I woke up thinking that I’d do some grocery shopping, wash some clothes and maybe make some granola bars to send to school as snacks for the boys.  A productive day – that’s all I’d really hoped for.  And it’s not that it wasn’t productive, it was just not the kind of productive I’d planned on.

New chickens on the block
New chickens on the block

You see, rather than running my grocery errands and washing the umpteen piles of laundry that are currently carpeting my laundry room floor, I spent half the day yesterday driving 100 miles round-trip to procure these lovely Barred Rock and Ameraucana hens.  We started our backyard flock back in April.  Three Rhode Island Red hens, which my oldest son promptly named Sally, Tweety and Fred.  Since then, the trio has dwindled to a lonesome single Sally – Fred was felled by a Black widow spider, and Tweety we lost to an unknown predator just a couple of days ago.  While we know that these are just some of the perils that come with raising livestock, it’s still a sad affair when you’re faced with the loss of an animal.  Poor Sally seemed a little lost without her flockmates, and we’d been thinking of expanding our numbers anyway, so I felt justified in postponing my chores for a bit so that we could do just that.

Once we got back home, got the chickens’ wings clipped and transferred them safely to the coop to get acclimated, I decided to move on to making granola bars.  I had placed some apple chunks in the dehydrator before we left for our chicken wrangling adventure, and they were nice and leathery upon our return.

Semi-succesful granola bars

I had attempted granola bars earlier in the week, based on this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  They were good, but they didn’t really ever set up the way I expected them too.  First, they burned and stuck on the edges; and, second, they were too soft at room temperature to maintain their bar shape.  I’m not sure if its my error (probably) or a flaw in the recipe (probably not – Deb’s pretty much a genius, plus she tests her recipes carefully), but I wanted to start over from scratch to try and get something that was more bar-like and less really thick oatmeal-like.

I used a combination of rolled oats, wheat germ, dried apples, raisins, unsweetened flake coconut, sucanat, agave nectar and coconut oil.  I sprayed my pan liberally with oil.  I only baked them for about 15 minutes.

And they were a disaster.  A complete and utter failure.  At least as far as granola bars go.

As granola, though?  A total success (well, except for the part that was so baked on the pan I couldn’t get it off without soaking it in hot water for an hour or so).  With a little almond milk, it makes a delicious breakfast cereal.

So despite the fact, that nothing that I initially intended to get done yesterday actually got accomplished, I wound up with some beautiful new chickens, and some delicious granola.  I won’t bother sharing the ratios I used, since I really was trying for something completely different from what I ended up with.  However, once I do figure out the perfect granola bar recipe, I’ll be sure to pass it along to all of you.  In the meantime, don’t be afraid to try and fail in the kitchen- it’s better than never trying to cook at all (or something like that).

Oh, and those new chickens?  My oldest son ran right out to the coop when he got off the bus and promptly named them: Spot, Dot, Tweety, Jr. and Fred, Jr.  He’s nothing if not original.

In case you’re just really jonesing for some homemade granola bars, here are a few recipes that seem promising:

Alton Brown’s Granola Bars

King Arthur Four’s Chewy Granola Bars

Ina Garten’s Homemade Granola Bars

Apartment Therapy’s Crunchy Granola Bars