Here Come the Fall Fruits...
And before any unwelcome slander slips in, I'm talking about apples, grapes, pears, pomegranates, etc., not the sequined queens in the Halloween Parade.
I've bellyached before about the year round availability of way too many fruits and vegetables that years ago had specific seasons. And while it's true that Granny Smith's and Red Delicious' have become as ubiquitous as fake lashes on drag queens, it's only during September through November that we here in the Northwest are blessed with varieties such as Stayman Winesap, Jonathan, Macoun, Northern Spy, Cortland, Rome and on and on. Each one with a distinct sweetness ot tartness, crisp crunch or soft melting bite. Some are puckeringly acidic, some are just honeyed sweet; and the best, to my mind, balance the two. Hopefully some of you reside in equally apple blessed areas.
It's easy for a North American to take these red, pink, yellow and green beauties for granted. Partially because the storage and foreign apples we endure January through August deserve to be taken for granted. Most are one dimentional and flavor challenged. However on the plus side, they're damn convenient. They keep for a week or more if the heat's not too high, they are versatile, they are easy to eat, and almost fall into the realm of "comfort food". But like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and other "comfort foods", a lot of what we taste isn't very comforting. We also under value apples because they are so omni-present in our marketplace, they're just everywhere.
My partner, the handsome and newly thin Venezuelan, is always reminding me that this is not nearly so true in warmer regions, where apples and pears are considered quite exotic, much like we view guavas, mangoes, sapote and other tropical fruits. And in the same spirit with which he dismisses the mangoes in our markets, I suspect there are damn few island boys or girls who have ever tasted something as crisp and nectar filled as a ripe, fresh Stayman Winesap apple.
When my dear Mama Gladys passed away in September, we drove back to Ohio to wish the beautiful lady a sweet journey over. The nine hour return trip to NYC was sweet, not only due to reflections on my Mom's long and happy life, but also sweet with the crisp cidery smell of a bushel of apples from my middle sister's ignored apple tree. Before the horses and dogs grabbed the entire harvest, I threw a ladder up high and pulled down a few bags. According to my eldest sister, they are Jonathan apples. I've learned not to question because she's usually right in such matters.
Yesterday, I spent a long aromatic day producing about 12 pints of old fashioned apple butter, so good I started searching for county fair's open for canning competition. So good in fact, the Venezuelan proposed to me... Again. Then ordered me to hide it from his Weight Watcher self. Here's my typically brief outline of how you can share the love ...
Old Fashioned Apple Butter
Wash a big bunch of apples. A mix is best (perhaps McIntosh, Stayman Winesap, Macoun & Gala), though I succeeded with one variety that was tartly sweet. Roughly cut the unpeeled apples into eighths or quarters and put into a large heavy bottomed stock pot. Do not core or seed the apples. Add Apple Cider (or water, or a mix of both) until it just covers the apples. Place over medium high heat and simmer, uncovered, until the apples are completely collapsing. The timing will vary depending upon variety. A McIntosh will go quickly, a Granny Smith will take much longer. Cool the mixture and then pass it through a food mill. Alternately you could pass it through a chinese cap strainer or a wire mesh strainer.
Measure the puree and place in another heavy bottom stock pot (or the same one washed out)and add sugar at a rate of 50% of the puree. In other words, for 8 cups of puree, use 4 cups of sugar. I optioned for a little less sugar and was happy for it. Some folks use brown sugar, but for me the long cooking caramelizes the sugar plenty. Then stir in ground spices (I like a lot, so I used cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and ginger), a few pinches of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and then cook until it is thickened and condensed. This will take several hours, and you need to stir it often, about every 10 minutes at least, checking for sticking on the bottom of the pan. A good test for when the apple butter is done is this: chill a china plate in the freezer. Drop a tablespoon's full of the apple butter on the plate. Wait a minute or two. When liquid no longer seeps out from the mound of puree, you're there.
Proceed with standard water bath canning procedures which can be found in any canning book or online.
Let me just say, if you've never tried canning, it's just a big hoot and a holler. Very safe in my experience, as long as we're talking high sugar creations like jams, and jellies or high acid tomato products. And it just makes you smile with accomplishment. Besides, it impresses the hell outa people who don't know how easy it is!!!!!
That's it for now my pretties. Next time a quicker investigation of pears, grapes, pomegranates, and a few additional apple ideas.