All summer I’d been shopping at the Farmers’ Market. I picked up my CSA box every Saturday morning and supplemented the box with extra carrots, tomatoes, fruits and whatever else I wanted as it came into season. I bought peaches, cherries, blueberries and plums when they were in season and I started buying apples in August when the early apples started ripening.
I have particular farmers that I prefer for particular crops just as you may prefer Heinz ketchup over Del Monte. My peaches, plums and apples always come from the same place: Tom Brodhagen at Maple Ridge Orchards in Honor, Michigan. Tom is knowledgeable about his apples and can tell me how long an apple will hold when it is properly stored, how to properly store said apple, and which types of apples are best for which purposes. He is also environmentally certified and limits his use of toxic chemicals which is important to me. Plus, when the last week for peaches rolled around and I only had $5 left in my pocket, he let me owe him the difference for the 1/2 bushel I wanted until the next week. Building relationships with the people who grow my food is important to me. He knows I won’t screw him over on a half bushel of peaches and I know he won’t screw me over on price, quality or any other aspect of my produce.
I started my love affair with apples by canning quart jars of Gravenstein Apple Pie Filling in August. As other apples came into season, I flirted with them too. A half-peck or three at a time I would load them into my wagon and roll them home. As Honeycrisp apples came into season a half-peck or a peck of apples wasn’t enough anymore; I caught my daughter packing four Honeycrisps into her backpack for lunch and snacks at school one morning and decided drastic measures were required. I brought home my first half-bushel the next weekend. (Plus a 1/2 peck of Honeycrisp safely hidden away from the eyes of young Gwendolyn.) Gwen didn’t finish the half-bushel of apples that week, but I brought another home the next Saturday anyway.
One weekend, when putting away camping equipment, I found two boxes full of canning jars and, my long-lost dehydrator that had been stored in the garage since we moved in 1998. A whole new world of possibilities was opened to me!
With the discovery of the dehydrator and 24 more canning jars, apples became something not just to store and have on hand for the winter, but an ingredient to be processed into a final product. I started dehydrating apples and bought a 1/2 bushel specifically for that. I wanted to make sauce so bought a 1/2 bushel for that. Gwen was still eating apples, so I bought a half bushel for that. Every week I brought home more apples.
I started running the dehydrator about four days a week and day and night on the weekends. Eight to twelve apples fit nicely into the four drying trays. Six to eight hours later, the apples were dry and the dehydrator was ready to reload. Plus, the dozen or so apples now fit nicely into a quart jar. The downside? Those apples that took me only a few minutes to process but seven hours to dry are consumed by the kids and the hubby in five or ten minutes!! “They’re like candy!” My husband proclaims as he finishes off another jar. I can’t seem to dry them as fast as they eat them. I shouldn’t complain; at least it isn’t candy.
Well, the Downtown Farmers’ Market ended on Halloween. I didn’t know who would be heading to the Mercato for the Winter Market, so I stocked up on things I knew I would need. I picked up a third 50-lb bag of potatoes, a cabbage to make into kraut, a quart of purple potatoes to use as seed potatoes and . . . Two more bushels of apples. I started with a bushel of Braeburns for drying because my Jonagolds were nearly gone, added a half-bushel of Spy apples for pies and cooking, and rounded out my purchase with a half-bushel of Empires for general eating. I started making apple chips and apple sauce and even tried spiced apple rings.
The link will take you to the recipe, but I always add more cinnamon. I added about double what it called for and added a whole cinnamon stick to most of the jars. In one of the jars I added some cardamom, a star anise, a cinnamon stick and a few peppercorns. I’m hoping it will have a chai-spiced flavor but I didn’t simmer the extra spices in the syrup so I’m not sure how strongly flavored they will be. It was an experiment, but if they turn out, I think I’ll do a whole batch and simmer the spices in the syrup so the flavors can intensify.
Two weeks later when I decided to take my road trip to Frankfort with Angie and the kids, I still had over a bushel of apples left. What was my husband going to think when I came home with more apples? Nothing. After almost fifteen years, he’s used to my insane whims. When I returned from the orchard with a cooler full of organic apples plus an extra half bushel, I unloaded my bounty into the back porch and began to surmise the situation. I had a lot of apples all of a sudden. It was Friday and I had all weekend so I started a batch of chunky, Ida Red apple sauce from the freshly-picked apples and peeled the rest of the Braeburn apples from the Farmers’ Market to load into the dehydrator; I filled it three times with those slices over the next day and a half.
Remember that Juiceman Junior I told you about this summer? As magical as it is, I hate using it because it is such a pain to clean. But, my son Dylan is no fool and he has a remarkable knack for knowing when to ask for things. The kitchen was already filled with apples and it’s not like we were running low on them, so how could I tell him no? We dragged out the juicer and juiced a handful of Ida Reds. They made the loveliest rose-colored apple juice. The sight of that lovely apple juice gave me an incredible idea: apple jelly.
I washed off a sink-full of Ida Reds and started jucing until I had a full quart of pink apple juice. I brought the juice to a boil, added a package of pectin and five-and-a-half cups of sugar and boiled the whole mess for two minutes. I poured the boiling jelly into hot jars and set them on the counter until the lids popped. The jelly is delcious, but a little thinner than I’d like. For the next batch, I think I’ll decrease the amount of juice a little and add a few drops of cinnamon extract so that it has a nice cinnamon flavor without getting muddied-up with ground cinnamon. I also plan on doing up a batch of little jars; they’ll be great for Christmas.
With all those apples in the porch I thought it was time for more apple sauce. Normally I prefer chunky applesauce. It’s super easy if you have one of these handy-dandy peeler/corer/slicer dealies. Pop the apple on the machine, turn the crank a few times and out comes a peeled, sliced and cored apple. It’s so easy an eight-year-old can do it. (But it’s faster if you do it yourself.) The apple peeler makes all apple products easier. If you cut off the peel-y ends you can throw the whole apple in a pan for sauce. Or, you can cut the “slinky” apple down the center and have perfect slices for the dehydrator or pie.
But, if you have Ida Red or Empire apples, you might want to leave the skins on so that you can make beautiful pink applesauce. If you have a food mill, smooth applesauce is a breeze. I used the peeler to remove the skins and cores from my apples, but I threw the skins into the pan with the apple slices to make a pretty, pink sauce. Once the apples had cooked down, I scooped them into the foodmill and pressed the sauce through to remove the skins. In the picture below you can see the pretty pink applesauce. Unfortunately, the picture doesn’t do it justice!
My family has been enjoying the fruits of my labors, but they’re not the only ones. My chickens have only recently decided that compost is a treat. For the longest time they wouldn’t eat any table scraps. I had to throw little wild grapes so that the girls would think they were alive before they would even try them. Finally, after many attempts, a watermelon rind swayed them. Now, they will gladly eat my kitchen scraps. This was good news! While the main reason I got the chickens was to have fresh, free-range eggs, the chickens are part of a larger plan. Chickens are the perfect green machines; they eat my garbage and turn it into nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Now that they understand the joys of compost, they were quite happy to see me bring them not one, not two, but three #10 cans full of apple peels today.