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Friday, September 18, 2015

Crazy, Crazy Harvest Days

The season is upon us, the harvest season that is.  I was driving down the back road yesterday and saw my first harvester of the season taking out giant rows of dent corn, like a hornworm working on, well, an ear of corn.

Then on the way into work this morning, I passed my first double long grain hauler.  Sigh.  It really does seem like just yesterday it was all going in the ground.  Now it's time to start hauling it out and prepping it for the great Winter sleep.   The great garden at the station is no different.  The only things left "standing" are the great stalks of sorghum and the sleepy sweet potatoes.  The former has put up quite the effort against some wicked late summer windstorms, that howled constantly at 20 mph, and gusted to over 40 for several days in a row.  I think this is the weekend I will cut them down, hang the seed heads for drying in the barn, and lay the stalks out to rest before trying to milk them for syrup.  The latter, the sweet potatoes, are just starting to yellow at the ends of the vines.  When the weather cools this weekend, I think I will harvest them and put them in cool storage so they can rest and set their texture for winter eating and candying.

But until then, it has been a wild, and LONG week of canning, canning, and dare I say MORE canning?!

14 hour days over hot jars, steaming dishwasher vents, canning pots, lifters, and lids.  All that said, the ability to stand back at the end of the day, glistening in sweat and a dishtowel tossed over one shoulder, and admire those sparkling jars filled with jeweled treasure while they cool on the counter is worth every minute.  It takes me a good two months to grow fingerprints back, but again, worth it!

This week it was beef stew, chicken noodle soup, cowboy candy (sweetened jalapeño peppers), sweet corn, more tomatoes purée, and applesauce: sweet, delectable, mind controlling applesauce!

Applesauce

When the weather gets cool enough in the evenings to do THIS
(even if the days are still 90'),
then it's time to PICK APPLES!

I know not everyone has time for, the energy for, or the proximity to a U-Pick farm for fresh apples.  And that's OK.  But do check the U-Pick Farm listing to see if you are close. The answer might surprise you.  Pick Your Own not only has an amazing listing of farms, but also resources and recipes.

If you still are not able to pick your own fruit there is NOTHING wrong with buying, at a good price, from your local fruit market or grocer.  Mine will actually give me a case discount on whole lugs of fruits or vegetables.  It never hurts to ask.

Whichever you choose to do, be sure to get a mix of good, fresh apples.  Delicious eating apples, do not necessarily, make good cooking apples.

We used to pick at Kimmel Orchard, in SE Nebraska, but it is too far of a drive for me now.  Now we choose to drive up over the hill and frequent Martin's Hillside Orchard.  It's a mom and pop place that charges by the pound, not by the lug like Kimmel, but I still manage to do OK.

This year I was a little more clever, we chose the early morning on a day that was only going to hit 80, and the air was dry.  It was also a weekday, so there were no crowds except happy, apple filled preschoolers on a field trip.
  I also decided to take The Boy for the heavy lifting and for the heavy hauling.  Yes, I remembered the WAGON this time!

We picked 35 pounds of a mix of Jonathan, Golden Delicious, and Gala Apples for this year's sauce.  I also added in 5 Granny Smith Apples.

Begin by peeling and coring your apples.  I don't bother with a fancy coring and slicing machine.  I use my 25 year old vegetable peeler, purchased from the North Dakota State fair.  I can get the peel off a large apple in under 15 seconds.  I then use my chef's knife to cut as closet to the core as I can in 4 fell swoops.  Then I simply cut those 4 large apple pieces into once inch slices and then in one inches cubes.  I toss the cores in the compost pile, and let the peels pile up in the sink.     
The apple cubes get thrown into my 6 qt mixing bowl which has a about two quarts of water and either .25 of a cup of lemon juice in it, or a couple tablespoons of Fruit Fresh mixed in.  Both methods keep your apples from oxidizing and turning brown.

When my apples are filling the 6 qt bowl to capacity, I drain them and add the cubes to my crockpot, which is set on high.
  This is when I decide whether or not I can cram a few more apples in the crock.  I can usually pack another two or three cubed apples in.  Packed tightly up to the lid.

After doing a lid fit test, I add 8 ounces of sugar free, or low sugar apple juice,
and 8 ounces of apple cider.
  You can also use plain water, or just juice.

 I let them simmer on high for two hours, stirring anytime I find myself walking through the kitchen.

 After two hours on high, I get out my trusty kitchenaid immersion blender and blend those softened cubes into what would be called a very chunky sauce.  STOP THERE.




See?  Still nice and chunky. And not quite cooked.  Turn down your temperature to LOW.  Add 4T of Lemon Juice, 2 3/4 cups of white sugar, and half a TABLESPOON of cinnamon.  ( yes, you can add less sugar.)



I simmer it on low for two hour and then with a screen lid (splatter guard) for one or two hours, depending on how thick you want it.  At the end of the cooking process, I taste it and see if I want to purée it more  (usually I do), and if I want to add more cinnamon (usually I do).





Then it is simply a matter of canning. You can water bath applesauce.  Leave a 1/2 of an inch of headspace in your jars.  Process for 20 minutes below 1,000 Ft and 25 minutes above 1,000ft.  I do mostly pints and some quarts.





Those peels?  DON"T toss them in the compost! Chop them up and toss handfuls into sandwich size bags, freeze, and save for the chickens.  What a wonderful mid winter TREAT!


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