Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Apple Canning Blitz

2017 Canning Notes
Coming home in late October, we found a bumper crop of apples, made juicier and sweeter by some light frost.  Then found local, organic cranberries for sale in town. I couldn’t resist taking a few “snow days” to turn this harvest into a year’s worth of family-style treats.

For those who only care about rocket mass heaters:  The only connection is that I did use the barrel top to simmer a few of the applesauce batches over our evening fire, before taking it to the kitchen for canning.  You are now free to leave this blog entry for something more interesting, like this:

For those who love cooking, canning, eating, homestead harvesting, and in particular if you're into doing these things with little or no added sugar, read on.

All Fruit: I don’t use sugar or honey, so these recipes are sweetened with fruit juices and juice concentrates.  For safe canning, I work from recipes in the Joy of Cooking or Fanny Farmer, using the natural substitutions they have tested (fruit juice in place of sugar syrups, lemon in place of citric or other canning acids), and their recommended batch times and head space.  

My tastes also run a bit to the tart side.  I enjoy eating sour fruit “relishes” with meat or cheese, as well as sweeter jams and spreads. 

If you like your treats sweeter, feel free to drizzle on some honey or maple syrup, sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon-sugar. Or adjust to taste when cooking these into your own desserts or barbecue sauces.

Here’s what I’ve made so far. 

Pink Applesauce:
Apples (mostly Gravenstein),
Apple juice (organic)
White grape juice (concentrate)
Lemon juice
lemon zest
May contain additional water*

Suggested uses:
Eat it – try with breakfast or dessert (cottage cheese, yogurt, pancakes, crepes),
Great with pork (chops, roast, sausage)
Bake with it (look for applesauce cakes, muffins, strudel)

Apple Slices with Cranberry
Apples, apple juice, cranberries

Suggested uses:
Eat it (as for applesauce)
Great with pork, turkey, or brie cheese

Quick Brie and Compote Snack-wiches:
On your favorite bread or crackers, (I like English muffins), spread a layer of apple slices with cranberry, top with about ¼ inch of Brie cheese. Toast lightly in a toaster-oven or under the broiler; enjoy warm.

The juice left in the jar is good to drink, or for fruit punch, or for sweetening up a vinaigrette for a fancy salad. (There are a lot of good salads with fruit, nut, and cheese over seasonal greens – like arugula, pear, bleu cheese, and pecans, or you can do something similar with apples, walnuts, and cheddar on a young mustard-greens blend. Or a regular chef salad with ham, egg, and bleu cheese over lettuce.)

This juice, or the Cran-Orange goo from the next one, might also be good in harvest-themed cocktails. Try as substitute for the simple syrup in a Whiskey Sour, Apple-Tini, or Old Fashioned.

I’ve been making cider-lemonade with the leftover apple or grape juice between batches. It’s not exactly lemonade, and not exactly cider, but it’s tasty.

Cranberry-Orange Relish / Sauce:
Cranberries (fresh and frozen, organic)
Orange juice concentrate (organic)
Zest of orange and/or lemon (organic)
May contain white grape juice concentrate

Suggested uses:
This is a very tart version of cranberry sauce. Add honey or other sweetener to taste.
Great with roasts or sandwiches (turkey, chicken, duck, Brie or cream cheese, or use it like marmalade)
Try it with plain yogurt or ricotta, or eat it with a spoon.

Blender Cran-Orange Julius:
¼ to ½ cup cranberry relish, 1 to 2 cups cream or milk, 1 banana, 1 tsp vanilla, ½ to 1 cup ice (shaved or small cubes). (Add 1 raw egg for the traditional version, optional cinnamon or nutmeg to taste). Blend until smooth and thick, enjoy immediately.
(Servings: 2 to 4 small cups. To share with more people, use the larger amounts, and add some orange juice concentrate and fresh berries.)

Apple Butter:
Apples, apple juice (organic)
lemon juice,
lemon zest,
may also contain grape juice concentrate, port or red wine, ginger, and/or additional water* (varies by batch)

Suggested Uses:
Eat it with a spoon, on toast, or with your favorite breakfast foods (see “applesauce”)
Use as base for sweet-and-savory sauces

Quick Apple-Butter Barbecue Sauce
Combine equal parts fruit-sweetened apple butter and Worcestershire sauce.
Season to taste (some cooks may wish to add a hotter pepper sauce, white vinegar, salt and pepper, anchovy paste, garlic or onion. If you have a favorite barbecue sauce recipe that starts with ketchup, try using the apple butter as a substitute, and work from there.)

Apple [Pie] Sauce:
Apples, apple juice, white grape juice concentrate, cinnamon, salt. May contain additional water*.

This is a cross between applesauce and apple-pie filling. It is a little on the tart side; depending on your family’s tastes, you might sweeten it up before serving, or offer a cinnamon-sugar shaker at table.

Suggested Uses:
Eat it with breakfast, with pork, or as a snack (see “applesauce” above).
Especially good with hot, buttery biscuits: like apple pie for breakfast, but less work.
Use as the filling for apple pie, cobbler, or crisp

Apple Pie:
1 quart (2 pint jars) Apple Pie Sauce.
For a “proper” pie filling, you need the thickeners we omitted for canning. You could mix them in before baking, or try this method – like making a ‘roux’ except quicker.
Melt in a large saucepan or skillet:
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
Stir in:
2 to 3 tablespoons flour (or starch such as corn, arrowroot, or tapioca),
(Up to ½ cup white or brown sugar if desired)
Stir in the Apple Pie Sauce, keep stirring over medium heat until just bubbling, then remove from heat and set aside. This is your Pie Filling.

Pie Crust: You can use a storebought crust, or your own recipe, or add cheddar cheese or butter and cinnamon sugar on top, if you like. This is the pie crust I usually make. It’s strong enough to serve as a ‘handle’ for cold pie for breakfast, but tender enough to please most eaters.

Flour Paste Pie Dough: (from Joy of Cooking, circa 1975)
Mix together in a largish bowl:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

Remove 2/3 cup flour mixture into a second bowl (cereal bowl or 2-cup size).
Into this, mix about ½ cup water** to make a smooth paste.
(**In the humid Willamette Valley, Mom reduces the water to ¼ cup. In the semi-arid Okanogan Highlands, I often add ¾ to 1 cup of water, making the paste more of a soup to hydrate the whole batch of very dry flour.
This variability is probably why Joy of Cooking no longer includes this recipe. It takes a baker’s “feel” to get it right, and not everyone has time to practice and adjust a recipe anymore. If your dough is too dry to hold together at the end, you can fetch another ¼ cup of very cold water, and dribble in a little at a time until it comes together. Make a note of how much you use, in case you want to do this again sometime: it does come out better to include all the water in the paste stage.)

Now back to the larger bowl. Grate in using a cheese grater, tossing occasionally to integrate with the flour mixture:
2/3 cup chilled butter (1 and 1/3 sticks)
(Notes: Easiest to do with frozen butter.
Or use 1 stick butter + 2 to 3 tablespoons lard, for a lovely flaky crust.)
Mix the butter lightly into the flour, just enough to ensure there are no massive clumps. (The original recipe called for “grain the size of small peas,” and I could never bring myself to stop before it was cornmeal-grain sized. Little chunks of butter or lard will make it flakier, so don’t over-work it.)

Now make a well in your buttery flour bowl, and pour in the flour paste. Fold and mix it briefly, by hand or with a large spoon, just until it clumps together into a dough. Roll out on lightly floured cutting board. Makes 2 crusts: enough for 1 covered pie, or 2 open-faced pies.

Baking: since the filling is pre-cooked, pre-heat the oven to 350F, load the filling into the bottom crust, and cover with a pricked or lattice top crust. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the crust is well browned and the filling is bubbling.

Fanny Farmer’s Apple Crisp:
Mix with a fork (works best if you melt the butter):
¾ cup flour, or alternative
(Or: ¼ cup oats, ¼ cup powdered milk, and 6 tablespoons flour.
Or: 1 cup corn flakes, smashed. )
1 cup sugar (white or brown)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup butter
¼ teaspoon salt

Spread over the apple filling. Bake at 350°F until the crust is brown (up to 30 minutes).
Serve with cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

Apple Grunt:
Spread the apple filling in a pan, top with your favorite biscuit recipe, such as:
Baking Powder Biscuits:
Sift together into a mixing bowl:
2 cups flour
[1 to ] 2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Work in with your fingers:
2 [to 4] tablespoons shortening (I use butter, and I like to freeze it and grate it in for easier mixing)
With a fork, quickly stir in:
2/3 [to 3/4] cup milk
Add more milk, little by little, until the dough is soft and light but not sticky.
(Because flours differ, exactly how much milk to add is your judgment call. Some recipes call for ¾ cup, some for 1 cup, others for the baker to adjust by feel. If you go too far and it gets sticky or soggy, you have ‘drop biscuits’ that can be spooned onto the apples instead of rolling them out, and they still bake up lovely.)

Turn out onto a floured board, pat down, knead a couple of times if needed. Roll lightly ¾ inch thick. Shape with a biscuit cutter (or upside-down cup), cut into diamonds, or use the whole sheet as topping for Apple Grunt.

Original baking method: put the apples and biscuit topping in a deep baking dish, and put this baking dish in a larger dish filled with boiling water. Bake hot enough to keep the water boiling, adding more from a hot kettle if needed to keep the water within 1 inch of the top of the dish.
Bake/boil for up to 1 hour, until the biscuit topping is golden brown and cooked through.
Serve with
heavy cream.

(Fanny neglects to specify an oven temperature; and you probably don’t need to bake this long with pre-cooked apple filling. I suppose you can watch to keep the water boiling, if you’re into “active oven management.” You might try between 350 and 450, and see what works. Based on similar recipes like apple cobbler, I’m going to try 425 for 30 minutes.

For a quicker result with less guesswork, bake the biscuits alone, at 450 for 10 to 15 minutes, and then split open and serve with hot apple filling and cream.
(Like a hot, apple version of strawberry shortcake.)

*What does this mean “may contain additional water”?
I really enjoyed the pink color and rich flavor from the peels and cores of this year’s apples. (The Gravensteins responded to our fall frosts by turning “winesappy” - they filled their cores and sometimes all the way to the skin with juice, to the point where they became translucent and intensely flavored – very similar to the extra-sweet and aromatic flavors you get in an “ice wine” made with super-cooled grapes.)

However, even though the cores and peels do have great flavor, I don’t love pushing soggy cores through a food mill after stewing (to remove the seeds, stems, and seed-guard-shell-thingies, and most of the stewed peel).

This year, I processed a lot of the apples using a peeler-corer, started the main batch of applesauce or apple butter with the clean white chunks. Then I stewed the peels and cores with water and a little lemon juice (for anti-browning), to extract some of their color and flavor. As both batches softened, I pressed out a pinkish “apple juice” and sometimes a pinkish pulp from the peels. This was delicious by itself, but usually I added it back into the main batch of apple butter or apple sauce to boost the flavor and color. I also ate a fair amount of the stewed apple peels as my late night snack after removing the last batch from the canner.

I am tempted to do “apple strings” in the dehydrator – coated with cinnamon, long spaghetti-like apple peelings might be a fun winter treat. Or a base for "instant apple fritters" (really just some nutritional justification and structure to hold a deep-fryer batter or donut dough).  
Or fun to turn into crafty things? 
Or just overkill?