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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Remember to thank your trees and vines

So, everybody, keep calm and drink cider. -- Gabe Cook

"Putting food by" is the title of a good book, of which I have an old hardbound copy. I don't get it down from the shelf much any more, as I'm not doing a wide enough range of food preservation nowadays to need to look things up. But there was a time.

I do still keep a hand in, out of habit. This year I have skipped veg leaf dehydration mostly, as there is so much of the product on hand from previous years.

I am freezing blackberries, though it's not been a good year. Those exposed to the sun have shriveled, so I'm looking in the shade to find plump keepers.

I also freeze figs, of which there were a bumper crop this year; no one around here tolerates frozen figs but me but I like them with yogurt or hotcakes. My son asked me to dry some for a traditional Christmas pudding he wants to make.

He also wants dried pears, so I have put some on "ripening watch" for this.

Pears ripen after picking typically. I like to prep them on the apple peeler corer slicer, but there is a narrow window between not ripe and too ripe to run, so they need to be checked daily.

I have dried a lot of apples in the past, and most of those, in a number of half gallon bags and gallon jars, are skulking in the cold room. Again, I like them and other family members don't, so with the inventory so high I'm limited to making apple butter and juicing.

For apple butter I introduce the picked apples to the Victorio first.

Then to the crock pot. When it's filled up half way I chuck in a jar lidful of cinnamon powder and a jar lidful of nutmeg powder -- used to include cloves but not as into that any more -- and about half a cup of honey, then top off with apples, mounded high.

For the apple butter, choose one variety so that it will cook down evenly. I always go with Gravenstein because that is our first tree to come in; in July the last few years but August this year.

Mash the apple slices with a potato masher when they begin to soften, then stir. I keep the lid on the mounded apples and as they cook down it eventually lands in its seat on the cooker; but I hang a found-object metal bracket over the side of the cooker to keep the lid ajar, to let steam escape. The more steam escapes, the thicker the apple butter. For apple sauce, leave out the spices and take the product a little thinner; but round here everyone eats the apple butter and leaves the applesauce on the shelf; so now that is all I make.

For pear butter, which has come into the lineup only in recently years due to the late maturing of the pear trees, much the same as above, only with ginger and lemon or lime juice concentrate in place of the cinnamon and nutmeg.

Empty nesters, we used to jar this stuff by the quart but prefer small jars nowadays; a typical batch makes six pints.

After the apple butter comes juicing season. it's good to use a variety of apples to make apple cider, to get that complex flavor. For us that means whatever is left of the Gravensteins along with Cortlands, Egremont Russets, Honeycrisps and Jonagolds. There are others but we've forgotten their names. Our Granny Smiths don't participate, as they come in very late, often November/December.

Over time, we've come to appreciate an even more complex flavor called by us "Medley," which means whatever the heck is ripe. Pears of three kinds to the point where it's almost perry. If blackberries run late, they go into the hopper, along with quinces, plums, and four varieties of grape. We have cherries, goumis, peaches, apricots and nectarines but they run too early in the year and are too popular eaten fresh to hold (frozen, say) for the medley run.

My method (it's always me) is rather crude. I dedicate a leaf shredder to this work, slice everything up as needed and feed it into the hopper, fill a five gallon bucket with the pulp, pour this out into a burlap bag or sheet, hoist this above a clean bin and let gravity do the rest.

There's always more, from about two wheelbarrows full of fruit, than we can drink in a year. I make a very simple cider -- open a jar of medley, throw in a pinch of wine yeast, put on a hole punched lid, let it foam up a bit, and stick it in the fridge. Use within the week before it goes off. We give away more than half the canned juice -- much of which comes back to us as kombucha in exchange for eggs.

Egremont Russets

The assembly line

Strain into jars

Off to the water bath and from there to the shelves

To the feathered go the spoils

Come winter, remember to thank your trees and vines.

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