So, we can all agree that New England is pretty in general, but in the fall, it's just spectacular:
Yup. That's the Farmington Valley in all its majesty.
So with enchanting vistas like that everywhere you turn, it will not be hard to understand the shockingly stupid newbie mom mistake I made last week:
Friends of ours had come from Michigan to partake in the sensory delights of a New England autumn. So, like a good hostess, I selected one of the most picturesque activities I could think of- apple picking in an orchard situated in gently rolling hills, the trees aflame with scarlets and oranges and salmons.
So pretty, in fact, that I totally forgot to take a picture. Luckily, Ken took a picture of the place when we went two years ago, so you get an idea:
Anyway, I blame it on the violently beautiful surroundings, because I must have been out my mind when I (brace yourself) handed each of my six children a 1/2 bushel bag and then took one for myself.
Lord have mercy.
What followed is a blur: I remember standing in that gorgeously mellow October sunlight, talking and laughing with my friends, while the children laughed and flitted back and forth between rows, butterfly-like. I remember each of them, one at a time, coming and depositing their completely full 1/2 bushel bags at my feet. I remember walking up the long dirt road, children and adults sweating a little under the weight of so many apples.
Then I remember the woman ringing it up. And then I passed out.
Y'all. We had picked over two hundred dollars worth of apples.
I was like to die. The only saving grace was that they were all Macoun apples, which, if you've never had one, I'm sorry for you. They are the best tasting apple I've ever had. Crisp, not a trace of that mealy texture that makes me want to gag. The first bite sharp and sour, then idling back to sweet- but not too sweet!- juiciness.
And I had a piece of it. Specifically, $210 and 140 pounds' worth of heaven.
So, knowing how quickly my kids tear through fresh fruit (example: friends of ours brought over 9 or 10 pounds of Japanese apple pears a couple weeks before, and within 30 hours, Gabriel had eaten all. of. them.), I knew I had to put up those apples, and put them up fast.
It was time for all hands on deck. We cleared off the dining room table and set up processing stations. I was designated peeler (we only have one working peeler). I know that for some apple recipes you can leave the skins on for higher nutrient content, but these were conventionally grown apples, and even though I'd soaked and washed them, I didn't feel like adding the residual pesticide load into the food. So 140 of apples, hand-peeled by me.
Oh, the toddler "helped" with the ones too small to use. It's important to make everyone feel useful:
The other kids were put on 1. coring/wedge making station or 2. chopping station or 3. cooking station or 4. food mill station. This is why farm families were traditionally large- so you could do crazy things like process 3.5 bushels of apples in two days without any one person feeling like they were doing the brunt of the work.
In the end, we made over 15 pints of apple butter, 10 quarts of apple sauce, and 15 quarts of apple pie filling. And there's still 1/3 a bushel in the fridge for fresh eating.
Now, for the part you've been waiting for- the recipes!
Crockpot Apple Butter:
There was this restaurant down the road from my childhood home that used to serve apple butter with the dinner rolls. My brother and I would gorge ourselves on that stuff, lick the tin bowl it was served in, and fight for the scraps. Now, with over 15 pints of it downstairs, when he comes for Christmas, we can both have as much as we want. And since this is a crockpot recipe, it literally can cook while you sleep.
- 6 lbs. apples (you can use a single type of apples, or a mix)
- 3- 3 1/2 cups sugar (to taste)
- 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg OR cloves OR a mix of both (to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Peel and core apples.
- Chop apples. The smaller you chop them, the more cooking time is reduced.
- Put apples in large bowl. Add sugar, salt, and spices. Toss to coat evenly.
- Transfer contents of bowl to crockpot.
- Put crockpot on "high" setting, covered, for one hour.
- After one hour, turn covered crockpot to "low" setting.
- Cook until apples are thickened and brown, between 9-11 hours.
- Use whisk to make butter smooth.
- Uncover crockpot and cook for one more hour.
- Ladle butter into sterilized pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.
- Process in water bath for 10 minutes.
- Remove jars from water bath. Check seal after 24 hours.
While the apple butter was in the crockpot, we split the teams into Team Applesauce and Team Apple Pie Filling. I remember my mom making homemade applesauce when I was a kid, and I still remember how good it tasted. Homemade applesauce tastes like the store bought stuff in the same way homegrown tomatoes taste like the grocery store version- which is to say, not at all.
Homemade Apple Sauce:
- 36 medium to large apples
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 8 quart jars, lids, rings
- food mill or food processor
- Peel, core, and cut apples into wedges
- In a large pot, put apples and just enough water to keep apples from sticking to the bottom.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, stirring frequently, until apples are tender and soft.
- In batches, transfer apples to food mill or processor and puree.
- Return puree to pot, add cinnamon, and bring to gentle boil.
- Ladle applesauce into quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
- Process in water bath for 20 minutes. Remove and check seal after 24 hours.
The last thing we did with the apples was make filling for pies. Pies always intimidate me, and so I "forget" about them as dessert possibilities. By making 15 quarts of pie filling, here's hoping my hand is forced and my pie game improves.
Anyway, this recipe was the easiest of all three:
Apple Pie Filling
- 4 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg OR cloves OR mixture of both
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 10 cups of water
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 6 pounds good pie apples
- Peel, core, and cut apples into wedges.
- Pack wedges into sterilized quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.
- In a large pot, mix water, sugar, cornstarch, spices, and salt. Whisk together.
- Bring mixture to a boil until thick and bubbly.
- Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
- Ladle hot syrup over apple wedges, tapping jar gently to remove bubbles.
- Put lids on and process in water bath for 20 minutes. Check seal after 24 hours.
So there you are. How to process 140 pounds of apples in a short period of time, and not want to stick your head in the water bath.
This was one of those "all hands on deck" activities, and since it was the sort of thing that lent itself to many jobs, even the little ones could do meaningful help. And there's nothing like a shelf full of beautiful jars to really give you a sense of satisfaction.
Come back next week where I tell you about processing those 20 gallons of tomatoes in my freezer.