Monday, December 9, 2013

i love you a bushel and a peck . . .

Guys'n'Dolls?  Anyone?  Okay whatever.

I'll cut straight to the chase.  We've been buying bushels of apples for $22.75 from Bulk Natural Foods.  (I will do another post on BNF soon, but let it suffice to say that if you are in middle Tennessee and not taking advantage of this co-op, you are a fool!)

And what does one do with a bushel of apples, especially if one doesn't have a spare refrigerator or other cold cellar in which to store them?

One does what one can.

Which includes:  applesauce, pie filling, eating out of hand, dehydrating, cider.

First, a word about varieties.  We were able to pick from about fifteen different kinds of apples, and I had no idea what I was doing.  I knew that Red Delicious are often mushy, that Granny Smith are too tart for me to eat plain, and that the rest were somewhere in between.  For our first bushel, I ordered Cortlands.  I got the box, tore it open, pulled a rosy red fruit out to taste, and . . . it . . . mushed between my teeth.  Nothing more disappointing than wanting to crunch into an apple and getting mush.  But they made stupendous sauce and really good, thick, pectin-y cider.  They also had a creamy white flesh that dried really nicely.

Second go-round, I went with Cameos.  Got the box, ripped it open, picked one up, said a little prayer . . . and . . . CRUNCH!  Perfection.  Lovely, firm, crisp, juicy flesh.

For winter storage, I read up on how to keep them in a cooler in the backyard.  Apples need to be between 28 and 30 degrees for optimal lifespan, so a cooler in the shade in a Nashville winter is about right.  I packed them in layers between newspaper in a regular old Igloo cooler.  Make sure all the apples are good, because you know what they say about one bad apple . . . (it spoils the whole bunch, girl).

For sauce, you don't really need a recipe.  4 pounds of apples yields about 1 1/2 quarts of sauce.  From my first bushel, I put up 12 half-pints to give out for Christmas presents.  I just peeled, cored, and quartered 8 pounds of apples, added in a cup of water, and threw in a star anise and a few big chunks of fresh ginger.  I stewed it all until it was quite soft - maybe 2 hours.  At that point, the apples had fallen apart and the texture was just slightly chunky.  If you wanted it smoother, you could mash it or put it through a food mill.  I heated the jars, removed the star anise and ginger chunks, and funneled it into my half-pints.  Processed in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes.  Done!  I'm getting ready to put up a few more quarts this week for family usage through the winter.

I'm going to make pie filling this week with this recipe:  spiced apple pie filling.

For cider, we are lucky enough to have friends from church with an old-fashioned cider press!  (Hi Elaine!)  We went up there a couple of weeks ago for supper and cider pressing.  Vicki Jo got to experience a hen house for the first time, and was totally freaked out as she helped collect the eggs.  The Cortlands made great cider, but the yield wasn't too high.  About a half bushel yielded only a half gallon of cider.  We tore through that in about two days!  Freshly-pressed cider is not even comparable to storebought pasteurized cider.  But I'll drink that too.  The Cameos are much juicier, and I suspect they would yield more cider if pressed.

And finally:  dehydrating!  I don't have a fancy-pants dehydrator, and even if I did, I would have nowhere in my dang house to put it.  But I can do one better:  a giant convection oven at my place of employ!

I do about ten apples at a time.  Peel, core, slice thin, lay out on parchment (made this mistake once - never again!), put into the oven on lowest temperature and high convection until nice and dry - about 3 or 4 hours.

These are so addictive.  Like potato chips but really good for you and packed with fiber and with no nasty oils.  I can tear through a gallon size bag by myself in an evening.

So!  Apples.  There you have it.  Buying in bulk is super-economical (I'm paying roughly 55 cents per pound, which is about a third what these varieties cost at the market), and makes you feel really homemaker-ish as you stock your shelves with stuff that you made!

[This post submitted to Real Food Wednesday 12/11/13, Unprocessed Fridays 12/13/13 and Fight Back Friday 12/13/13.]

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