Monday, September 27, 2010

101 Things to do with Apples

When I graduated from college in 2003 we were still very close to 9/11. In fact it was just a few months earlier that we invaded Iraq and President Bush (with still somewhat popular ratings) had made a national call to service. He challenged youth to serve their nation in whatever way felt compelling to them. I, with no idea what to do next with my life, answered. I applied for AmeriCorps and was placed in the National Civilian Community Corps for a period of 10 months which is how I first came to know Washington, DC.

NCCC is a team-based, residential program that serves 5 key areas: Education, Environment, Public Safety, and Disaster Relief and.......We trained for a month on a campus in Anacostia and then were placed on teams of 9 or 10 people, according to our skills. My team and I fell in love with one another. We bickered, we argued, we beat one another up, and we fell asleep snuggling. We traveled in a stinky 12 passenger van all over the east coast serving in project after project. Our very first “spike” (as travel projects were called) was in West Virginia building a walking trail and educating West Virginia’s most obese county (Putnam) on health and wellness. I totally understood why this county would have a high obesity rating. They had Tudor’s Biscuit World.

Oh dear, how I miss it. Tudor’s is a fast food chain that sells BISCUITS. Honestly, before that fateful day in October 2003, I had never had a biscuit. My family never made them. So, like Hansel and Gretel in a gingerbread house, I dove in. We all did. Here we are: 10 of us generally thin and fit people educating the masses about making healthy food choices while secretly gorging on all the things that contribute to obesity in the first place. Principle among the fattening agents: biscuits and apple butter. I must have gained 6 pounds on that spike.

I’ve not been back to Tudor’s since then, but this fall, due to an amazing find of a Foley Food mill for TWO BUCKS in a thrift store, I decided to revisit what was once an obsession. I mean, I’ve grown up, right? I know how to restrain myself, right?
The first step to making apple butter is to make applesauce. We went back to Homestead Farms to pick a ridiculous amount of apples. There is something very childlike and innocent about applesauce. Unadorned and sweetened little, its mother nature’s most soothing carbohydrate. At the bottom of this entry you'll find the necessary instructions for making applesauce and applebutter. But first I'd like to get on a soapbox about why this is a worthwhile venture. I have a few reasons.

Reason #1: Applesauce is a family-friendly recipe. First, you can teach your child about canning. Which teaches them about following instructions. And also teaches them about a heritage. Which brings you family members together in a kitchen. And allows you to relive fun family memories when you pull jars out of the cabinet months later. And, your child begins a process of recognizing where food comes from. Hopefully they'll wonder the same thing about Doritos someday down the road....
Reason #2: its economical. 30 pounds of apples is basically all it takes as long as you've invested in the jars. We got about 15 pint jars of apple sauce or butter out of $1.49 a pound apples. See how much it costs to purchase 15 jars of boutique organic apple butter at a store.

Reason #3: it planet-friendly. Seriously. Aside from replacing lids every year, the jars are filled, used, washed and re-used next year. There is no waste. That is a priceless investment.

So, to make applesauce (and then applebutter):

As always, wash jars, lids and rings in high heat and dry thoroughly. Keep your jars warm for the applesauce. I started by peeling my apples because I wasn't completely confident in Homestead's organic rating although technically you don't have to peel your apples. The peels will get worked out in the food mill. So peel, core and cut apples into chunks and put in a big kettle on the stove (5-8 quarts). We needed two 8 quart kettles. To each kettle add about 3/4 cup water and 1/4 cup white or cider vinegar. Let them simmer until really soft and mushy, at least for an hour. When you think they won't get any mushier, set your food mill up over a bowl and push the apples through.

At this stage of the game, you're essentially done. I didn't add any sugar, but I did add about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Half of the applesauce went into jars and the other half went into a slow cooker where I added a half cup of brown sugar, half cup white sugar, and two more teaspoons of cinnamon (to about 10 cups of sapplesauce). Then I set the slow cooker on medium for eight hours. One recipe suggested 5, another said 12. By 7 hours I thought it had reached a nice shade of brown. Truth be told, the applebutter could have used more sugar. But I couldn't bring myself to do it.
The applesauce was processed right at the time it was jarred for 15 minutes. The applebutter also got 15 minutes submerged in the canner in boiling water. HOWEVER, applebutter and applesauce freeze really, really well. So if you have room in the freezer, skip the whole canning thing.

We also made apple pie that night. But by 2:00am, I wasn't churning out the best pies in the world. Another story, another day.

So the moral of today's posting is: hit the orchard. Take your family. Create a tradition and teach your kids to be mindful of where their food is coming from. Those experiences truly made me who I am today and I wouldn't trade any of it for a $3.49 jar of grocery store applesauce.

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