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Homemade Applesauce

Although it’s been a while since I posted, we’ve still been cooking away. Our final delivery of summer CSA shares was last Monday, and we received 15 pounds of delicious honey crisp and pink lady apples.

Considering we’ve gotten 5-8 pounds of apples every week for two months, it was time to do something other than making pie and eating them fresh. So today my mother and I made 7 quarts of delicious applesauce.

I found several recipes online, but this is the one we used:

Homemade Applesauce

  • 13-15 pounds yummy apples, cored and sliced
  • few tablespoons cinnamon & nutmeg (to taste)
  • Canning equipment – jars, lids, bands, etc

Wash, core and slice apples. We left the skin on the apples, but next time we’ll cut the apple slices again to make the skin pieces smaller. Place sliced apples in large bowl of cold water with a little bit of lemon juice while slicing everything to prevent the fruit from browning.

Put a small amount of water (1 cup) in the bottom of a large pot and add apple slices. Cover pot and simmer on medium-to-high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning the apples.

Cook the apples for 20-30 minutes, or until the fruit is soft. Use a potato masher and mash up all the slices – making them as chunky or smooth as you like. Continue stirring and simmering until there are no standing pools of water. This is a good time to add spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. This would also be the time to add sugar, but because our apples were sweet to begin with, we didn’t add any sugar. (woo!)

Some recipes I found call for putting the cooked apples through a food mill or other sieve to make the sauce smoother. We don’t have a food mill, and like our sauce chunky – so we opted for the chunkier appleasauce.

Remove sauce from heat and can using already sanitized jars and lids. Process about 20 minutes. (canning instructions & resources here) Our 15 pounds of apples made about 7 quarts of sauce.


Home Canning Resources

Although I’ve posted a few random instructions and resources for home canning, I wanted to share some of the good sites and info I’ve found for home canning.

I’ve never done pressure-cooking canning to date, but at some point I will likely venture into the pressure canner world to preserve soups and low-acid vegetables like pumpkins.

Here are links to sites I’ve used:

  • General instructions for water bath canning
  • Simple instructions and recipes with lots of photos. This site has *annoying* graphics, but I’ve found lots of good info and great step by step photos. If you can overlook the comicsans type, you’ll find great resources.
  • A list of general canning tips – canning gets easier with practice, and as you learn the principles of canning. We’ve reduced our processing time significantly as we’ve learned how much water to prepare, or how to keep the jars hot, or how to maximize space.
  • The National Center for Home Food Preservation‘s web site is sort of well organized and has additional info about freezing and drying food at home. The language & organization is very academic, but the information is high quality, especially the articles on seasonal food & safety tips. Check out this article on preserving apples.
  • And finally, the Ball Canning web site has step-by-step instructions and videos for canning and adjusting timing for altitude.

This season, we’ve canned 30 quarts of sweet & dill pickles, 10 quarts of tomatoes, 20 quarts tomato sauce, 10 quarts of peaches, 7 quarts of applesauce, and an untold number of jams with cherries, plums, apples, pears and peaches. Our shelves are full of fruits of vegetables that grew in nearby soil, was handpicked by people I know, and will now provide tasty deliciousness for several months. We’re already looking forward to next season, more pickles, and the awesome opportunity to create, preserve and share food that is healthy and good for our soil and ourselves. Yum.

Abundance of a New Season

Yesterday’s first pick up went off without much trouble. We didn’t have enough eggs for the eggshare folk, and everyone’s still getting oriented to our location and how the different sized shares work. My housemate Art was in charge of the pick up, since I was hosting a networking event for local businesses. He set up a great little tent, with signs, instructions, and even a “community chest” for swapping out veggies that people didn’t want or like.

I wasn’t sure how the community chest would work, since last year we saw how quickly one unwanted cabbage can turn into ten. (bet you didn’t know cabbage breeds like rabbits) We actually had to hide heads of cabbage if someone left one behind, because just one unwanted veggie gives permission for others to leave them, even if you’ve explicitely stated that’s a no-no. So we decided to provide a way for people to ensure the food doesn’t go to waste, expecting some trading and hoping that everything works out in the end. Apparently it’s all going to work out swell; yesterday a four year old little girl squealed with joy about the radishes left in the community chest; they got to take home two bunches. (how many four year olds squeal over radishes?)

The farm delivered extra boxes to help ensure that everyone got the right amount. Art combined these shares and went around to neighbors delivering free food. I’m not entirely sure what our neighbors think of us giving them free organic veggies, but I think they may be used to it by now. We have enough extra today that I’ll be heading over to SAME Cafe in Denver with lots of lettuce, rhubarb and herbs.

I need to post photos of the amazing spinach in our boxes, but I wanted to share my favorite way to deal with an abundance of spinach: saag. This recipe is the easiest I’ve found thus far, and there are many variations. I recommend experimenting with the mixture of spices until you find what suits your palate. The recipe calls for a pound of chopped spinach, and I haven’t yet worked out how much fresh spinach that is. Enjoy!

CSA Starts Tomorrow & Keeping Greens Fresh

Our 26 week CSA season begins tomorrow. We’re hosting the CSA at our house this year, so today we cleaned up a little section of the driveway and put up a canopy for the fruit and veggie boxes that will grace our house each Monday.

I went to the grocery store today to pick up a few items, and realized that so very soon, we’ll have lots of lettuce and herbs from the farm that we’ll have to use. [Our refrigerator needs a serious cleaning out of old food items.] And since it’s lettuce season, I thought I’d share our most successful tips for keeping the lettuce fresh.

Paper Towels in Drawer
The easiest and cheapest option is to rinse off the lettuce with a bit of cold water, loosely wrap in a clean paper towel, and then put the whole thing in the cripser drawer. (Which, in our usually dry climate, is always set as humid as possible)

Green Veggie Bags
Last year, we invested about $20 in a box of the “as seen on TV” green veggie bags, that are supposed to keep veggies fresh longer. I don’t know why they work, but they seriously do. I’ve been able to keep our CSA lettuce and other greens fresh for weeks in these bags. We wash and reuse all our plastic bags, so we’ve only used about 5 or 6 of them out of the box of 15 or so. Whether it’s true to the product advertisement or not, I am asserting that they still work.

Reviving Limp Lettuce
I’ve been able to keep lettuce longer (and make it crisp again even when limp) just by placing the lettuce in a bowl of cold water and letting it soak for 10 minutes or so. And a tip for those of you that have never been a CSA member: greens and other farm-fresh veggies often have a bit of dirt left over, especially spinach. Unless you love crunching dirt with your salad, I highly recommend the 10 minute soak before using any of your farm fresh greens.

Looking forward to the start of our CSA and to meeting all our fellow local food supporters!

Cooking Away My CSA Challenge

Today, through the magic that is the Intarwebs, I was contacted via Twitter by Heather, a journalist and foodie in Chicago who recently joined a CSA program. Realizing that she’ll soon receive boxes of seasonal produce every week, Heather created the Cooking Away My CSA challenge, to connect other techy CSA members to share ideas, recipes and stories about CSA membership.

I like her idea for a few reasons: last year, our farm was devastated by hailstorms that ruined crops of tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and more. Week after week, we received bunches of kale, dill and beets, and then weeks and weeks of cabbage. This is the risk you take when you join a CSA. And sharing ideas about what to do with the dozens of beets still in your fridge is a lifesaver. (our salvation: Beet Cake) But more importantly, our desire to be more connected to our food is becoming very loud indeed.

Although I’ve had a (barely used) cooking blog for years, I realized that my love of food and all things local has expanded far beyond my own garden. There is a major movement in our communities to have more farmers, more markets, more ways to connect with our food. We are so disconnected from this primary source of health and well being, of our very existence, and I think we’re finally revolting.

This revolution is taking various forms. In India, farmers are committing suicide because of being overwhelmed by debt and crop failure. This year, Chinese soldiers forced Tibetan farmers to plant their crops at gunpoint, and some refused. In other places, the growth of farmers markets and seed purchases hail increasing interest in growing, cooking and preserving our own food. This spring I helped to start a project in Denver focused on connecting local food growers and establishing more food gardens. And my organization is in the midst of launching a food business incubator, to nurture the development of more food related businesses in our own community.

I believe that all of this is happening because we’re waking up to the pitfalls of a society that has valued profit above all else. What happens when mega corporations own all our sources of food? If we continue to treat one another and our resources as simply numbers on a spreadsheet, we will continue to suffer.

Our CSA starts in two days. Gerry has already called me, excited about her first year as a CSA member. She told me about how her family goes through jam faster than she can make it, and how she’ll use the fruit from her share to stock up on yummy preserves. When I shared my envy about her jam making skills, she proclaimed, “well, I’ll just come over some weekend and show you how to jam! It’s SO easy! Then you can teach all your friends how to jam, too.” What may seem to be a small statement, a casual offer to share a recipe, to me is so much more. In that one offer, Gerry shared the essence of what it means to be human. It is our nature to freely share what we know and have. Joining a CSA or shopping at a farmer’s market or teaching a stranger how to make jam is about so much more than food. It’s about remembering and relearning how to take care of ourselves and one another.

Local food can be our access to stronger, healthier communities – from the community of cells and organisms that make up our bodies,  to our neighborhoods, towns and cities. And beyond that, to our ecosystems and social systems and nation states. And it starts with people like Gerry, being intentional about how she eats and sharing her food knowledge with others.