Sunday, February 26, 2012

Mules and Fairy Godmothers

If you’re fortunate enough to have an apple tree then you know that its bounty usually ripens pretty much all at once.  Sure, you might have to pick the fruit in a few successive rounds, but one can hardly eat so many apples before they begin to soften and rot.  Now imagine that you are responsible for several apple trees since you far too enthusiastically planted a small grove of them several years ago with your father.  And their ripening occurs like an avalanche does - suddenly and a bit overwhelmingly.  If you live in an area with an agrarian culture you quickly learn that, no, thank you very much, your neighbors and friends do not need or want the fruit you have to share as they all have their own apple trees.  Local food pantries to help the underprivileged in our midst will seldom accept fresh fruit citing storage and handling difficulties.  What to do with all of the apples?

Though I would never personally employ such stealth tactics, I’ve noticed in my own rural corner of the world that late summer finds few public waiting rooms barren of recycled shopping bags full of fruit - tucked by the magazine stand at the dentist’s office, or by the receptionist’s desk at the doctor’s office.  Really!  I once saw an entire box of them sitting by a vending machine at the local laundry.  The most effective distribution method was, however, when I saw bags of fruit perched atop half the cars in a grocer’s parking lot.  Really?  Who would traipse the village like a fairy-apple-godmother?  The ingenious nerve of some people!

Despite the difficulty of finding homes for several varieties of surplus apples every year, I find myself missing their fresh sweetness in winter’s depth.  I have only to open a jar of home-made apple butter to slather on a biscuit or a slice of toast to enjoy a tasty, economical breakfast.  Home canning is quite simple and offers an extremely frugal way to stretch food dollars.  Apples that quickly cook down without holding their form are best for making apple butter and any variety (or combination) works as well as the next as long as you avoid firm Granny Smiths.  For those wishing to avoid the use of granulated sugar altogether, be sure to choose apples which are naturally quite sweet.   I use a 6-quart electric slow cooker (or several of them at once) to execute the following recipe.

Apple Butter

Fill large slow cooker with apples which have been peeled and sliced.  Cook on high until apples have cooked down and are soft.  Add 4 cups of granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of ground cloves and continue to cook on a low setting for 8-10 hours.  Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract during the last half of cooking time.  Meanwhile sterilize jars and keep them hot until apple butter is done (I keep jars hot in a 200-degree F oven).  Pour apple butter into hot jars and seal with hot canning rings and lids which have been kept in simmering water on your stovetop.  Invert jars and place on a clean kitchen cloth until cool.  Jars should seal successfully but, if not, process in a boiling water bath for 15-20 minutes.  (Don’t forget to inhale deeply several times during the process - your kitchen will smell heavenly!)

In My Da’s Time... was made outside
in a cast iron pot,
mule tied to a roundabout
to do the stirring.
Apples, molasses, spices...
and that wonderful
smoky aroma wafting
across crisp November air.
The mule stirred
the whole mix until
it turned into a thick, amber paste.
The flavor
a bite of summer
in winter.

1 comment:

  1. All I need is time! The apples from last fall are getting mealy now...(my hydrator holds about 2 bushels and keeps them all winter).... but I have no idea how I'll get the time to do this... but glad for your recipe.... I used to use brown sugar in it and sometimes molasses depending what I had on hand, but the vanilla sounds like a nice touch.