Thursday, October 28, 2010

What I do for fun on a Thursday night...

I had a hot date on Thursday night! With boiling chunks of apples - it was truly HOT.

I got home late from an information session about a land conservation campaign in our town, and then futzed around the house for a while, cleaning the kitchen and putting clutter away, and then...

I got this great idea that I would make applesauce! At 10:45 at night! After I had just cleaned up the kitchen! (I know I'm using a lot of exclamation points, but I must say I was positively giddy to make applesauce.)

Considering I usually try to go to bed by 10 and I hate getting the kitchen dirty immediately after cleaning it, this was a surprising inclination, but I decided that you're only 27 years and 11 and 3/4 months old once, so I sorted through a bag of windfall apples from Norway Hill Orchards that my parents picked last weekend.

I washed them, chopped them in halves or quarters, and filled up a heavy 10-quart stockpot.I added about a cup and a half of water, put the lid on, and stuck the pot on the stove for 25 minutes or so.

During this time, I wandered around the house some more and watched a bit of the documentary of "Guns, Germs and Steel"... it's like the CliffNotes version of the book. I also periodically wandered over to the stove to smell if the apples were cooking down.

When apples are cooking down, they release this amazing sweet flowery perfumey scent, completely unlike the tart flavor of raw apples. The stronger the scent becomes, the closer the apples are to becoming saucy. I think that the heady fragrance of apples cooking is really what enticed me to make applesauce so late in the evening, rather than the smooth sweetness of the applesauce.

Up to this point, I had used only your everyday ordinary cooking tools, but for the sauce-making, I pulled out my special cooking tool, a chinois sieve. It's basically a metal perforated cone that sits on a wire frame; you put the soft apples in it and use the wooden paddle that comes with it to force the applesauce through the holes. The stems, skin and seeds all stay on the inside of the sieve. Cool, eh? You betcha.

(Magalloway did not actually help with the applesauce straining; he couldn't quite figure out how to push the paddle around... He might have been more interested if it were salmon sauce.)

This applesauce went straight into the refrigerator, as I love warm applesauce with granola for breakfast this time of year.

** If you don't have a chinois sieve, you can peel, core and slice the apples and then just cook them down. No straining necessary, although you may want to use a potato masher. You can make chunky applesauce this way, but your applesauce will be yellow.

**Another option - if you want to keep the beautiful pink color (which comes from the skins), you can just chop and core the apples, cook them down with the skins, and then pour the whole mess through a colander. You'll probably need a wooden spoon or your fingers to help separate the skins from the flesh.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Summer Harvest Wrap-Up

I'm amazed at how nice our autumn has been thus far. It's rained some, helping to refresh the water table and our drinking water wells. But mostly it's been a lot of really beautiful days with pretty fall colors. At our house, we haven't yet had a frost as we're in a sheltered spot, but we did wrap the cherry tomatoes two nights ago with sheets. I almost wanted to keep them up as ghostly Halloween decorations, but that would defeat the purpose of keeping the tomato plants producing.

I've been a bit remiss in keeping my online harvest log up-to-date, but I did just catch up - so please navigate to My 2010 Harvest Log. The season isn't completely over, but it's certainly winding down. I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will still be harvesting some spinach, arugula and carrots from the garden well into November.

So - I've learned a couple things this year -
1) Squash plants grow like kudzu. Interestingly, I had great success with the winter squashes (butternut and acorn) and only a very few zucchini and summer squash. Somehow my friends and family members are much more enthused about taking home free hard squash than summer squash... so maybe this was a good thing.

2) I do not need 12 tomato plants. Without doing the math, I know that I've harvested over 40 pounds of tomatoes from my garden this year. The vines kept overwhelming their supports and threatening to topple completely, even with fairly routine sucker-removal.

3) Peppers do well with a little spa treatment. Some nice farmers who sold us pepper starts told us to sprinkle Epsom salt around the base of the plant. Apparently the magnesium is in high demand for peppers.

4) Even though I measured out my plant spacing this year, I still crowded my plants. My nasturtiums barely grew at all until I tore out the cucumber vines, and then they just flourished late summer and into the fall.

5) I also just learned a new trick - you can use sawdust as mulch. I'm really quite excited to learn this because we have a lot of sawdust from woodworking and I need to mulch a lot of garden space. We planted raspberries, grapes, strawberries and blueberries late this summer, which all need some sort of bed mulch. The key is to put down some nitrogen fertilizer (compost or other type) before the sawdust.

6) Ran into trouble with bitter lettuce and early bolting of greens during the summer. Part of this may have been attributable to the droughty conditions and my lackluster watering habits in August.

Stay tuned for my big dreams for next year's garden and to see how the late harvests turn out!