Thursday, September 17, 2015

Homemade Applesauce

One of my favorite side dishes is applesauce. It's perfect with everything from roasted meats to lunchmeat sandwiches. Making and preserving a big batch in the fall means I always have quick side dish ready throughout the year.

The best sauce is made using several variety of apples. I often refer to an apple usage chart before heading to the orchard. I like to include Golden Delicious and Rome and toss in a third variety based on what's available and the advice of my grower.

I can and freeze the sauce, depending on time and freezer space (we usually get a side of pork in the fall, and I need room in the freezer for holiday cookies). It's one of the few foods that is equally delicious fresh, frozen or canned.

Depending on the flavor of the apples, I'll add a bit of sugar or honey for sweetness and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Feel free to season as you like - purists can leave out sugar and spices entirely. Using a food mill eliminates the need to peel the apples (and saves a lot of time). The mill removes seeds and peels, and produces a smooth sauce. However, if you prefer a chunky sauce, you'll want to forgo the mill, peel the apples and after cooking, mash the apples slightly with a potato masher.

We have a consistently underperforming apple tree. Glad for our local orchards! 

Wash apples and place in a stockpot with water. I don't
peel as the food mill will separate the peel from pulp.

As apples cook, stir frequently to prevent sticking. 

While apples cook, prepare jars. Wash jars, lids and rings in hot soapy
water. No need to sterilize jars if process time is 10 or more minutes.
Ball lids no longer require heat treatment (simmered in boiling
water). Just wash and place on jars.

Several varieties of food mills are available. I use the KitchenAid attachment (left)
which makes really quick work of fruits and vegetables. However, the old
school hand mill on the right works perfectly and is less expensive. 

Cooked apples are added to the top. An auger forces the fruit through the mill.
Sauce comes out bottom into the glass bowl and skin/seeds come out the
tiny opening to the right and fall into the  stainless steel bowl.
The process is very efficient with little waste.

Finished sauce should round up on a metal spoon.

Fill jars, wipe rims and adjust lids.

Let jars cool on the counter 12 hours before storing. 

Adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
Yield: about 6 pints

8-10 lbs apples
1 to 1 1/2 cups water
1-2 cups sugar
Cinnamon or nutmeg to taste, optional

Wash apples. Peel if desired and quarter. Combine apples and water in a large stockpot. Cook over medium heat until soft, stirring to prevent sticking. Remove from heat and pass mixture through a food mill. Return pulp to stockpot. Add sugar and spices, if desired. Bring applesauce to a boil.

Ladle hot applesauce into jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles, wipe jar rim and adjust lids. Lower jars into simmering water, making sure water covers jars by at least 1 inch. Begin timing when water boils. Process pints or quarts 20 minutes. Turn off fire, remove canner lid and let jars cool 5 minutes before removing from canner. Cool jars 12 hours, remove rings, wipe jars and store. Consume within one year.

To freeze: After passing apples through food mill, add seasonings, if desired. Do not reheat. Place sauce in freezer containers and place in freezer. Consume within one year.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

CanningLive: Pumpkin Edition

Interested in learning how to process fresh pumpkins? Then join us for the second annual #CanningLive event on Saturday, October 3, 2015 from 1:00pm to 2:00pm EST as we live tweet the process. Although the event name suggests we'll be canning, the USDA recommends that pumpkin puree should be frozen (more on that during the event).

We'll live tweet, and post on Facebook, how to select, break down, roast and puree fresh pumpkin. By the end of the event you'll know how to make and store homemade puree perfect for pies, soups and side dishes.

Joining me in my kitchen will be Bren Haas (@BG_Garden), host of #GardenChat and local food enthusiast. If it's anything like last year's event, Bren will be furiously photographing, video recording and posting! 

Rather than a traditional chat with posted questions, we'll be tweeting and posting while we're processing. In addition to discussing pumpkins, we'll also post freezing tips, share pumpkin recipes and take food preservation questions. Followers can watch the process, join in the conversation and ask questions using #CanningLive.

Find Us:
Twitter: log on and follow us by using #CanningLive
Facebook: Join the group #CanningLive

Almost ready to harvest.

We grow several varieties of pumpkins and winter squash.

Lots of pies from a single pumpkin!!

Enjoy fresh pumpkin in baked goods, soups and side dishes.

Have questions about pumpkins or food preservation? Leave them in the comment section below.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Preserved Foods Judging

I've been judging preserved food competitions for over 20 years. Most take place at county fairs and cover water bath, pressure canned and dehydrated foods.

Competitors are often surprised to learn I don't taste products. Because a sealed jar doesn't ensure a safe product (previously discussed here), I judge the jars on other properties. A lot can be learned just by looking at the jar:

  • Food Maturity: Green beans should be tender and young. Large beans are generally overly mature and tough. Pickles should be made using small pickling cucumbers, which when harvested young, have small seeds.
  • Appropriate headspace: Recipes can call for anywhere from 1 1/4 inch to 1/4 inch headspace.
  • Submerged food: Liquid should cover the food. Exposed food can discolor during storage.
  • Clarity of liquid: Cloudy liquid can be caused by over processing, causing the food to break down (different produce varieties also stand up better to canning).  
  • Discolored food: Light colored fruit, like apples, pears and peaches, can oxidize and brown during preparation and processing.
  • Correct pack: Peaches should be cut in half, cavity side down. Whole fruit, like cherries, should be packed tightly without crushing fruit.
  • Fruit spreads: Jellies should be clear, not cloudy and move slightly. Jams should have a tighter set with bits of fruit distributed throughout the jar.
  • Firm seal: An unsealed jar is automatically disqualified. 

Jars are arranged by class. I prefer to judge in front of
exhibitors (open judging). Questions are encouraged.

The applesauce in the center was placed first. The other two sauces oxidized
(safe to eat, but discolored from browning fruit during
processing). The jar on the left has too much headspace.

Neither of these jars of sweet cherries won first place. The jar on the left
doesn't have enough headspace and the fruit is packed loosely.
The cherries on the right are sitting above the liquid.

These were all nice jars of sour cherries. The center and right jars
both had too little headspace with fruit outside the liquid.

To judge jellies, I pass a light through the jar. The clearer the jelly, the higher
the quality. How do you ensure clear liquid? Refrain from squeezing
the jelly bag as it force bits of pulp into the fruit juice.
Have questions about your entries? Leave a comment below!

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa

Tomatillos grow like weeds in our garden. Many are volunteers from the previous year - including several plants sprouting from the compost pile. Due to the unusual growing season, this year's crop survived but produced small fruits.

Tomatillos are in the  nightshade family (along with tomatoes, eggplant and ground cherries). The fruit is green when ripe and grows in a papery husk. We grow tomatillos from seed, but I've recently noticed more greenhouses offering starts.

The flavor of tomatillo salsa is brighter than a traditional red salsa. In addition to eating with tortilla chips, I like to use it as an enchilada sauce with pork and chicken fillings. This recipe freezes well - make a double patch and pop some in the freezer!

Tomatillos grow in a papery husk. To use, remove the husk and rinse off the sticky residue.

Roast tomatillos, pepper and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet.

Roasted vegetables will soften and darken. Remove to a food
processor and grind along with cilantro, lime juice and water. 

Chop and rinse onions. Add to salsa (don't grind onions).

This salsa tastes best after it sits a day in the fridge.

Where's the margaritas?

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Adapted from Rick Bayless
Makes about 2 cups

16 ounces tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 fresh jalapeno, stemmed
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
Handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp water
1 medium white onion, finely chopped

Roast the tomatillos, pepper and garlic on a rimmed baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler, until blotchy and softening (they’ll be turning from lime green to olive), about 5 minutes. Flip them over and roast the other side. Cool, then transfer everything to a blender, including the juice the tomatillos have exuded during roasting. Add the cilantro and lime juice and water, then blend to a coarse puree. Scoop into a serving dish. Rinse the onion under cold water, then shake to remove excess moisture. Stir into the salsa and season with salt, about 1 teaspoon.