Keeping the doctor away.

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I learned how to do some home canning several years ago when I lived in south Georgia and had access to what is, I suppose, the breadbasket of the state.  There were a plethora of you-pick farms within a 30 minute drive of where we lived, and I spent the summers that we lived there knee-deep in produce.

Canning, or bottling if you live in the western US, is not something that I grew up doing.  My first experience with it was as a young Army wife stationed at Ft. Lewis near Tacoma, Washington.  I had four small kids in tow, and not a lot of budget, but a whole lot of a sense of adventure.  I had always loved blackberries and remembered picking them with my mom in Georgia when I was young, but the blackberries I saw in Washington were about three times the size of the ones I remembered, and were not only delightful, but incredibly prolific.  They grew wild everywhere, and it made me nuts to think of all that fabulous fruit going to waste.  So, I learned how to make blackberry jam.  By the time we moved from Washington to south Georgia, I had been bitten hard, and I wanted to can just about any fresh produce I could get my hot little hands on.

But these days I’ve learned that our family doesn’t really eat jams or jellies, so it’s not worth the time and money to make them. Pickles are more difficult to get right than one would think, so we just eat all the cucumbers out of our garden.  Freezing things like beans and peas is just as good as canning, and really much easier.  However, I am a stickler for bottled tomatoes, peaches and apples.  I am really picky about how ripe the tomatoes and peaches are when they are picked for canning, and it makes a big difference in the final product.

I’m also particular about apples, but it has less to do with ripeness and more to do with variety.  I like variety.  I like how mixing different types of apples gives even applesauce a little bit of complexity.  The funny part about buying apples in Georgia is that at the time we moved to Washington, I really didn’t know that there were apple farms in Georgia.  In fact, I was really excited to take the kids to show them where all their apples came from in the grocery store.  Of course, I didn’t realize that the apple orchards were quite a trip east from Tacoma, and we never did get to go and see them.  But, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

This year I wanted to do a little shopping to see what the price difference really was between buying at the local markets and driving up to north Georgia to the apple houses.  In the photo on the left above with the red apples, you see what a box of Zestar apples from Your Dekalb Farmers Market looks like.  They cost $46, and are from Minnesota.  They are also absolutely delightful, and might be my favorite.  The apples on the right with the mix of red and green are from some of the north Georgia apple houses.  There is a mix of Arkansas Black, Pippin and Braeburn.  Of these, I like Arkansas Black the best to eat raw.  But the Pippin is a nice, firm, tart apple, and is good for baking.  The Braeburn is a smaller, softer, sweeter apple, and adds nice balance to the mix.  The basket on the right cost about $17, and is probably about 1/2 to 2/3 the number of apples on the left.  At the apple houses in fall of 2017, the apples ran about $6 per 1/2 peck, $11 per peck, and $17 per half bushel.

I generally preserve apples just two ways.  One is to bottle pie apples using a recipe in the Heritage Cookbook, which is a community cookbook my sister-in-law gave me about 11 years ago.  It’s a fat little thing full of input from residents of Parowan, Utah, and the recipe for Apple Pie Filling is the one Judy used for the apples that grew on their property in Parowan, and the one two of my stepdaughters helped her to bottle.

I have plenty of pie apples on hand from past years, so this year I bottled just enough to send some to each of our kids as part of a November care package.  Conveniently, there are 7 kids, the recipe worked for 7 jars, and the canner fit 7 jars in a single swoop.  Done.

Apple Pie Filling

  • 4 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 10 cups water

Mix together dry ingredients in large cooking pot and add 10 cups of water; cook and stir until thick and bubbly.  Slice tart apples and pack into quart jars.  Leave 1 inch head space.  Fill jars with hot syrup.  Process in water bath 30 minutes.

Other fruits and berries can be used in like manner, but when using peaches, add 1/4 cup more cornstarch.

The other thing I do with apples is to make unsweetened applesauce.  In past years I have made a lot of different kinds of applesauce and have tried lots of recipes.  However, I find that I like to preserve food as plainly as possible so that I have more options down the road.  If I want cinnamon applesauce, I can for sure add cinnamon to it after it’s been made.  Heat it up on the stove even.  But once it’s in there, it’s in there, and you got what you got.  Plain, unsweetened applesauce is a reasonable snack, is easy to dress up, and can sometimes act as a replacement for oil or eggs in baking recipes.

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I set things up pretty much the same every time I bottle something.  Some of the tools are different based on the produce, but basically, the kitchen always looks the same.  In the fall I don’t mind working a little later in the day, but in the summer, I’m usually at work canning by about 6:30 am before it gets very warm.

I know, there are lots of cool gadgets out there for peeling and coring apples, but for some reason, I still prefer to just use a simple vegetable peeler and an apple cutter.  Half of the time I don’t use the cutter- I just cut the apples in quarters, set them on a flat side and slice out the core of each quarter.  I also make sure I have some form or another of citric acid on hand to help keep the applesauce from turning brown too quickly.  As far as I know, turning brown doesn’t have a huge affect taste or nutrition, but it just doesn’t look very appetizing.

The beauty of making applesauce is the ease of the process.  Really, all I do is peel, cut, drop in a large cooking pot, and mix in some citric acid.  When my pot is almost full of apples, I add about 2 -3 cups of water and set them to boil.  It is important to watch them and stir them often for a couple of reasons.  One is they have a tendency sometimes to boil out of the top of the pot.  The other is they can burn on the bottom while the ones on the top haven’t even softened up yet.  Once I can see that they have started to boil, I turn them down to medium heat and cover, still stirring often, until the apples soften and simply begin to break down into applesauce.  I am happy with it at this point, but it is also possible to put them through a food mill for an even smoother product.

I like to bottle applesauce in single serving sizes, and it’s how I use up all those jelly jars that I don’t use for jelly anymore.  They stack very differently in the canner than their older cousins the pint and quart jars, so I have to make sure that when they are submerged in the water bath that the water covers the jars completely.  Also, while you can’t see it in the photo, the jar I am holding in my hand is chipped along the lower rim.  It went straight to the recycling bin as that one chip could cut someone pretty badly, and even if it didn’t, I worry that the chip could affect the integrity of the jar.

When my kids were younger, I used to make Red Hot Applesauce.  We would get Red Hot candies at the store, put a few in the bottom of the jar, then fill it with applesauce and process in the water bath.  The candies would melt up into the applesauce, and it had kind of a cool effect.  Plus, it added just a little something to an afternoon snack.  I tried to find Red Hots this year, just for nostalgia, but all I could find were Hot Tamales.  I figured they would probably work, and it was worth the try.

It worked exactly as I remembered.  Now I am all stocked up on applesauce for the season, and gratefully so.  If you would like to try to bottle your own applesauce, be sure to check out guides from places such as your local extension office, or booklets such as the Ball Blue Book of Canning.  The Ball Blue Book is where I started my canning journey, and I feel confident it will help you along the way, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

This year has been an interesting one for me.  Let’s just say that 2017 has presented me with lots of opportunities for growth.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful life, and I am very grateful for every aspect of it, both the chuckles and the challenges.  But I have found myself as this year is beginning to come to a close taking time for a lot of personal inventory.  Asking myself questions like, “What am I supposed to do now?”  And hearing myself say things like, “Well, that didn’t go the way I thought it would.”  Midlife crisis?  I dunno.  Maybe.  I think I thought I was too young for that, and that really that only happened to men, but of course neither of those statements are true.  We all have to reevaluate ourselves from time to time if we have any hope of making any real progress in life.

So, for the last week or so I have kind of put the breaks on a lot of things in my life.  Not permanently, but just long enough for me to slow down and think more clearly.  But just because I said, “Whoa, Nellie” on certain aspects of my life did not mean that the blows quit coming.  A client who will not forgive me.  Difficulty and hurt in a relationship in my family.  Watching someone I care about struggle, and knowing there is nothing I can do.  Making another really big, really embarrassing mistake.  And then there was the trip to Utah.

That I am not on.

When this trip was scheduled, I was anticipating having a very different list of things on my plate, and I knew that I really couldn’t take the time to go out west with my husband for a long weekend and camping and hunting trip with the family.  A few weeks ago it became obvious that things were changing and that I really did have time to go, but I also knew that plane tickets are pricy, and we really do plan those kinds of things pretty far in advance in order to keep our costs as low as possible.  It was just too late.

Dropping Jeff and a friend off at the airport was feeling a lot like salt being rubbed into the wound that has been 2017, but I am pretty much over that crap.  No, I was not happy about missing out on a chance to see kids, grandkids, in-laws, nieces and nephews.  No, I was not happy about missing out on clear, cool mountain air, campfire smells, dutch oven cooking and more stars than I used to think it was possible to see in one night.  But there are lots of things to love right here in my own backyard.  Lots of things things to counteract salt, and bind up a wound.

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Doughnut Dollies is my most favorite donut shop ever.  It is also 46 miles from my house.  Obviously, I can’t make a trip to Marietta, GA every day or even every week just for my beloved donuts, but I can once in awhile.  We live south of Atlanta, and south of the airport, so I began my trek north for the day.  I went straight to Doughnut Dollies from the airport, and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

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Like I said on Instagram, caramel goes pretty dang well with salt, and even better on a donut, so a salted caramel donut it was.  And an orange gingerbread one for the road.  I know the question begs to be asked, “Why is Doughnut Dollies the best?”  I love their hip, crafty and creative takes on my favorite pastry, and the shop itself is an absolute delight, but really the reason I love them so is the texture.  I love bread.  Soft, fluffy white bread.  These donuts are much more bread-like than most donuts, and I love that the donut itself doesn’t seem to be as sweet as others.  The sweet seems to be more in the add-ons, and I just really like the balance.  (This may also explain why I hate Krispy Kreme donuts, especially when they are hot.  It’s like just eating fried sugar.  Bleh.)  Plus, the peeps that work at Dollie’s are really nice, so that’s always a plus.

From Marietta, I decided to keep heading north.  This weekend is the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, and Gold Rush Days in Dahlonega.  The weather is beautiful and finally starting to be a little bit cooler and drier, which around here is nothing but good news and puts a lot of people in a good mood and stirs up a desire to head to our version of the mountains.  A lot of people.  Knowing that this weekend is festival weekend up north, I also knew that it meant the apples are in, and it’s time to make applesauce, but I wanted to get up there before the crowds.  So, I plugged in Sybil and headed up the highway.

From the Atlanta area, I just take I-75 north to I-575, and stay on it until it ends and becomes GA-515.  The first apple places you come to in Ellijay are on the right, Panorama and Penland’s.  I have to be honest, I always stop here, but it’s not really usually to buy apples.  My husband’s favorite hot sauce comes from this place, and they don’t take phone orders and they don’t ship.  So I stock up on it, and a few other gift items for the holidays.  I did buy a peck of Arkansas Black, and of course, some apple cider donuts.  They are my second favorites behind Doughnut Dollies.  Every time I go there I am greeted by busloads of seniors headed to Ellijay for the day, and quite honestly, I think that is their biggest clientele.  I don’t have any opinions about Penland’s, as quite honestly I’ve never been there.  I just get what I come for at Panorama, and then move along.

I keep going north on GA-515, then turn right on GA-52.  This is where the majority of the apple markets and farms are located.  There are little bitty, no fuss places like Hudson’s Apple House, and there are larger markets complete with petting farms and hayrides like Hillcrest Orchards, and there are several in between.  It really just depends on what you are looking for.  When my kids were younger, we went to the bigger places more often because there is a bit of tourism and fun about it, but nowadays I really am just going for the apples. I realized on my drive up that it was the first time that I had ever made the drive without my family.  It made me a little sad, but then I gloried in the fact that I could do what I wanted without worrying about this or that, and I got over it quick.  Apparently that’s the name of the game.

I love Hudson’s Apple House.  It might be my favorite stop of all.  It is small, and located in what looks to be an old service station.  The family is lovely, and I always like to visit with them.  There’s no fuss.  Just apples.  And kindness.  I wanted a tart, hard apple, but not just a Granny Smith, so she offered for me to try a Pippin, which was delightful.  If my family and other close friends are reading this post, they are probably laughing at that pic of the partially eaten apple.  I hate biting into food like that because I feel like I get it all over my face and I’m sticky and dirty and need a shower.  But, she wanted me to try it before I bought it, so I did, and I loved it, but I was really glad I had wipes in the car.

My other favorite on Ga-52 is the B.J. Reece Apple House.  It is one of the bigger places, and is a little touristy, but seriously has a really great selection of apples.  I think you can also pick your own here, and they may have hayrides and things like that, but I don’t really pay any attention to it.  I’m just there for some serious apple shopping, a jug of peach cider, and maybe some produce.  I didn’t buy as much as I usually do this year, something I will explain in another post, but I did pick up some Braeburn apples, which I am looking forward to using.

If I had the kids with me, I would have continued on southeast on GA-52 and gone to Burt’s Farm.  I took the kids there many times when they were younger to pick out a pumpkin, or just to take photos with the rows and rows of pumpkins of every size and color.  When they were very small, it wasn’t as well known, and it was easy to park, and there weren’t a lot of crowds to contend with.  It is still gorgeous. and lots of fun, but it is also a popular destination for school field trips, and is often packed with people at this time of year.  I did debate about going over to Amicalola Falls just past Burt’s Farm to climb the stairs by the falls, just to see if I could do it and not feel like I was dying like I did the last time, but I opted for a different route. I still think I might go back up sometime this fall.  I feel those stairs challenging me.

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Instead, where GA-52 takes a sharp left to head towards Burt’s and the falls, I turned right onto GA-183 and followed Sybil’s directions back south and into Atlanta.  When I got to Intown Quilters I shared apple cider donut and apple joy with Sarah and the crew, and they shared fabric and fiber joy with me.  It lifts my spirits so much to be with creative friends and talk about our passions.  I love this shop, and it’s crew.  I never leave there empty handed or without inspiration, and yesterday was no exception.  We laughed and chatted, and even disagreed, and in the end I left with both my hands and my heart filled.  It was a good day.

Even though 2017 and I have been battling it out, I know that in the end I will prevail.  I’m totally watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve this year because while 2017 is going down in flames, I will live on.  This year may have beaten me up a bit, but I’ve lived long enough to know that bruises heal, even the ego type.  It is just a matter of time, and as my husband says, learning how to fall so maybe next time there are no bruises, or at least smaller ones that heal faster.