Saturday, September 22, 2012

Apple to Jar, All in One Day

This past Friday was very busy in the Little Hands Kitchen!

We didn't harvest a thing from the garden, but we took a little trip out of the suburbs and into the country. My Uncle Loren (gardening guru, and one of my heroes) has apple and pear trees on his property, and he gave us permission to come do a little picking. When we arrived, we were amazed by the sheer amount of apples available to us, for free. They were beautiful!


We filled two 5-gallon buckets (I would have kept going, but the kids were getting wiped out!). We also picked 5 pounds of mini-pears while we were there (not pictured, but trust me). The sweetness of those mini pears is something I can attest to from prior experience; there was no leaving without taking some magical sweet pears with us.

Once we were home, and had gathered up the rest of the gang from preschool (Rylee and Brady were the lucky two who were out of school due to teacher-in-service, so they were my apple helpers), it was time to get to work.

First we filled a pot with chopped apples. We didn't need to core the apples, since we'd be using our new Roma Food Mill, but to mix things up a bit, sometimes we'd go ahead and just core/slice them with an apple slicer-do-hicky. Rylee liked showing her strength with it.

In batches, we put the apples into a pot with about an 2 inches of water at the bottom. We'd start the apples boiling, then turn down the heat and let them cook until we could poke a fork into them.

The mini-pears were put into a large pot whole. All we did was remove the stems. I had already made a batch of pear sauce with these magical little pears and I knew that the food mill could handle them whole.

When the apples/pears were soft enough, we scooped them out into a colander in the sink (reserving the water to reuse for the next batch of apples), then processed them in the food mill. This is the VERY BEST part of the applesauce project. The kids (and me too) LOVE to see the soft apples squish into the hopper and separate into a pile of mushy skins/seeds, and a bowl full of luscious sauce. The mill is easy to operate, and the handle is easy enough for even the 3 year old to turn.

The sauce making was more time-consuming than I had thought it would be, and we only got through a small portion of our apples. In one day we were able to process 9 pints of applesauce, and still had a TON of apples left.

Here are 7 of the 9 pints. One went home with Rylee. One broke in the hot water bath as I tried to can it...oops! Everything has a learning curve!

These apples are so amazingly delicious, that we have been eating them right out of the bucket.

One of those pint jars (or maybe more) will be going to Uncle Loren, since they were his apples! Many thanks to him for allowing the Little Hands Garden to use up some of this wonderful fruit. I will can a few more batches, and we will be enjoying the applesauce all winter long. This stuff blows the store-bought stuff out of the water COMPLETELY! We didn't even have to add any sugar or cinnamon.

Here is a link to the site that helped me figure out how to make/can the sauce. I am a complete newbie, so sites like this are essential. My mom told me she has canned 'tons' of applesauce. Of all my childhood memories, this is one I simply do not remember! Thanks to the internet, I figured out the basics, and it wasn't hard. Time consuming? Maybe a little. But once you taste a bit of fresh, homemade applesauce, you will realize that going through the apple-to-jar experience is SO worth your time. The link above suggests using different types of apples for a sweet sauce. We used the magical little pears to suit this purpose. The apples alone are delicious, but the super-sweet pears added just enough bursting flavor so that we didn't have to add any other ingredients.

Now get out there and find yourself some apples! Find an orchard HERE, or ask around to see if anyone has an apple tree that they would let you pick from. You'd be amazed how much fruit goes to waste. I know of two apples trees in my own neighborhood that produce lots of fruit, only to fall to the ground to rot. Knock on doors, and ask for permission. Make some delicious applesauce, and have some fun!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Looks like Peter Rabbit found our Cabbage

We took great pride in this cabbage. We planted it back in October (see here). We watched it thrive through the winter, under snow and under freezing rain. We helped protect it with a milkjug cloche (see here). There were two cabbages, but we tore one out in order for the healthier one to have tons of room. Any day now, we were going to harvest it and make soup...

But some little critter came along and had a wonderful snack.

Even if it conjures images of Peter Rabbit in Mr. McGregor's Garden, we were not very happy about this loss! I thought of harvesting it anyway, and cutting off the eaten part. A totally reasonable idea...but I just couldn't do it.

So we let it sit out for two weeks in this condition, thinking if it were already going to be lost to us, at least the critter could come back and snack some more. But nothing more was eaten from it.

Yesterday we ripped it out and stuffed it into our compost ball. In a bigger garden, we would have many more cabbages and the loss would be just part of the experience. Every garden WILL experience disease, insects, and critters, there is no way around it! It's heartbreaking to see something we worked hard for go to waste. However, we will not give up! In a month or two, we will plant another (or two, or three) and watch it thrive through the upcoming winter. We WILL have cabbage!

We just hope Peter Rabbit enjoyed the fruits of our labors. :)