Sunday, September 26, 2010

Canning, Part Deux: Apples

We are not apple connossieurs. Luz doesn’t like the crunch or the peel. Catriona only likes sour (granny smith) apples, peeled. When we were juicing big time, though, apples were a staple in our house. We bought them by the box from Berkeley bowl, just so we could keep up with our favorite apple-lime-carrot-ginger juice.

Luz did some juicing a couple of weeks back, as a cleansing before the start of hir school year. Zie juiced something fierce for several days, not only our old standbys but also vampiros using beets from hir garden. Hir carrots from the garden are absolutely the best carrots I have eaten.

When the limpia was over we still had lots of apples left. They weren’t real flavorful for eating out of hand. And it was starting to look like they would quietly go bad while we averted our eyes.

But as you know, we got a canning book and canning supplies last week, and that changed our whole perspective. While lots of people can the fruits of the garden, lots more buy bags and boxes of what’s in season so they can enjoy them later. I know Mrs. Surmani, who used to live next door to us, used to put up all kinds of fruit.

So, what the heck! let’s give apples a shot! First we were thinking apple chunks or apple butter. Catriona got a new canning book this week, Stocking Up, which is especially attractive because its jam & jelly recipes use only honey. We also have big concerns about sugar. Old-time canning recipes call for major sugar, and with diabetes being such an ominous specter on the Latin@ health horizon right now, we are not interested in preparing anything full of sugar.

When we first moved into the neighborhood, Mr. Surmani gave us a lesson on the membrillo (English: quince) which I consider the Troll or Ogre of apples: It’s big, lumpy, misshape, and kind of fuzzy. It’s too tart for out of hand eating, but bakes up a beautiful rose color, very fragrant and delicious. Membrillo (english: marmalade) was the first jelly, because the fruit has a naturally high fruit pectin content. Luz had produced some beautiful membrillo paste in years past, but really the sugar content of the recipes is frightening: 2 cups fruit to 2 cups sugar. Luz tried to decrease the sugar this year, planning to just cook it down, but it never set.

But then, our oven broke. (this hardly sounds like a happy story, so far).

We could still use the gas burners on top, but that was it. After a week of wrestling with the idea, we went shopping for a new stove, and picked a nice one which will support Luz’s MasterChef experimentation. And it has some features we will never use, like “perfect turkey.” And a couple of others that we found very exciting. Namely “bread proof” and “dehydrate.”

My family is not new to food dehydration. We moved from L.A. to northern New Mexico in the late 1970s. There were many aspects of rural life at which we did not succeed. We were complete failures with farm animals, due in large part to our displaced urban German Shepherd, who lacked the breeds herding instincts, in place of which he had a double measure of kill instinct. I need elaborate no further.

However, my dad excelled at gardening and dried foods. He made beef jerky every year with lots of salt and pepper. Some times he put even more pepper so that it would last longer. I’d always liked beef jerky as a kid, although all the jerky I’d ever seen had been encased in plastic. My mom, as a young woman, had a memorable experience working in a jerky factory which seemed to have cured her of any liking for the processed beef product. My dad’s jerky, on the other hand, was something special. legendary. All our relations who came out to visit us in New Mexico will remember eating Alfonso/Uncle Pony’s beef jerky. yum.

I think he strung clotheslines in the attic of the old adobe on our property in Ledoux, and hung the strips of beef like socks on the clothesline. The attic had screened windows on either end to keep out the birds and rodents, and seemed to provide ideal drying conditions. (We were at 7500 feet).

He later expanded his dehydrating repertoire to include apples and green chile. He and my nephews Steven and Cisco used to slice apples, lay them out on paper towels on the car’s dashboard, then lock up the car in the sun to dry out the apples. They would send them to me in California, and I enjoyed them tremendously.

I don’t know how he prepared the green chile. He gave me these when I was living in Colorado, and they were pure magic. When I moved to Colorado was the first time I realized that New Mexico green chile was not widely available (and when all those childhood memories of smuggling sacks of green chile across the California border began to make sense). In northern New Mexico you can buy as much as you want, fresh in season, or frozen, next to the green beans, year round. In Colorado the closest thing I could find were the canned ortega chiles, a big disappointment. But with my dad’s dried green chile, I could sprinkle them into a pot of otherwise potato-tomato stew and make something fabulous. I learned the hard way that these would not keep indefinitely in Colorado or California they way they had back home.

Luz and I still want to learn how to dry the green chile, which has assumed almost mythical status in our imaginations.

But back to the membrillo that didn’t set. And the apples.

So our new stove arrived and Luz cooked several amazing dinners on it and then began to eye the dehydrate function. Zie thought of that membrillo which had never fully set, and the proverbial light bulb lit. After surveying all of our baking pans, zie decided on using the pizza stone as a dehydration tray. Zie spread the membrillo thickly on the stone, popped it in the oven on “dehydrate” and let ‘er rip. the next day, zie had a beautiful membrillo fruit leather. I hope to get a taste of this soon, but it is currently hiding in the fridge, safely hidden from my hungry eyes by a wrapping of waxed paper.

So here we are with these apples about to go bad, and we have this new canning for passion AND a new oven. The result: 7 jars canned apples and some dried apple rings.

Luz cooked the apples with agave syrup, 1/4 cinnamon stick, and filtered water. Zie cooked them for five minutes (as instructed by our canning book). I did the prep, which is filling the canning pot with water, to a depth of 2 inches higher than the jars are tall, heating it to boiling. Washing and scalding the jars, putting the lids and jars in a pot of water and heating that till just before simmering. Luz filled the jars with hot fruit, topped them off with the liquid in which they’d been cooked (being careful to leave headroom so the jars don’t burst). I pressed on the lids, screwed on the rings, lowered the jars into the boiling water, and cooked them for 15 minutes. Then I removed them from the pot, put them in boxes to protect them from drafts (but not too close to one another, so they would cool quickly) and set them on top of our washer/dryer to cool. (we weren’t running the w/d. If we had been, it wouldn’t have been very cool up there.)

The next day (today) I unscrewed the rings so I could check the seals. This consists of lifting the jar by it’s sealed lid. If it didn’t “seal” then the jar will fall down and you will feel like a failure (but you still have a chance to save it). All of our jars are tightly vacuumed sealed. they look good enough to eat.

I took charge of the apple rings. I washed, peeled, and cored the apples, sliced them in into rings about 1/2” thick, dipped the slices in lemon juice, and stacked them while I went on to the next apple. when they were all done, I wiped them with paper towels, put them on our big pizza tray (which has lots of holes in it, thus speeding the drying process) and set them in the oven on dehydrate. They’re done today, and in all likelihood we will eat them all in the next few days. apples are super yummy with lemon juice.

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