Thursday, December 8, 2011

Apples to Apples!

We've made several batches of applesauce in the last month or so.  Southern California tends to lag behind the rest of the country as far as seasons go so we've just ended apple season.  There's nothing like the sweet smell of cooked apples to bring on the cold weather.  I made a batch of apple butter during this last applesaucing day and the spicy smell of apple butter is gracing the house with its fragrance.  It is definitely a sure-fire way to put me (Christy) in the holiday mood!

It really is a rewarding experience to put jars on the shelf to eat later.  Currently we have 17 quarts of cranberry applesauce and 11 quarts of plain apple sauce.  And from earlier in the fall, we have 12 quarts of apricot halves, 6 quarts of sliced pears, 8 quarts of nectarines (not sure how these will turn out.  We wanted to do peaches but it was not to be...), and 5 quarts of peach sauce.  Oh, and quite a bit of jam, some blackberry sauce, peach butter, and now apple butter.  :D

Apple Butter
My process for apple butter is quite simple.  I take about 6 quarts of applesauce and add it to our large slow cooker.  I add 2-3 cups of sugar and a lot of spices including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, and allspice.  I just dump and taste.  The flavors to concentrate as the butter cooks down so it's good to under-season just a tad at first.  You can always add more later.  

When cooking in the slow cooker, make sure to keep the lid off so the liquid will evaporate.  If I'm around the house, I put it on high and stir frequently.  If I will be gone or sleeping, I put it on low.  The whole cooking process took me about 8 hours but it may take more or less time depending on what heat you cook it at.  Alternately, you could cook it on the stove top on low for 4-6 hours, stirring frequently.  

It should cook down significantly and be spreadable by the time you're done.  My 6 quarts cooked down to about 6 pints.  I used half-pint jars for canning so I got about 12 small jars of butter, perfect for gifting!

Expect enticing aroma's to fill the house!  I try to bake fresh bread while the apple butter is cooking so that I can partake in one of the best treats:  fresh apple butter on warm homemade bread.

Apple butter is great for keeping in the fridge or for canning.  If you want to can the jars, visit one of these sources for more detailed canning instructions.

P.S.  The bread you see is a secret I've been keeping for far too long.  I'm way overdue for a post on my new experiments with sourdough bread ;)

Garden Tidings

We haven't posted much about our backyard garden lately and to be perfectly honest, that's because it didn't really go as planned.  We started all our plants from seed and had such an awesome time watering them and watching them grow.  The dreams of fine summer produce kept us tenderly loving and tending our little seedlings.  But our fine summer garden just didn't live up to our expectations!  We had every kind of ailment, from those pesky red spider mites to gopher city!  The heirloom seeds we ordered weren't quite designed for the hot California sun and we had lots of wilting, droopy plants.  Our tomato plants put out hundreds of flowers, but no tomato in sight!

So, imagine our excitement when the weather started to cool off and our lovely tomato flowers began to turn in to lovely little green tomatoes!  We have just been so excited to watch their shade turn from green to orange to red!  Even some of our striped german tomatoes have produced and they are beautiful!
We've learned a lot and plan to attack next year's garden with vigor.  First item on the list: put in new, gopher-proof chicken wire under the raised beds.  Second, research CA heat resistant plants.  Third, add more plain soil to our nitrogen rich beds.  Fourth, start earlier!

But for now, we sure are enjoying out little bit of summer (ahem... winter) produce!  Just in time too, because we got a tad bit of a frost last night!

Any tips for next year's garden?  We'd love to hear them!