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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Homemade Applesauce, Easier than you Think

September brings the arrival of apple season in the pack houses of your local orchards.  By November, the apples are picked, sorted, and available for purchase at the best seasonal prices. Fall is the time to buy in bulk and make nutritious, homemade applesauce.

The rule of thumb when wondering how much to buy is that it takes between 2.5 -3 pounds of fruit to yield one quart prepared sauce. A peck is 10 - 12 pounds or around 32 apples. It takes 4 pecks to equal 1 bushel.

Next is to decide what types of apples are good for applesauce. 
Tart apples make for excellent applesauce because they allow the adjustment of the sweetness by adding sugar to taste. Baldwin, Rome and Jonathan apples are good all-purpose varieties because they are juicy and mildly tart. Green apples are juicy and tart, and their crispness gives a nice, thick texture to homemade applesauce.

McIntosh, Northern Spy and Cortland are soft apples which cook quickly and easily mash. So as the sauce isn't too mushy or watery, Stayman, a semi-soft apple, is good to add for texture.

 Fuji and Gali apples are two of the best baking varieties you can use for applesauce, due to their perfect combination of firmness, juiciness and sweetness.

Some people just blend a variety of apples, yet others know their types well enough to be more fussy.
Apple types not to use are Red and Golden Delicious and Empire. Red and Golden Delicious are good eating apples but once cooked are too mild, and Empire is too watery.

Before starting the cooking process, the first thing to do with your apples is to wash off any dirt, bacteria, pesticide and waxes. You can either use a vinegar wash or a bleach wash.
For a vinegar wash, add 1/2 cup white or apple cider vinegar to a sink full of water and soak the apples for 15 minutes.
For a diluted bleach wash, add 1 tbsp. bleach per quart of water and soak for 15 minutes.
For either method, drain the sink and rinse the apples with water.

There is no need to peel or remove the cores from your apples. Just cut into quarters or wedges and fill up a soup pot. Add only about an inch of water to get it going since the apples will quickly release their own juices. Cover with a lid, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Use a large spoon to stir in order to bring the soft, cooked apples to the top and the top layer too the bottom. Pay attention so you don't scorch the apples with too high heat before the juices flow. The apples only need about 20 minutes till soft.

Turn off the heat, remove the pot from the heat, take off the lid and let sit until cool enough to safely handle. Ladling hot apples into the press or mill can be messy and any splashes can result in a burn.

The press pictured here is called an Italian Tomato Press or Mill (there are other types available)and can be used to mash up any cooked fruit or vegetable. I use it mainly for making applesauce and pumpkin puree.

Once the apples have cooled off a bit, you are ready to make your sauce. Add one bowl to catch the pulp and another bowl to catch the sauce. Use a ladle to spoon into the chute. Turn the crank and watch how nifty this gadget is at separating the sauce from the skin, core and seeds. Once done, add any sweetener and/or cinnamon if you desire.

If you plan on freezing your sauce, divide into smaller containers and freeze.
If you plan to hot water bath using mason jars, bring the sauce back to the boiling point, stir to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. Use a funnel to carefully ladle the sauce into your quart or pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the rims clean, remove any air bubbles by pushing a wooden spoon handle down around the edges of the jar, and place your lids. Add the jars to your canner, (racks hold seven jars), add water to cover jars by one inch above the top. Bring to a boil and process pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes. Remove the jars from the water and place on a rack to cool. You will know they sealed by listening for the pop in the lid.

Enjoy your homemade goodness!

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Veterans Day Note of Gratitude

This post is to honor all of our American armed forces for their sacrifice, stamina, and dedication to their country. They have made a commitment, that as a united force, enables us to choose our own choices with our lives, to speak our minds and go where we please. The fact that all the men and women in the armed forces are voluntary is an amazing concept to grasp.

It is true that all men must register with the Selective Service when they turn 18 years of age. This is done in case there is ever the need for combat soldiers, but even then it is completely random as to how those person's are chosen. Everyone is on the same level, with no partiality to social status. The reason women aren't required to register is not that they wouldn't be able to serve, but that registration is for the purpose of preparing combat troops. Women had been excluded from combat in the past but that is no longer the case.

The thought may be with some as to why in the world someone would voluntarily enter into something that will literally control their lives and possibly put them in harms way. Those who do so are of the mindset that our country needs help to maintain her principles for continued freedom. We should be grateful to live in the U.S.A and have protection from those who may want to do us harm. We have to realize that while we have our rights, those rights are a privilege. Those rights were earned through the sacrifices of those before us, who fought for what they believed, many losing their lives in the process.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who signs those enlistment papers. Of course we want peace and for all of our young people to be safe at home. But given the fact that we live in a world of dispute and violence, even if you don't agree with current politics, the fact remains that we can sleep at night with the security that we have our military always on watch. So let us support the decisions of those who chose to walk this path. Let us support them with our prayers, and encourage them to stand tall with pride in their contributions for this country.

My son is amidst the tired, yet proud group of men and women pictured above, who had just completed their Army Basic Training. When you think that all of them are volunteers, and the fact that with every cycle of training, there will be another group standing there in that same place, it is indeed something to be appreciated.

Take a moment not only today,but every day, to say a silent prayer of gratitude and safe keeping for all of those who serve. Let them know they are appreciated and not taken for granted.

Enjoy your Veterans Day!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Repurposed Fall Decor for Your Door

Autumn craft shows offer many beautiful items for your home decor, but there are things you can do yourself that will cost you next to nothing. With a little planning ahead and imagination you can have the materials on hand to make your own door hangings to add a seasonal touch to your home.

Though I have a vengeance for the Oriental Bittersweet because it is an invasive vine that crawls over anything in its path, I do appreciate its beautiful berries that in October, split open to display the red seeds within their yellow casings. These woody vines can be cut to gather these clusters to be used for wreaths, swags or fall centerpieces. Eventually, these twiggy branches get messy as the casings and berries dry out and fall off, but they will last throughout the holiday season.

An idea for a door decoration is to find an old leaf rake, and remove the rake part from the wooden handle. Use your imagination with how you arrange your gathered materials. Pictured here is a very simple idea. All that was used was evergreens, the Oriental Bittersweet branches and tiny gourds mounted on wooden dowels (these were found at a thrift shop, but craft stores carry all kinds of ideas if you don't have access to your own). Use a bit of twine, rope, or wire to form a loop for hanging, and attach to the back of the rake. You now have a unique door decoration ready to hang.

An idea for a simple, yet beautiful swag, is to use Chinese Lanterns (also known as Winter Cherry). This hardy, drought tolerant, perennial is very easy to grow but be aware that it easily spreads. Great if you want an effective ground cover or just want an abundance of the sought after orange, papery, lantern shaped seed cases to gather in the fall for flower arrangements. Plant in containers if you don't want it popping up all over your garden area. A member of the nightshade family, be aware if you have young children or pets, that the plant is considered toxic if ingested.

Once the lanterns turn from green to orange, cut the stems at the ground level and trim off the leaves. If you wait till early November, a lot of the leaves will have shriveled up on their own, which makes it easier to remove them, but if you do wait that long there is a chance the lanterns won't be as pretty if they started to break down or develop holes in them.

Once you have enough for a bundle, gather the heavier stem ends together and bind with a piece of twine, wire or rope. Swags are much easier to make than wreathes, yet beautiful to brighten up a door or wall. If kept out of the sun, Chinese Lantern decorations last a long time before the color starts to fade. To keep them dust free, put a sock over your vacuum hose and lightly sweep the arrangement.