Monday, September 15, 2008

Preserving the Seasons: September, Week 3

September, in terms of food preservation, means apples to me.

Though apples start coming on in July and last well into fall, September is usually the time when I stock up on apples and make jar after jar of unsweetened applesauce to use in baking or just for a simple snack. Later in the month, the first truly good cider appears at the market, rich and brown and flavorful, begging to be mulled with warming spices and served up with ginger molasses cookies or a spice cake. (I can hardly wait!)

But apples aren't the only fruit that keep well and taste wonderful in puree form. Other fall fruits, like pears, the last peaches, grapes, and so on, can be made into fruit sauces or their thicker cousins, fruit butters.

Sauces and butters are so simple, you barely need a recipe, just an outline. Remember your basic canning information, though -- sterilized jars free of nicks and cracks, clean equipment all laid out, and yes, patience.

Start with well washed fruit. Trim off stems and blossom ends and cut into large chunks. (If using grapes, stem them.) Pile the fruit in a large nonreactive pot and add water. (I use my gallon-sized Dutch oven, fill it with fruit, and add about a cup of water, more or less.) For fruits like apples or pears, you might want to add the water to the pot first along with a squeeze of lemon juice so as to keep the cut fruit from oxidizing too much.

Bring the fruit to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to keep the fruit from scorching. (You may need to add more water, though I usually have to dump some out. You don't want it to be too watery.) Cook until fruit is soft and easily mashed.

Puree the cooked fruit using a chinois (as seen) or a food mill. The skins and seeds will get trapped in the equipment, so you don't have to worry about them in the final product. Mash out as much pulp and liquid as possible before composting the scraps. (If anyone knows of a good use for the leftover fruit scraps before composting, let me know. I've read they can be used to start vinegar, but I'm not sure.)

Add sweetener and spices, if desired, at this point. I used some maple sugar in this pear sauce, though I normally leave applesauce unsweetened. If I add spices to the sauce, though (like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, or a combination), I might add a bit of honey. Return the sauce to the stovetop and continue to cook over low heat, stirring often to avoid scorching, until sauce reaches desired consistency.

The difference between a fruit sauce or a fruit butter really depends on how thick the final product is, with butters being thicker and thus needing more cooking time. Fruit butters usually call for more sugar, too -- I've seen it suggested that you should use half as much sugar as fruit, which seems a little excessive to me. One way to cook a fruit butter slowly without fear of scorching is to put the fruit puree in an oven-safe baking dish and slide it into the oven at 300 F, stirring occasionally until it's thick enough for you.

When the sauce or butter is to your liking, pack it into hot sterilized canning jars, wipe the rims, add lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

There's really not much else to tell you. It's a pretty straightforward way to preserve fruit, even better than jam, and it's wonderful to be able to open a jar of homemade applesauce in the heart of winter and add a dollop or two to your morning oatmeal or pancakes. (I'm still working through last year's applesauce myself!)

It'll have you feeling saucy in no time.

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At 9/21/2008 9:36 PM, Blogger Alyssa said...

I'm so excited, I got a crate of apples at the farmers market on Saturday for a steal and I will be making a ton of applesauce this week. I have it in my oatmeal almost every day and buying organic gets expensive after a while. My husband thinks I'm crazy but it was actually a pretty easy process. I didn't put mine through a food mill, the blue book actually suggested the food processor.

At 9/22/2008 7:33 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Hey Alyssa, thanks for sharing! I didn't know the food processor would work as well -- do you peel and core the apples first, then? It is so satisfying to make the applesauce yourself, I think -- plus you get that wonderful fragrance in your house! Congratulations on finding the bargain apples, and I hope you can find more as the season goes on!

At 9/22/2008 8:34 AM, Blogger Alyssa said...

Yes, that does mean I peeled and cored mine. I have an apple peeler corer slicer that I can use for crunchier apples, but the softer ones just turn to mush in the mechanism. So the last batch I did by hand.

At 9/22/2008 8:51 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Sounds good! I'm a firm believer in working with the tools you've got, if at all possible, so thanks for sharing with everyone an alternate way of making the sauce, Alyssa! :-)

At 9/22/2008 9:21 AM, Blogger Alyssa said...

I have a canning question for you as well. My mom was kind enough to buy me some canning jars at a garage sale, but my blue book says to only use modern "ball brand" jars with my lids, is this true? Or is this just a ploy to get you to buy new jars instead of garage sale jars?

At 9/22/2008 9:39 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

As long as the jars need the screw-on rings (and self-sealing lids) -- as opposed to the old rubber rings and whatever lids were used with those -- AND the jars are free of nicks and cracks, I see no problem in using them (once they're washed and sterilized, of course). If there aren't any weak spots in the glass (those nicks and cracks), they should hold up well in the canner and be just fine.

I'll also add -- for anyone else who's interested, too -- I usually set aside the jars with nicks in the lids for storing dry goods (rice, grains, beans, dried fruits and vegs). The nicks just prevent a good seal, but the jars are otherwise fine. As far as cracks go, that's a judgment call: you may not want to use a cracked jar even for dry goods if the crack is too big or deep.


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