Favorite Family Applesauce

image from ollesvensson

 

I took my mother’s tried and true applesauce recipe, replaced sugar with apple cider, and voila!  A slightly less sweet but still delicious applesauce with three ingredients.

 

Ingredients:

  • Apples
  • Apple Cider (half gallon)
  • Ground Cinnamon
Cooking Equipment:
  • Cutting Board
  • Chef’s Knife (large knife with sturdy blade)
  • Two large pots

Canning Equipment:

I choose apples like Macintosh and Cortland, ideally those with some red on the skins.  I’m not super helpful on amounts, because I play it by ear, but I’ll try to explain below based on how I prepare.

  1. Rinse apples thoroughly and cut them into large chunks with the knife.  I place the apple on the cutting board and slice straight down with the knife around the core (leaving the core with four to five rectangular sides) which I discard.  Examine the pieces for bruised or damaged sections and put good parts into one of the large pots (not the canning pot).
  2. Fill the pot most of the way with apples and then put a cup or two of apple cider into the pot.  If you put in too much cider at this point, it won’t harm the finished product.
  3. Cover and turn on the heat until the cider comes to a boil then reduce to medium heat for 5 minutes.  Stir the apples, trying to push some of the top apples down in the pot (to allow them to soften) and cook for another 5 minutes or so.  Keep cooking on medium until the apples are very soft but not completely demolished.
  4. Turn off the heat and uncover.  Place the food mill on top of the second large pot and ladle apple mixture into the food mill.  Process the apple mixture into the second pot.  The apple peels will get stuck and be annoying, but try to run all the apples through before emptying out the skin as this helps force more of the red color into the applesauce.
  5. Depending on how much applesauce you want to make, you can repeat the process, adding the second batch to the first (keeping the food mill on the second pot and just processing the new cooked apples into the second pot).
  6. Add 1/2 to 1 tsp of ground cinnamon to the applesauce and mix well.  Turn on the heat and heat sauce briefly before canning.

MEANWHILE

  1. Prepare the jars, lids, and canning pot (see canning post for details)
  2. Wash the ladle and prep surface for canning.  I usually wash down my cutting board and use that as a surface for canning (things will get messy during this part!)
  3. All jars should be waiting in the hot water in the canning pot.  Use the jar remover or silicone tipped tongs to take out one jar at a time, and pour the water back into the pot.  Place the funnel in the jar and ladle applesauce in to about 1/2″ from the top of the jar.  Wipe down the top of the jar if needed.  Use silicone tipped tongs to remove flat can top from bowl of hot water and place on top of the jar.  Use the round ring to screw the lid on to fingertip tight.  Use jar lifter or tongs to place the jar back in the pot of water and repeat.
  4. When all jars are filled and back in the water, ensure that the water completely covers the tops of the jars and bring the heat up to a rolling boil.  Make sure you wait until the water is really boiling to begin counting (there will be air escaping from the jar lids so it can appear to be boiling sooner than it actually is).  Process the jars for 20 minutes then turn the heat, uncover and let jars sit for 5 minutes before removing from the canning pot.  Use the jar remover or tongs to place jars on a dish towel to cool and seal.

Applesauce and Grape Jelly (with Aiulie)

10 Things I’ll Do Better Next Time…

It’s been a while since my last blog post.  I have rarely had time this summer to sit and think about what I wanted to share on this blog.  Now that  I’m procrastinating indoor chores I should be accomplishing, I thought I’d share some wisdom I’ve picked up through my (mis)adventures in July and August:

1. Plant Peas Earlier

I planted my peas in the end of June, when I finally found the time to hand till the earth in the pea row (see #2).  I think I planted them properly but because it was late in their growing season, they just never really grew.  First, the plants were being chomped by something, possibly the neighborhood woodchuck, so I tried sprinkling with pepper.  Then I was away for a week and when I got home I found the row full of weeds.  Interestingly, I also discovered that the plants were finally flowering.  I let the weeds be thinking perhaps they were helping protect the pea plants from the woodchuck, but they never really grew into peas.  I finally gave up, pulled the plants and the weeds and will plant some greens this weekend for a fall harvest.

2. Jury’s Out on Hand Tilling

Since I had to commit so many extra hours to prep the soil by hand before I was even ready to plant seeds, I ended up planting many of my veggies later than I “should” have.  By the time I finally got a row prepped, I found I was EXHAUSTED and wasn’t really able to accomplish more than one row at a time.  I think if I prep the soil with a tiller I will be able to get more plants in the ground earlier in the season and have a better chance of growing more of them.

3. Pick the Potato Bugs

I DID pick some potato bugs and got rid of their nasty orange eggs but I didn’t do it often enough this summer.  If I’m more vigilant about it next year I think my potato plants will be much happier.

4. Space Out the Rows

I did a reasonable job planting rows far enough apart, but because I raised the beds a bit, when some of my plants started growing and overflowing their row boundaries, I had a tough time wiggling between the rows.    Also, because I planted my summer squash and zucchini plants before my butternut squash (backwards, yes I know) the butternut plants were dwarfed by the other plants.  I planned my rows, but not carefully enough 🙂

5. Plant Cukes Earlier

I planted my cukes a couple weeks ago, thinking I might have some luck as summer cools into fall.  Some of my slicing cukes plants are still growing (though I have no idea if they will form any veggies) but the pickling cukes were a bust.  Next year I’ll plant them for the beginning of the summer instead and hope for a better crop.

6. Plant Herbs in Pots

One of my coworkers grew her tomato plants in large pots on her deck and planted a huge pot of basil next to them – it smelled pretty amazing when everything started to ripen in late July.  I’m very excited about the idea of growing my herbs in huge pots next summer – in particular so I don’t have to worry about them spreading throughout my entire garden plot (and beyond).

7. Better Tomato Supports

I hate the metal tomato cages (especially when it comes time to pull up the plants) so I decided to use some stakes and tie the tomato plants to them rather than using the cages.  This worked great until my plants started forming tomatoes and then they were just too heavy for the stakes.  I think if I still don’t want to use the cages next year I need to do a better job thinking outside the box for tomato supports.

8. Weed the Flowers

It’s hard to weed flowers, especially when you don’t know exactly what the flowers look like before they flower.   I left more of the weeds as they were in my flower bed because I just wasn’t sure which plants were weeds and which were the growing flowers.  They still did ok (some of my bulbs didn’t grow, but it might not have been hot enough for them this summer), but I think they would have been happier with more weeding.

9. Learn about House Plants

My house plants, particularly my aloe and spider plants, are very unhappy.  I put them out on my porch where they could benefit from the sunshine and rain this summer and they’re still unhappy.  I don’t know what I might have done wrong.  My mom has an ENORMOUS aloe plant that is super happy – I’ll see what she does so I can make my plants happier.

10. Keep the Garlic Weeded

My garlic plants did very well this year considering I have never grown garlic before, but I think they would have done better if I had kept them weeded better.  They were planted next to the asparagus bed so I was a little nervous about disrupting potential asparagus plants chilling under the soil, but next year I need to keep up with the weeding regardless!

Weeding Therapy

The last couple weeks we’ve seen a great deal of rain, so instead of the dry crumbly dust I now have VERY wet soil in and around my garden. I’m happy that I decided to create somewhat raised beds so my tender little seedlings didn’t drown in the onslaught.

Another side effect of the rain is that weeds are happily taking over any available space in my garden.  With my new work schedule I’m getting home a little earlier and last week what I needed most of all was time to pull weeds.  I’m still doing most of my weeding by hand (we’ll see how long that lasts) and the few empty rows waiting for seeds that need warmer soil temps to germinate were growing some extraordinary weed populations.  I also found a few mystery potato plants growing in unexpected places.  By hand weeding, I’m gaining more confidence in recognizing which plants are weeds and which are seedlings.  Hopefully this will help me stay ahead of the weed population as my seedlings gain in strength and size.

The most exciting news of this week is that I’m finally starting to see the fruits of my labors. The onion sets enjoyed the cooler weather and extra rain and most of them have sent up long green shoots.

Looking closely at the scallions and carrots I can see the tiny green seedlings starting to poke through – nothing in the beets section yet, but I expect them to come up a little after the carrots.

The peas are starting to sprout also and soon I’ll need to go through and thin them out. I expect that to be challenging only because it’s tough to pull out a happily growing plant, but I know that’s the best way for the healthier seedlings to grow.

Today my Mom helped me put my tomato plants into the ground. She thought I was a little crazy because I trimmed off some of the lower and middle leaves and then laid the tomatoes mostly on their side when I planted them, leaving the top 4-5″ of the stem exposed. Because we live at a higher elevation with cooler summer temperatures, burying most of the stem sideways  is supposed to help the tomato plant set down more roots and keep the roots closer to the surface so they’re able to get more sun and warmth through the soil.  I also got a little frantic when she stepped onto the soil where I was going to plant the tomatoes. I told her that by walking on the soil where I’m going to plant, it compresses all the nice open spaces in the soil (mostly created by our extreme earthworm population) and makes it more difficult for the roots to grow in the soil.  I think I’m teaching her a few new things about vegetable gardens too!

In the ongoing saga of keeping the bugs off me while trying not to spray excessive chemicals, I tried out a new bug spray that is mostly essential oils. It makes me smell a bit like I just walked out of the Body Shop but it seems to be repelling the bugs reasonably well. They still fly around my head and drive me crazy, but at least they’re not biting me quite as often.

Hot Potato

I really hate summer.  Well, I guess there are many summery things I enjoy like barbecues, swimming and ice cream trucks, but I really hate feeling too hot.  Walking the 10 feet between my office building and my car it should not be hot enough for sweat to start creeping down my back.  Seriously – I moved to Vermont, didn’t I?

What this heat the last few days has meant for my garden is that the ground resembles dust much more than it resembles soil – not the best environment for my seeds to turn into happy seedlings.  Thankfully, Amy didn’t have to work today and she watered the rows that I have planted but until we get a new nozzle for the hose, watering the garden means lugging a watering can back and forth across the lawn.  Very hot work in steamy weather (have I mentioned how much I dislike feeling hot?) but at least I convinced Amy to take on that job for today.

When I got home from work, even though it was still sticky hot at 6:00 pm, I decided it was time to plant my potatoes.  I bought certified seed potatoes from Gardener’s Supply – hooray for having a store in Vermont! – and was very happy with how they looked.  Not that I really know how seed potatoes are supposed to look, but as long as slightly shriveled potatoes with 4-5″ sprouts peeking from the eyes is what they should look like, my seed potatoes are wonderful.  While I was digging to plant them, I noticed a pair of anthills located in my potato row.  Hopefully the ants will either a) leave the garden for a new home or b) have no interest in nibbling on the tubers. There are many other possibilities which would not make me happy, but I’m going to concentrate on encouraging the ants to choose either a) or b) so I don’t have to worry about them later this summer.  Of course, by “encourage” I mean direct strong leave-my-garden-alone thoughts at the ants rather than any chemical-based encouragement, so we’ll see how successful I am.

Once I got the potatoes in the ground, I did a little bit of weeding (while sweat poured down my face) and was  excited to see that some of my onion sets are starting to sprout. It will still be a little while before I can really see the bunching onions or carrots seedlings poke out (I think), but it’s exciting to see the happy green onion sprouts coming up.

Right now, my happiest plants are the asparagus and garlic in the back corner of the garden.  This corner is dominated by GIANT ferny treelike structures that 10 days ago were asparagus spears (originally planted a year ago by the previous tenants).  I’m optimistic that if we keep them well weeded, watered and fertilized we should see more than 3 spears next spring.  The garlic that Amy and Alexis (our landlord) planted last fall is also growing well.  I read that garlic plants grow best in cooler months (fall and spring) but they seem to mind the heat a lot less than I do.

Baby steps

Well, I didn’t get as much planting done this weekend as I was hoping to – only got the peas and snap peas in – but at least my garden got a little rain and Amy and I got a really nice walk in. We went to Ricker Pond State Park to walk on the Montpelier-Wells Rail Trail (part of the Cross Vermont Trail) and I ran out of daylight to garden in, but it was worth it. Beautiful walk next to Ricker Pond and through one of the state campgrounds.

We had surprisingly cold weather for a few days this week. Like wear sweatpants-hoodies-wool socks and hide under blankets cold weather. In June. Have I mentioned the wacky weather in Vermont? Like the old saying, if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute. Well, I decided not to cover my onion sets or my carrots and beets, though I’m not sure it was the right decision. I have extra of everything (except the sets) so worst case I can replant in a week or two. I’m still hoping to get the potatoes, pumpkins and butternut squash in the ground really soon so they have plenty of time to grow. I can wait a little on the cukes and beans as well as the zucchini and summer squash as their growing seasons are much shorter.

I have all the seeds and sets that I need, for this season, and the last thing I need to buy are tomato plants.  After our walk, we stopped at a greenhouse and I was very underwhelmed by their offerings. I was looking for happy healthy plants, and these were all sad and leggy. My books tell me to look for short, thick stems and dark green stems and leaves. These plants were all light green with thin, tall stems and we definitely left without purchasing anything. I’ll try another greenhouse after work tomorrow (at my new job!!) and see if I can find better looking tomato plants.

Forget the treadmill – just plant a garden!

While I made a conscious decision not to till (influenced by the fact that I don’t own a tiller) I really hadn’t thought about just how much energy and effort it would take for me to build slightly raised beds for my veggies by hand.  I do feel great about protecting the structure of the soil and preventing the mass earthworm murder caused by machine tilling, but the extreme effort necessitated by HAND prepping the soil was more than I had bargained for.  When loosening the soil in the walkways with a hoe or shovel and then using a garden rake to pull the soil up into the rows, I find that I am only able to prep and plant one row at a time, and often only one row per day.  The effort it takes me to prep the row, plant the seeds, cover with the right amount of soil then water them, leaves me sweating profusely and shaking with exhaustion.  I’m certain my less-than-stellar fitness level has a huge impact on my stamina, but even if I were in better shape I think I’ve chosen the tough way to garden.

My overly ambitious self thought I could get all of my veggies planted last weekend but even with the Monday holiday that didn’t end up a reasonable plan for me.  So far I’ve managed to plant onion sets, bunching onions, beets and two types of carrots.  One of my favorite tricks (thank you Joy of Gardening) is to add a few radish seeds to the row of carrots and beets.  The radishes will sprout first and mark the rows while the slower germinating root veggies come up a little later.  According to Dick Raymond, the radishes also help protect the carrots and beets by attracting the pests that might gnaw on them.

A. dug out some stubborn comfrey plants yesterday so now I have a 4′ x 4′ place in front of our small greenhouse to plant pumpkin seeds.  I was hoping to get them into the garden today before work but since I’m quite obviously blogging rather than gardening that didn’t happen – hopefully the next four days will be enough time for me to get potatoes, butternut squash, peas, snap peas, cukes and pumpkins into the ground.

On another note, while I’m not planning to count them, I think my black fly bites number in the thousands.  Ok, probably more like in the dozens, but they feel like thousands.  One of the challenges in preparing my garden has been the obscene number of bugs that want to attack me and keep me inside my house. Dressed in a long sleeved shirt, pants, gloves, and a hat, I still manage to attract biting bugs. Ugh!

Communing with Nature

a.k.a. Adventures in Weeding

Thanks to weeks of warm and rainy weather, a vast selection of weeds have taken up residence in my garden plot.  I set out on Saturday (in the first sunshine I’d really seen in days) to tackle as many weeds as possible.  Two hours and maybe one quarter of the garden later, I had a weeding epiphany – I’ve decided to call it Weeding Wisdom #1: You’ll never get them all (so aim for most).  My knees and fingers sore from trying to pull every weed in sight, I realized that by pulling most of the weeds and leaving the tiny ones and clover-like vegetation in place, I could greatly reduce the amount of time spent weeding.  Two more hours on Sunday and my garden is mostly weed-free, save the tiny weeds and a few very stubborn comfrey plants.

The comfrey explosion at our house was exacerbated a few years back when our landlord tried to rid the infestation with a rototiller.  Unfortunately, as even a small piece of a comfrey root is enough to grow a new comfrey plant, all he did was turn the comfrey problem into an epidemic.  My new plan is to dig up as many plants as I can (at least the ones in the most annoying places) and dump them at the edge of the lawn just under cover of the trees.  I’ll see if the lack of full sunshine has any impact on the plants ability to grow.  Worse case, I’ll have a new comfrey grove…

Another problem I faced this weekend was what to do with all the weeds I had pulled from the garden.  I spent much of the winter reading books and articles on home vegetable gardens and turned to some of my gardening gurus for suggestions.   Instead of taking the weeds and removing them completely from the garden, I pull them from the garden and just lay them right in the walkway that follows the perimeter.  As long as the weeds haven’t gone to seed, don’t have bugs or growths and as long as they aren’t comfrey (see above), laying them in the walkway can actually help the garden as they dry and form a sort of mulch to prevent future weed growth.  We’ll see how that works out!

Feels like Spring

Here in the mountains of Vermont, you never know when spring will…well…spring.  Now that we’re midway through May, I feel reasonably confident that if I get some greens into my cold frame under a cover, they should grow reasonably well.  Of course that means I need to have a cover first…

They are predicting LOTS of rain this weekend so I had to scoot into the garden early today before the rain started to fall.  With Amy’s help, we staked off the rows with paint stirrers (free from the hardware store!) and crochet thread (because we had some handy).  Now I can walk with comfort between the rows without worrying that I’m compressing the soil where my veggies will grow.

I also had the strangest sense of satisfaction from digging a trench near the garden for runoff.  The water was running in the vicinity of the trench, but ran into mud and weed obstacles and started to spread into the driveway.  A few hours and a garden hoe and the water is heading down the trench the way I want it to.  I have no idea why this is so satisfying, but it is!

One week down for my comfrey tincture – it looks strange and medium brown, but based on google images, that is apparently the right color.  Everyone I talk to who has heard of comfrey tincture seems to swear by it.  I’m excited to give it a try!  Hopefully it will be wonderful – I have so much comfrey growing in and around my garden I could start a business making and selling comfrey tincture in no time flat.

The Adventure Begins…

I would not describe myself as a gardener.  I am a lover of vegetables that is hoping to become reasonably proficient at gardening.  When we moved into our huge ancient farmhouse last fall I was very excited at the overgrown garden plot next to the house.  All winter I have been reading and planning and thinking but now spring has finally arrived (yes, it doesn’t happen until May in Vermont…) and I’m a little nervous about getting my hands into the soil and actually making things grow.

I spent the very long winter reading The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening (Ron Krupp), Vegetable, Fruit and Herb Gardening (Better Homes and Gardens), and The Joy of Gardening (Dick Raymond).  These books along with oodles of online research have led me to the following words of wisdom that I’m going to try to follow:

1. Tilling isn’t actually good for soil or plants

2. Finished compost is the best way to provide desirable nutrients to gardens

3. Once you’ve marked off where your rows will be, DON’T WALK ON THEM

This weekend was finally nice weather so we blocked off a new corner of the garden for this year’s compost and transferred the top layers of the old compost pile into the new corner to expose some of the “black gold” underneath.  I’m hoping that the few remaining recognizable items buried in the mostly finished compost – I found a few avocado skins and some egg shells that went onto the new compost pile – won’t affect it too much.  I also pulled weeds from my cold frame and put a couple shovelfuls of the mostly finished compost onto the soil.

We have an abundance of comfrey that is delighted with the soil in and around our garden.  From what I’ve read, it’s impossible to get rid of unless you take out the entire root, which, naturally, is very long and firmly secured in the soil.  I did pull some up to try making a comfrey tincture (see Woodchuck’s Guide for details) which will take about 2-3 weeks to be ready to use.