A Windfall

First some pretty pictures, then on to the real windfall. I picked the last of my winter squash from the Main Street garden today. Here they are - two marina de chioggias and four black futsu. A few weeks ago I picked the three winter luxury pumpkins and one more black futsu. Not too big a haul for as many plants as I had (I started out with three plants of each variety), but when you consider that I grew a bunch of sweet corn and some dry beans on the same little plot of land, it doesn't seem so bad. The marina de chioggias are pretty small for their variety, and not very warty. The futsus never turned very orange. I'll probably wait a while to eat them so they can ripen inside.....

I also picked the climbing beans today. Working amongst the dried up cornstalks helped remind me what a wonderful season autumn is. Suddenly, I've stopped regretting it's not summer anymore and started enjoying pumpkins and warm socks and apples and the rustle of dried cornstalks. October is really a wonderful month.

The bean pods were really hard to pick - they blend in perfectly with the dry cornstalks. I think I'll let them dry a little bit more in the pods before I shell them. I didn't get that many - 2 or 3lb total of dried beans if I'm lucky... once again, the poor yield is tempered by the fact that I got corn and squash from the same plot.

In other gardening news, I pulled the carrots in the backyard a week or so back and this is what I got. They germinated really poorly and I was prepared for zero good carrots to eat, so I was pleasantly surprised to pull up these sweet crunchy beauties.

The threat of frost last week prompted me to pull the last of the basil from the backyard garden. There was a ton of it!

I made pesto - 7 quart bags full of it - to freeze. I can't wait for homegrown pesto pasta in January! I'll give a recipe at the end of this post.

I also finally cleared out of our Quann Garden plot. It came with the rental house we moved out of in August, so we won't have it next year. The potatoes were dug months ago so all that was left were the canario beans. I hadn't been to the plot for over a month, and it was a bit embarrassing to see all the weeds that had sprung up. I guiltily picked my beans and got out. The canario are bush beans, and many of the pods were damp from recent rain and starting to mold - not nearly as attractive as the beans at the Main Street Garden. Once they were shelled however, they were very nice looking if I don't say so myself. I got 3 or 4 pounds total - we've already cooked some up, and there are a few more drying on the porch. They're really good!

Whew! All that is just the lead up to the real subject of this post: apple butter.

Last weekend was pretty dreary. It was the first time I'd felt like we really were heading toward winter. The cold, windy, and rainy weather was perfect for spending some time indoors getting reacquainted with my kitchen after a long summer of grilling outside. Nothing celebrates the coming of fall like a nice big batch of apple butter - Not only is it delicious and a good thing to store for the winter, but there's absolutely nothing like the smell of cinnamon and apples slow cooking in your house on a stormy late September day.

I headed out to Door Creek Orchard, just a short drive down highway 12. Their web site advertised either pick-your-own or already picked apples. For once I wasn't feeling like picking my own. Just buying some and processing them seemed like work enough. When I got there, I asked what they had in the way of cheap apples for cooking. The woman said they had a lot of cortlands for $1.50 a pound or I could just go pick up some windfalls for $.60/lb. Suddenly, pick-my-own didn't seem like so much work! We'd had a wind advisory the night before, and a ton (literally!) had fallen from the trees. It took me about 5 minutes to get 27lb of really nice fresh cortlands. They were a little bruised, but perfect for apple butter! Score!

With all the money I saved on apples, I bought a $4 apple slicer at the orchard's store. It made slicing all all those apples a lot easier, although it still took quite a while.

These girls were just delighted to take care of the cores for me.

This isn't even all of them. I filled the 4 gallon stock pot with most of the apples and waited for it to cook down a little so I could add the rest. I finally had them all in around 1 or 2pm. I turned the heat down as low as it could go and let it cook.....

By the time I went to bed it had cooked down quite a bit and was looking like really good applesauce.

It slow cooked all night, all the next day, the next night, and most of the next day. I've never seen an apple butter recipe that calls for such a long slow cooking, but this is how I've always done it: Partly because it makes a wonderful condensed flavor and partly because it prolongs the good smells in my house.

This is what it looked like when it was finally done - less than half its original volume, thick and deliciously apple-y. I added some cinnamon and since by then it was the middle of a busy work week, I put it in the fridge until I had time to deal with it.

Today I took it out, processed it in the food processor, and put it back on the stove. I added some lemon juice, maple syrup, more cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg and heated it up to boiling.

I got boiling water going in my canner, sterilized a bunch of 12oz jars, filled them with the apple butter, and processed them in the boiling water for 10 minutes. It felt a bit dangerous to can without an "approved" recipe, but I processed them in the water for more than twice as long as all the recipes I found called for, so I'm pretty sure they'll be OK.

I ended up with 12 12oz jars filled plus two quarts full. I didn't process the quarts in the canner, instead I just sterilized the jars, filled them with hot apple butter, let them cool, and then put them in the fridge. We'll use them up first. Eating up this apple butter won't be a problem. It's really really good, just perfect for putting on the buttered toast along with the fresh eggs I eat every morning for breakfast!

End of Summer Pesto
(to make on the night of the first frost)

Basil - everything left in your garden before the first frost.
Olive oil
Parmesan. I prefer whole chunks of cheese, not pre-grated
Lemon Juice
Walnuts (or pine nuts it you are rich)

Wash the basil. (we tried to save time by not doing this step. We ended up with slightly gritty pesto. Next time I'll wash the basil.) Blend or food process the Parmesan and walnuts and set aside. Stuff as much basil into into your blender or food processor as you can. Add a bunch of olive oil and a little lemon juice. Blend. Add more basil, garlic, and salt to taste. Actually, everything is to taste in this recipe. Taste it often and add ingredients as you like them.

Apple Butter
25 pounds apples
1-2 cups lemon juice
2-3 cups maple syrup
1 Tbsp salt

Core the apples and cut them into 1/8 wedges. Place them all in a large pot and cook over extremely low heat for 2-3 days. Stir them at least every 8 hours to make sure they haven't stuck to the bottom. When apples have reduced to about 1/3 their original volume, turn the heat off. Process in a food processor and return to heat. Add lemon juice, maple syrup, and spices to taste.

I'm not going to include instructions for canning. Either put it in your fridge and eat it soon or can at your own risk.

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