Apples and Holidays

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My father was determined when I was a kid to grow apple trees. I do mean determined. I think he planted around sixteen to twenty apple trees of all different types. All of them were from Stark Bros., a proven supplier of fruit trees of all kinds. On a lark, he also ordered a few peach, cherry, plum, pear and crab apple trees. Try as he might, the apple trees never grew. We watered them, picked bugs off them, and in the end, sprayed them with pesticides. Nothing worked. Every single one of them fell victim to one single species of worm that ate through the trunk of apple saplings.

We had visions of candied apples, apple butter, applesauce, apple jam and all things related to apples as fall approached, but it never happened from our trees. We dutifully went back to our Grandfather’s little farm and canned his wild apples. They were probably better anyway.

A few years ago, my wife and I gave jams, jellies and apple butter to our loved ones for Christmas. She also started giving out small jars of wild raspberry, blackberry and peach jam. I experimented with tomato jam, and we were off and running. In a world that simply cannot be satisfied with “bought” gifts, we discovered an alternative to socks and underwear.

There is simply something magical about the smell of apple butter cooking over a stove. It brings back memories of childhood, of places real and imagined. If you are lucky enough to do it outside, the real way, then the wood smoke will wake up something primal and buried and happy. You’ll stay up 24 hours, grinning and sipping hot ciders, tasting apple butter and sauce; and if you are smart, sipping on an occasional brandy or good whiskey.

I’m going to be honest here. Canning is neither easy nor for the faint of heart. Throw in a toddler, a phone ringing and people knocking at the door and it can be damn overwhelming. But it’s fun. Nobody does it anymore. You’ll have the satisfaction of doing it yourself, and get some damn good results, too. There’s nothing better than giving something you’ve made yourself to your loved ones, knowing that they will enjoy it.

Steve and Linda Blades, along with their daughter Olivia, were the first people I met at the farmers market in Easton. They were friendly, helpful, and full of advice on where to go to get what, where to eat and invited me to their orchard, Blades Orchard. So, the next day, under a raw and blustery sky, I set sail into the great unknown: The real Maryland.

Olivia taught me how to use my smart phone and the proper way to eat an apple. All of it.

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I have to say, I’ve never stretched a bushel of apples so far. Applesauce, hot jalapeño and apple jam, spiced apple jelly, apple preserves, red onion and apple jam, apple sauce, and apple pectin were all stretched out of those apples, with a lot more to go. Let’s not forget how many we’ve eaten. 🙂

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Quick and Wonderful Spiced Apple Butter (Modified From “Canning For A New Generation by Liana Krissoff.) All the apples were from Blades Orchard!

This makes about three pints: Easily modified to make more.

Ingredients:

Six pounds of apples, I used a blend of Black Twig and Pink Lady, two of my favorites. Cored, but not peeled.
Two cups of apple cider, preferably from the same orchard.
About one and one-half cups of sugar.
One teaspoon of ground cloves. (I use a coffee grinder.)
One tablespoon of cinnamon. (Ditto on the grinder.)
One-half teaspoon of allspice.
Two star anise.
One cup of blackstrap molasses. (Available in the deep south everywhere, or from online food purveyors. Try Amazon.)
Two tablespoons of fresh, finely ground coffee beans. I use Black Lightning from Strange Coffee Company.

Add everything in an 8-Quart pot and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, until the peels have separated from the pulp. Grab an immersion or wand blender and blend until it’s smooth. Taste it. Add some lemon juice if needed.

Transfer the mixture to a crock pot or slow cooker, set it on low with the lid askew a bit, and let it cook for about twelve hours, until it’s thick and dark.

Prepare your jars for canning. Wash them in warm soapy water or the dishwasher and place them in a large stockpot. Preferably the one you started the apple butter in. Bring them to a boil (do NOT try to add them after the water is boiling). Remove them carefully and place on paper towels to avoid making a mess. Place the lids in a small saucepan and ladle boiling water from the pot over them to heat. Ladle the applesauce into the jars, leaving about a 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal with the lids and bands, finger tightening each one. Don’t tighten too much, the air needs to be able to escape during processing. Bring the water back to a boil, and place the jars in the water gently! Process for about ten minutes, remove from the water and don’t disturb them for about twelve hours. Enjoy! Make your neighbors happy and give some away. Or not.

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