As soon as you become a pretty serious vegetable gardener, or spend that extra dollar or two to get the freshest produce at the local farmer’s market (or better yet, to pick your own!), you will realize the benefit of preserving the harvest.
I was intimidated by canning for a while. If you have ever read the introduction to a canning book, you know what I’m talking about. Better not screw up or you’ll give all of your loved-ones botulism, right? Wrong, if you’re smart and don’t break the rules. Start easy with acidic foods like fruit butters, jams, and jellies. It’s the low-acid foods like vegetables that are trickier.
What’s the best fruit to can in the fall? APPLES!
My friend Dawn and I ventured to Solebury Orchards in New Hope, PA for our apple needs this year. We hit the orchards in mid-October when the Stayman Winesaps were perfect for picking and both left with 20 lbs. of apples, cider, and the obligatory cider doughnut.
Upon returning, I borrowed a few books from the library and did some research on canning do’s and don’ts. Ball’s www.freshperserving.com has a lot of helpful information, including this guide worth bookmarking if you’re a first-timer: Step-by-Step Fresh Preserving of High-Acid Foods.
Be sure to set aside a few hours, as the canning process is exactly that, a process. But when you’re stacking jars of delicious, homemade, all-natural treats on your shelf, you will be quite content, if not addicted to your new hobby.
Dawn's helpful tip: To determine if your butter is ready for canning, place a small amount of butter on a plate that has been in the freezer. Run your finger through the butter - if the butter runs back together, continue cooking. If not, the butter is ready!
My 20 lbs. of apples lasted through two cannings, apple pie, apple cake, snacking, and appled brandy (recipes for the pie and cake to follow in a future post). Dawn made the appled brandy for a cider pressing bash we threw in October, and though I’m not a brandy drinker, I knew it would make a perfect gift. It couldn’t be easier to “apple” brandy and the result was delicious.
I chose ST- Rémy's Authentic French Brandy VSOP based on a store clerk’s recommendation. I poured the brandy into an empty 1.75 l. (aka a “handle”) vodka bottle, which was the perfect size for the both the brandy and apples. Stirring a bottle like that is difficult, so I opted to invert the bottle 2 or 3 times each day to mix the contents.
The hardest part of this recipe is finding interesting bottles to put your brandy in. If you’re in the Philadelphia area and would like to purchase new bottles, I suggest checking out my friend’s family shop, Brew Your Own Beer in Havertown. John (Mr. Reynolds to me) has a number of bottle and top options. He set me up with these green 375 ml. gems.
Finish off your cans and bottles with twine, raffia, and labels and you have an instant gift for the holidays. Happy canning!
Adapted from Put ‘em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton (2010)
Makes 4 cups
1 (750 ml) bottle of brandy
3 apples, cored, in 1 in. cubes
¼ c. honey
1 cinnamon stick
Pour the brandy into a bottle large enough to hold the brandy and fruit. Add apples, honey, cinnamon stick, and cover. Stir the brandy daily for two weeks. Strain and return brandy to the bottle or pour into decorative bottles for gifting. Store at room temperature for up to one year.
Makes 5-8 8oz. jars
4-5 lbs. apples, peeled and chunked
½ gallon apple cider, or enough to cover the apples
1 c. brown sugar
1 ½ t. cinnamon
½ t. ground cloves
Juice of 1 lemon
Place apples in a large, heavy-bottom pot and cover with cider. Simmer on medium-high heat 20-30 minutes until soft. Skim the foam off the top as the apples boil. Allow the apples to cool and then blend into a sauce with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender.
Return the applesauce to your pot and bring to a simmer. Stir in spices and lemon juice. Cook down, stirring often, for 1 hour to 1½ hours.
Sterilize canning jars and wash lids and rings with hot, soapy water. Fill your jars leaving ¼” head space and remove air bubbles with a small spatula. Use a damp cloth or paper towel to wipe the rim of the jars and center a new lid on the jar, twisting the ring until fingertip tight.
Process jars in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars and let sit for 12 hours. Store your butter in a dark, cool cabinet for up to 6 months.