Harvest Apples for Sauce and Jelly

October 6th, 2010 / Comments 5

The delicate, white blossoms of spring have been transformed by sun and rain and with help from the bees into the bounty of red, green and yellow apples of early fall. They fill trees that have been planted in orderly rows in orchards, solitary trees carefully tended in gardens and trees growing wild in abandoned pastures and at the edge of the forest.

apple basket 02 c egbert Harvest Apples for Sauce and Jelly

Nine months after we moved to Vermont, I saw branches of white blossoms on trees near a deer trail. I mucked across a muddy stream and discovered that our house had come with a long abandoned, five-tree apple orchard. The trees were growing in a hollow, overrun with weed trees, sumac and tall grass. We left our first harvest to the deer whose narrow paths had led me to these trees. The following year we rescued the trees from the weeds. Since then, we share the apples with the deer.

The first step in making anything with apples is harvesting them. I found a small wire fruit picker that looks like a basket with fingers at the hardware store and clamped it to a long pole. It made it possible to harvest the apples without dragging a ladder to the orchard. Apples have a natural, waxy coating that prevents dehydration so I don’t wash them until I’m ready to cook them. After I picked the apples, I made applesauce and apple jelly with the same pot of apples. Here’s how I did it:

Apple Sauce

I scrubbed the apples with a vegetable brush and then quartered them. I cut out bruised spots and kept a lookout for insects, but I didn’t peel, seed or core the apples. The apple pieces went into a large, heavy-bottomed pot and I added cold water until they floated and there was an inch of water beneath them. After the water had come to a boil, it took about fifteen minutes of simmering for the apples to cook through and fall apart.

I used a slotted spoon to transfer the apple pulp from the liquid to a food mill. The applesauce was forced through the food mill into a bowl, and the cores, seeds, peels and stems remained behind. I sealed the unsweetened applesauce in pint jars following the directions that came with the canning jars. On frosty mornings, a bowl of hot applesauce, topped with a generous sprinkle of cinnamon sugar and served with toasted, English muffins is the perfect breakfast. I add sweetener – sugar, maple syrup or honey, and spice – ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon or allspice whenever I serve it as a side dish, and use unsweetened applesauce in cakes, muffins and cookies.

I added sugar to the apple flavored and pectin rich liquid that remained in the pot after I taken out the apple pulp to make the applesauce and boiled it to make apple jelly. Here’s how I did it:

Apple Jelly

I strained the liquid, using a jelly bag suspended on a tall, three-legged stand over a large bowl. I measured it  and added three-quarters of a cup of granulated sugar for each cup of liquid. I’ve found that it’s best to work with four-cup batches of liquid combined with three cups of sugar. I heated the mixture until it came to a rolling boil, skimmed off the foam and reduced the heat to a gentle simmer until the thermometer read 105º C / 220º F.

I steeped two stems of fresh basil leaves in the hot jelly for two minutes before I removed the basil and poured the jelly into four half-pint jars and sealed them.

The remaining half-cup of jelly was delicious smeared on hot, buttered biscuits at dinner. The fresh basil added a mild, minty flavor that went well with the roasted chicken but I don’t always add herbs to apple jelly. Sometimes, I use a stem of fresh mint, rosemary or thyme in place of the basil. Plain apple jelly spread on biscuits still hot from the oven is a lovely way to say “Good Morning.”

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