Friday, January 17, 2014

The Apple of my Eye

So you know how they say an apple a day keeps the doctor away? How do you feel about 800lbs of apples? HA! It was more than a bit overwhelming when picking up and sorting 800lbs of apples to split between people, but I will say that it pays to know your local farmers!

Getting great deals usually means building a relationship of some kind with farmers, they love what they do, it's their passion, if it wasn't, then believe me, they wouldn't do it! I was put in contact with a local farm (coincidentally it was where my daughter had her school field trip this last fall!) called Oregon Heritage Farm. They are a no spray operation; which happens to be something that I love! We were able to get their "cull" apples. This means that the apples themselves are possibly bruised, marred or their coloring was wrong for the machines or for the market so they sell them at SERIOUSLY discounted rates. We managed to get 800lbs of honey crisp apples for $100. That works out to roughly 12.5 cents per pound. Talk about a STEAL!

This is approximately what 800lbs of apples looks like. Talk about a back ache when we were all done!

 About 350lbs of all of those apples came home with me to be processed. Yes, you read that right...350 pounds! You are probably wondering "what on earth could someone do with that MANY apples?!?!" Well, isn't that why I'm here? To give you ideas? ;-) 
There really are TONS of ideas, but here are just a few!

Apple Sauce
Apple Juice
Apple Butter
Apple Syrup
Apple-Cinnamon Syrup
Apples in Syrup
Apple Pie Filling
Apple Chips
Apple Fruit Rolls
I did a lot of these except for the apple butter, syrups or fruit roll and that's just because my family is not big on fruit butters, they prefer my regular old jam. The others I just didn't have time for nor the desire to do! There is also a reason that I use honey crisp apples to make all of these things, basically, they are naturally so sweet, that it requires NO ADDED SUGAR! Now if you wanted to sweeten, then I would suggest using just a little bit of honey, you really don't need much at all, but we are purists and like it nice and natural. 

While our apples were not sprayed, it is still a good idea to wash them, so I enlisted the help of my eldest daughter and she peeled off all of the stickers while I washed them in the sink. (Isn't she so cute? I know, I know, I'm biased.)

These apples came with a wax coating, so washing was necessary. It was certainly fun getting my 8 year old to help! She seemed to really enjoy the project too. :)

The first thing that I did was make Apple Juice and Apple Sauce. We LOVE home made apple juice, it is so much thicker and richer than the store bought stuff. It's really more like cider than juice!
Obviously I had a lot going on, apple chips, apple juice and sauce all at the same time! Yay for multi-tasking?

 So if you have never made chips, sauce or juice before it is SUPER easy. For the apple chips just core, slice thin, soak in lemon juice and water mixture then place in your dehydrator for at least 20-24 hours. Voila, instant snack for the kids!

Applesauce and juice requires a little bit more work because you also need to peel the apples, but what I do is I save the cores and all of the peels, add water and boil, then strain. I use a jelly bag strainer to limit the amount of pulp that gets into the juice. I also chop up all of the apples and treat them in the lemon/water mixture while I finish chopping. Once I have enough to fill up my biggest pot I take it out of the lemon mixture and fill the pot with Apples. Once it is filled I add water to the pot (approximately 4-6 cups) and bring to a boil until the apples are softened. If you don't have an immersion blender then I HIGHLY recommend getting one, it is absolutely worth the cost in the long run. Especially if you make soup often like I do...or can an insane amount like I do. :) I use my immersion blender to turn the apples into sauce. If you are going to add sugar or honey, now is the time to do it. Bring it to a boil again, if it is too thin then You can put about half of it through the jelly strainer. The juice will come out and leave behind a thicker sauce, then you just reintroduce it to the rest that was left in the pot. Be careful though, it is insanely hot since it was just boiling. I tend to forget that and end up burning myself at least once or twice each time I can something.

Prepare your jars (sterilize them and then keep them warm in the oven on the lowest temp if possible) and lids (keep them in a pot of simmering water) then you are ready to jar them up. Apples are able to use a water bath canner which is nice. Leave a 1 inch head space, wipe the top down so that it is clean and dry and apply the lids and rings then place in the waterbath canner! Bring to a boil and process for 20 minutes for applesauce (pints or quarts). 10 minutes for apple juice. When the time is up DO NOT TAKE OFF THE LID. Turn off the heat and wait an additional 5 minutes before removing the lid to the canner. Take out of the canner, place on a flat surface until it is cooled (usually over night) and voila! You have shelf stable home made apple sauce and apple juice. 
For this apple juice I ran out of smaller jars, so I had to use my Half Gallon jars. The half gallon jars also do NOT fit in a regular water bath canner, so I had to use my pressure canner as a waterbath canner for this job. Once you know the technique you can adjust to fit your wants/needs. I just doubled processing time since it was double the size. It worked great!
 If you find yourself in a position like I was, with TONS of apples, I eventually quit worrying about how much to save for applesauce and I used a juicer that a friend gave me on a "semi-permanent loan". I used it and got a few gallons of juice that way and it was AWESOME, my girls kept coming and filling up their cups!
This is my favorite part, seeing it on my shelf! The literal fruit of my labor! :)

I do this every year because it's fun, it tastes so much better and I can control exactly what goes into everything! I hope this will inspire some to realize that canning is not as crazy/hard as it seems. If I can do it, anybody can!

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