Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Community Apples — Susie

One of my favorite Maine fall traditions is apple picking and the subsequent apple sauce, butters, pies and crisps that get made with fresh fall apples. I usually track down a local orchard that has pick-your-own and spend an afternoon wandering through precise lines of trees to select good looking fruit. Northern Spy, Macintosh, Granny Smith... Some are better for sauce, some are better for pies, some I just like to eat right off the tree. It's one of those quintessential Maine fall activities that I remember from my childhood, and always brings a sense of rightness to the season for me.

This year, I haven't had a chance to get to the orchard I usually do. Schedules have been tight, it's a bit of a drive, and with a busy fall, I haven't quite felt like I had the time. When I get a call from my friend (and cohousing future-neighbor) Emily, pleading for people to come pick apples from trees in their backyard, it was perfect timing. "We have so many good apples, and they're just falling to the ground," she said, and asked if we wanted to come over to get some. Emily and James live only a few minutes drive away, and there's something really awesome about picking apples from a tree in a friend's yard - organic, hyper local, and of unknown (but tasty) variety, adding a bit of mystery to spice up the apple sauce.

The picking was a combination of gymnastics (James climbing up into the branches, shaking them so the fruit from the top falls onto the tarp below), education (their two year old teaching me about the "bad" apples with the rotten spots that must be chucked into the woods for the animals to eat) and just genuine fun with friends. We pick two big bags of apples for sauce and a smaller bag of the "good eating apples," and call it a job well done. Relaxing dinner and conversation ensues, and we leave for home later in the evening with a trunk of apples and bellies full of dinner.

It's exciting to think that I managed to score two free bags of apples, plus a fantastic evening with friends, all because of my coho connections. It's even more exciting to think about how we'll be growing our own fruit trees on the cohousing land, and in a few years, we'll be able to have a big community gathering of apple picking and pie, cider and sauce making.

Here's my recipe for apple butter made with a slow cooker - easy as... pie?

Cook a bunch of apples into apple sauce: - wash them, cut into quarters (leave the peel and core - this adds pectin and flavor) - fill a big pot with enough water to cover them, and then add 1T of apple cider vinegar - when they're soft, drain them, let them cool a few minutes, and then run them through a food mill until you have apple sauce - spice and sweeten to taste (I usually use honey, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, and allspice) - stir to mix well.

Cook apple sauce in slow cooker: - on high for 4 or so hours - leave lid off or significantly cracked (so moisture can escape) - stir regularly (every ten minutes) and scrape the sides down so the apple butter doesn't form into goo on the edges of the pan - check consistency by putting a small dollop on a plate, spreading it out and letting it cool. - when it's the thickness and consistency you like, turn off the slow cooker and let it cool.

This makes excellent gifts when canned in half pint jars, and can be used as cookie or cake filling, jam for toast, hot topping for vanilla ice cream or, if you're sneaky about it, eating right from the jar as a decadent alternative to apple sauce.

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