Thursday, November 3, 2011

Apparently I'm Strange...

So the custodian at work, a nice young artist who makes ends meet by cleaning up after us, decided to sit down today for a chat. He said "I want to know more about who 'Jill' is." He concluded that I'm "interesting."
I think he means "odd" but I'm ok with that. He wanted to know if I kept house like I keep my office (messy)...uh, yep.
Why do I drive an old car when I have a good job. Do I have kids, pets? What do I do with my free time?
It was sort of amusing.

He was most interested in the radio show and that I have no debt. We'll see if he comes back for more information.

The other odd interaction...well, one of them...this week was a call out of the blue. On Saturday or Sunday I was at the office while I waited for apple butter to thicken up in the crock pot. I needed to leave the house (trailer) so I didn't chop up any more apples or try to dry anything else. I needed a break. My cell phone rang. A local number so I picked it up. It was a woman who lives in a DIY strawbale home, sells milk that she squeezes out of the cow with her own hands, and basically kicks my butt in all things self-sufficient. She had called the local extension agent for advice on some jam she was trying to finish on the stove. She wanted to add grapes to the plums, but was using sur-jel, which is finicky about amounts of fruit and sugar (according to the package). I advised her to go ahead and try it as long as she can tolerate slightly runny jam if it doesn't jel up fully. I also advised her to try Pomona brand pectin next year since it can be used for any size batch of jam/jelly and it is not dependent on sugar to thicken (sur-jel is sugar dependent and size touchy....just like me).
I was pretty flattered to be a local jam expert. Then I just felt sad for the county that I might be their best bet on this. I've only made jam for a few years, though admittedly I make enough to count for several years' experience each fall.

Back to the apple butter. I called Sher (Hi Sher!), or "Mom", for her recipe since she makes excellent fruit butters. She was with Gram when I called so I thought "great, 2 generations of advice." Here is Sher's recipe:
Peel core and cut up some apples.
Cook then down a bit on the stove and then in a crock pot on low.

How long? Until it's thick enough.
Do you add sugar or honey? Yah.
How much? Enough to make it as sweet as you want it.
Do you add spices? Yah.
Which ones? Cinnamon and cloves.
How much? Quite a bit.
Do you add lemon juice so it is a high acid food for canning? I don't remember.

Then she noted that she uses that hand blender I got her to make it a good consistency.

I asked if, since I'll be blenderizing it anyway, I could leave the skins on. She didn't know and asked Gram. Gram said I could do whatever I want, but the skins won't cook down like the apples will.

So, armed with that incredibly precise recipe I gave it a shot.
I had a box of mixed pie apples from the farmer's market. Johnagolds, Granny Smiths, and some random varieties of small tart apples. For the first batch I peeled them (used the peels to make apple peel vinegar that is still brewing on the counter). I chopped up the apples and cooked them in a stainless steel pan on the stove for a while (until I got bored which is what I thought Sher would do). Then I put it in the crock pot with some honey, cinnamon and nutmeg (I was out of ground cloves or at least I couldn't find them). I put the crock pot on low and got back to it after work the next day.
It is DELICIOUS! I served it at a community breakfast and when I casually asked if anyone would like to take the left over 9/10ths of a pint, one woman nearly knocked me down lunging for the jar.
Good recipe Sher!

For the further 20some halfpint jars of apple butter I've put up, I left the skins on. I just took a whole apple to the big holes on the cheese grater and had at it. I grated down until the seeds started to show. I also went ahead and put it right in the crock pot. Then I put a big scoop of honey on top, put on "a lot" of cinnamon and nutmeg. Then I put the top on the pot, put it on low and came back the next day. It was also excellent and tasted more "caramelly" than the 1st batch.

For the 3rd batch I tried quartering and coring the apples and throwing them in the crock pot with honey and spices. It was the lowest amount of labor, but I couldn't get as many apples in the pot as with grating or chopping. I think it also used the most of the apple.

For all recipes, I stuck in the hand blender (stick blender) and ran it around about an hour or 2 before I put it in jars and into the canner. The blender adds some air so it's good to do it a bit early. I just do it as I turn on the stove because it takes that long to get the canner boiling. It is SO EASY. It's even easier than jam.

Since most of my jam this year is crap (really) the winter is going to be apple butter heavy.

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