Feeling Saucy

Is there anyone who doesn’t like applesauce?

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Never mind, if there is I don’t want to know.

Applesauce

Apples (As many or as few as you’ve got. Don’t forget to ask your local farmer for seconds -you’ll pay half the price.)

Sugar (optional)

Cut the apples into chunks, peeled or not depending on what you like, and put them in a pot.

Add a small splash of water to keep them from sticking before their juice starts to flow.

Cook on medium-high heat until the apples are soft enough to break with the back of a spoon.

Add sugar to taste.

Puree with an immersion blender for a smooth sauce, or leave as is for chunky.

Ladle into clean jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Process quarts for 20 minutes or pints for 15. If you’d rather not can, just store in the fridge.

Use as Directed

So, grape jelly.

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This is one of those cases where using the recipe in the box is just fine. In general I have no complaints about sugar, but for jelly I want to taste the fruit, so I went with a low sugar pectin from Ball. This recipe could more accurately be called ‘lower sugar’, because there’s still quite a bit, but the grapes are not overpowered and that’s what I was going for.

Grape Jelly

5 1/2 cups grape juice

3 1/2 cups sugar

1 box low or no-sugar-needed pectin

Prep 6 half-pint jars.

Mix pectin with 1/4 cup of the sugar.

Combine pectin and juice in a large pot, along with a small bit of butter. (The butter will keep everything from foaming too much. I skip this step when making jam, but it really helps to make a nice, clear jelly.)

Bring to a boil.

When you can’t stir the boil down, add the rest of the sugar.

Bring back to a boil, and when you can’t stir it down cook for 1 minute, then remove from heat.

Skim any foam.

Ladle into jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace.

Process 5 minutes in water bath.

Yield: 5-6 half-pint jars.

Kindness of Strangers

Just when I’d accepted I wouldn’t be making grape jelly this year, a neighbor I’ve never met stopped by and asked if I’d like to pick some of her grapes.

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She’s at the peak of a bumper crop of Concords, growing on a vine she dates to the early 1900’s. Since she has lived in her house and tended her garden for 65 years (!), I’m going to take her word for it.

We picked and picked and didn’t make a bit of a dent, and then I came home and used my steam juicer to process the piles of grapes. The steam juicer is a fabulous invention. It’s pricey, so not worth it if you don’t process a lot of fruit, but if you do it saves a lot of time and effort. I can remember my parents making grape jelly when I was a kid, juice straining through cheesecloth, making a purple mess of everything nearby. I can’t say it inspired me to want to make any of my own. The juicer, in contrast, is neat and easy to use. It consists of three pots on top of each other. The bottom holds water, the middle juice, and the top whatever fruit you’re processing. As it steams, the juice flows through a tube from the second pot into whatever vessel you choose, or, if you’d rather, the tube can be clamped and the juice will remain in the pot. More fruit can be added as it shrinks down, so I was able to fit all of my grapes in the one pot. The only thing to watch out for is that you don’t run out of water in the bottom pot.

Now I’m ready to start making jelly with some of the 10+ quarts of juice the grapes yielded. The rest I’ll can for drinking, if it doesn’t all disappear from the fridge before I get to it.

Seasons In the Sun

Tomato season is exhausting, not gonna lie.

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Pounds and pounds of tomatoes pass through the kitchen, needing to be processed as soon as possible to preserve them while they’re still full of sunshine.

I spent yesterday making tomato sauce, and I’ll be doing it all over again in a few days. We use about 40 pints of sauce a year, so I do two batches of 40 pounds each. If you eat less, or just want to try out a small batch, this recipe can be divided and your cooking time will be shorter. If you decide to go for the full 40 pounds, you will need a giant pot.

You’ll notice that I do not remove the seeds or skin from the tomatoes. Just about every sauce recipe does, but to me it seems a colossal waste of time. You can, of course, do it whichever way you prefer.

This is a very simple sauce, and we use it as is for lots of things, but if you want to add more ingredients – peppers, meat, anything – do so when you’re ready to eat it, not when you’re preparing this recipe. Changing the ingredients may result in an unsafe product, and adding meat definitely would.

Tomato Sauce

40 lb tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 120 tomatoes)

2 cups onion, diced

16 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil

Dried oregano to taste

1 Tablespoon bottled lemon juice PER PINT JAR (This is important. Tomatoes vary in acidity. The lemon juice increases the acidity, which keeps your food safe.)

Prep 22 pint jars

Core tomatoes and cut in chunks.

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil in giant pot until translucent.

Add tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer 20 minutes.

Puree with an immersion blender.

Add basil and oregano.

Bring to a boil and cook til reduced by half. This can take anywhere from 5-7 hours. It’s done when you feel it’s thick enough. Stir often to prevent sticking.

Put 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice IN EACH JAR.

Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Remove air bubbles with a very clean tool.

Process in water bath for 35 minutes.

Yield will be 18-22 pints, depending on thickness.

Makeover Complete

The key to making enough salsa to last a year is a willingness to chop more peppers than seems entirely reasonable.

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As promised, those ugly tomatoes have been transformed into something lovely. I doubled this recipe, which adds to the cooking time. Totally worth it as we’re now set til next summer.

Salsa

10 cups diced tomatoes

5 cups diced bell peppers

5 cups diced onion

2 cups diced hot peppers

1 1/4 cups cider vinegar

3 cloves diced garlic

1 Tablespoon salt

Sterilize 9 pint-sized jars.

Combine all ingredients in a large pan.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let simmer until slightly thickened, 15-20 minutes.

Fill hot jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace.

Remove air bubbles by poking down into the jar with a very clean tool.

Process 15 minutes after canning water has returned to a boil.

A few notes on ingredients:

Tomatoes: You’ll need 9 or 10 pounds of tomatoes.

Bell peppers: You’ll need about 5 large peppers. Green bells are fine, and as they’re cheapest that’s a good way to go. I like to do a couple of red if I can swing it, because it’s an easy way to add layers to the flavor.

Hot peppers: You’ll need about 10 peppers if you use large jalapenos. For a salsa just about everyone will like, use jalapenos, removing seeds and membranes. For a hotter salsa, replace some of the jalapenos with habanero or whatever you like. Since habaneros are smaller, you’ll need more of them.

Sweet Spot

When we first moved to this house there was an old peach tree that gave us more fruit than we knew what to do with. So I learned to can.

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I read Martha Stewart’s basic canning instructions, figuring she would reliably do things right, then I found this recipe and jumped in. Being new to canning, I made the mistake of multiplying the recipe, which gives a completely different result than the recipe as written. We found it a happy mistake, though, and for fifteen years that’s the way I’ve made it.

This is by far my most popular preserve and if I bring it somewhere I know better than to bring only one jar, so I work my way through about 40 pounds of peaches each August. Its most obvious application is on crackers with a nice sharp cheese, but it works on so many things – ice cream, pizza, omelettes, chicken, fish, or tofu – because it perfectly balances sweet and heat. Even my most spice-averse friends have come to love it, once they get over the fear inspired by the very word habanero.

A lot has changed on the internet since 2000. What hasn’t changed is that strangers can make each others’ lives richer by sharing what they know is good. This, fellow strangers on the internet, is good.