26 September 2011

Apple picking at the Farm … and applesauce

When I first launched this blog, one of my first posts was about my parents’ garden. That particular post was about their tomatoes. I said that I’d write later about their apples. So now, five years later, here it is.

Mom & Dad have a lot of apple trees on their farm. They always have a lot to harvest. My brothers and my sister always plan trips to the farm in September to help pick apples. We went last Sunday.

Actually, my son and his daughter went on Friday. (She’s five years old. I started Krik’s Picks when she was born. She’s my oldest grandchild.) My wife and daughter-in-law came on Sunday with the two grandsons.

We picked a lot of apples. They have several different varieties, and we didn’t even take some of each. We mostly took Regent, Prairie Spy, Red Delicious, and a few of a yellow apple variety that dad couldn’t remember the name. Apples2

On the counters in our kitchen, we now have eight bags of apples. We’ll give some as gifts. I’ll make several batches of applesauce (and freeze them). I’ll also make some apple crisp and if I’m ambitious, a couple apple pies. (My daughter-in-law taught me a technique for making pie crust in the food processor. It works, but I’m still intimidated.) And we’ll be eating a lot of fresh apples for several weeks. (Picked fresh from the farm, they keep very well.)

Pictured in the pot on my stove, I have my first batch of applesauce. I’ll serve it with our dinner on Wednesday night. I cut up about half a bag of the Prairie Spy variety. Dad warned me that they’re not an ideal cooking apple. He was right. After about 45 minutes of cooking, they still were not breaking down to a saucy consistency. I like applesauce with some apple chunks in it. But this was too much. So I facilitated the process by using a potato masher. Still pretty chunky, but it did the job.Apples1

I don’t use a recipe to make applesauce. I just peel and cut a bunch of apples into chunks and put them in a Dutch oven. When the pot is about three-fourths full, I add a cup of sugar and some cinnamon (one tablespoon, or or less, depending on how you like it). Then I add water about halfway up the pot. The more water you use, the longer it takes for the apples to cook down. But the longer they cook, the more the apples break down into a saucy consistency. I don’t recommend adding too much sugar. The tartness of fresh apples is good, and if you like it sweeter, you can always add a dollop of ice cream. (Vanilla is good, but if you can get cinnamon ice cream, that’s the best.)

13 September 2011

Basil Harvest 2011

The forecast says possible frost in Minnesota this week. So when I got home from work tonight, after dinner, I harvested my basil.

My dilemma is that I always miscalculate how much basil to use during the growing season. I’m afraid that if I cut too much too early, I won’t have any left at the end of the season. Then I get to the first frost forecast and lament that I’ve still got so much in the garden, and feel like I should have used more earlier in the summer.

One year, I decided to chance it. I left my basil in the garden despite the forecast of ‘possible’ frost. Well, it froze, and I wasn’t able to salvage very much of my crop. So now my strategy is this. I cut the stems with large deep green leaves, but leave the lower stems. They usually have some new sprouts. If the forecast is wrong and it doesn’t freeze, I can harvest some late-yield basil for use until the killing freeze comes.BasilHarvest2011

So, what do I do with the basil that I harvest? Freeze it, of course. I used to make pesto and freeze it. But that sort of limits my options for using throughout the winter. So I clean and mince the leaves and freeze them. Then, I just take out a few tablespoons, or a half cup, whatever I need during the winter.

One of the things we use frozen basil for is pizza. We make a homemade crust. Then my wife takes a couple tablespoons of frozen basil, thaws it and mixes it with a good olive oil and spreads it on the pizza crust before putting on the toppings and cheese. It’s sort of a modified pesto, but she doesn’t usually mix garlic or parmesan into the sauce. I also use the frozen basil in pasta sauce, risotto, and soup.

I also strip off the basil blossoms that shoot out the top of the plant. (That’s what’s in the bowl in the photo.) I freeze them and use them in homemade vegetable broth or turkey broth. The basil blossoms add a nice, fragrant characteristic to the broth.

One disadvantage of freezing the basil is that it tends to lose it’s intense, green color.That’s ok for most cooking uses. But it’s not ideal for pesto, which I want to be almost iridescent green.

I read somewhere that basil is related to catnip. If that’s true, I can certainly see why cats like catnip. I usually get a euphoric, woozy feeling while chopping cups of fresh basil leaves.