A season for cranberries and apples
Food for the Neighborhood
Tuesday, October 23, 2012 4:53 AM
How many ways can one eat cranberries? Cranberries in bread, in spreads or fermented in a glass of wine, are a few examples.
The Cranberry Fest in Stone Lake, Wis., celebrates the harvest of another year's cranberries. A float in the parade had folks singing with only their heads protruding from a blue cover with red balloons strewn between them.
That demonstrated how this small round red fruit is harvested, flooding the plants to float the berries.
When we arrived at the festival, we found no one was allowed to drive into town. Fields converted to parking lots ringed the small, unincorporated town. After parking, we could purchase five-pound bags of cranberries held in netted plastic bags from parking lot peddlers.
This made our first purchase of the day really easy. Instead of lugging our bags of cranberries around with us all day, we could tuck them into our car instead.
In spite of this being a festival for cranberries, we found we could purchase all sorts of wares from vendors lined down each side street and along the center of town. Even the highway through town was closed to allow the crowd to flood across the road.
Four of us arrived together about an hour after the booths officially opened in the morning - and the four of us were still together at five in the afternoon. We'd canvassed the town, but still had not walked by every vendor booth.
We had found treasures, and although the temperature hovered below 40 all day, somehow we'd managed to stay warm. There were crafters, hats and gloves to buy, fall decorations, plus food in jars and bagged seasoning mixes, in an almost endless succession of choices.
At the end of the day out came the soapbox derby drivers, who used the steep street through the town to a real advantage. A girl in a pink car almost won first place.
But the day was waning, so Cory, Amanda, Dale and I were ready to head back to the cabin to warm up and cook supper, preferably with something having cranberries in it. I'd purchased a loaf of nut and cranberry bread from a vendor to cut into slices.
Cory and I took home our five-pound bags of cranberries. I am not sure what he cooked up with his, but I made cranberry catsup from mine. After using up four pounds of my berries, I picked up yet another mesh bag of them when I was once again back up north. I have a couple more cranberry sauces or chutneys I'd like to pack into jars before freezing the rest of my berries.
Along with the harvest of red berries, fall has ended a fruitful summer.
Although many of my plants in pots have been killed by frost, a few have persevered so far: some mints, oregano and chives. They are tough. I still have a selection of plants growing in a vinyl-roofed greenhouse, but I have been gradually moving pots inside my house.
I am not sure how much longer I can harvest cherry tomatoes from the plants we have kept under plastic. But the Brussels sprout plants are still very alive and have slowly been increasing the size of the still tiny sprouts along their stems. They might keep growing for another month.
Lettuce, chard, broccoli and kale are still growing in Logan's plot at the community garden.
The weekend following the festival, others from my family came up north (cranberry weekend hadn't worked out for their schedules). Two of my sons helped my husband push the boat off the boatlift. This had been a big concern of his, because the level of the lake water had gotten so low with the lack of rain through the late summer.
Once off the lift, we took the boat out for one last run, and although we tried to have fun, we were shivering under comforters and layers of coats. The next day, after the guests had gone home, the sun came out and when Dale drove the boat to the public access, to have it taken out and winterized - the day was much warmer and lovely. I wished for my camera to capture the late fall colors mingled with deep evergreens that ringed the lake.
While up there we made apple butter with apples I had gotten from Lee at the final Eyota Farmers Market. He assured me the Haraldsons would make good applesauce.
He was right. I like the pink color one gets by cooking the apples with their skins on them. I remembered how my mother just washed apples, cut them into quarters, then cooked them before pushing them through a sieve with a mallet to remove seeds and skins.
This really works slick. I also found that the Haraldson apples have a sweet flavor of their own and need little, if any, sugar added when making applesauce.
We made apple butter, seasoned with cinnamon and a bit of cloves.
The key to making thick applesauce is adding as little water as possible when cooking the apples. I found a wide pan with a thick bottom worked better than my tall pan that I had filled too full. After filling the pan I would put the glass cover on and allow steam to help cook the apples.
The colander I use for sieving the applesauce is shaped like a V, is held in a wire stand, and has a wooden pestle that is shaped to roll along the edges of the metal colander. One could also use a ricer to squeeze out the sauce in small batches.
Apple butter is applesauce with more sugar, spices and some slow simmering cooking to thicken it before ladling it into canning jars.
4 pounds apples (about 16 medium)
4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
To prepare pulp: wash and quarter apples. Combine apples and 2 cups water in a large saucepan. Simmer until apples are soft. Puree through food mill or ricer, removing skins and seeds in the process. Measure out 2 quarts of apple pulp.
To make butter: Combine apple pulp, sugar and spices in a large saucepot. Cook slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving a one-quarter-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps (have them warming in a pan of water on the stove). Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
Apple butter is an all-time favorite in my family. Back when great-grandmother lived on our farm, her apple butter was a big favorite with my two oldest children. When I lived there, I also made apple butter, but since leaving the farm in 1993, I had not made a single batch until this summer. It was fun to rediscover an old favorite.