Today is the last instalment of putting up the harvest for 2015. I have enjoyed this challenge of coming up with new ways to keep the freshness going into the winter months, tried new things, revisited old favourites, and so I thought to end this stretch of food-prep that I would go back to one of the first things I ever did as a homesteader-wannabe: canning. I haven't talked about canning this month at all because truth be told, I don't do it much anymore. I find it is quite a bit of extra work, my stove top is not the best one rated for water bath canning; it isn't as forgiving an art as say, fermenting. But it is a practical way to be able to put up a big amount of one thing like zucchini into relish, or peaches into canned jewels, or tomatoes into salsa. And crab apples into crab apple butter.
How this story begins: my sister is in town, visiting from her home base in northern BC for a little bit. She brought with her that big blue bin in the background about 1/3 full of crabapples from her tree in her yard, evidently not putting a big dent at all in the load on the tree. A neighbour advised her that she may want to harvest the apples from the tree before the local black bear comes to eat them all, as it happens to be his favourite tree in the 'hood. See, he eats and climbs and in the process, breaks branches. (My sister has been in this house for the last year or so. This was news to her.) So pick, she did. And she brought them, along with a big bundle of rhubarb with the hopes of getting to work on keeping up the goods. So we made a batch of the apple/rhubarb BBQ sauce from earlier this month, and her request was to can some crabapple butter with the remaining amount. So that's what we did!
We used the recipe up at Mennonite Girls Can Cook. As it isn't an original recipe, I will send you to their site in order to get the ingredients and measurements if you feel so inclined. But we prepped the apples and cooked them down as they indicate in the recipe, and my sister passed the cooked mush through a food mill in order to get rid of all of the skin and seeds. Those little things are MAGIC I tell you when it comes to making this job a little easier.
The instructions say to cook the apples initially, then we passed through the food mill, returned the mush to the pot along with the sugar and spices (we swapped out the white sugar for cane sugar and cut a cup out) and let it simmer for 2 hours. Adding the sugar, while I'm not a big fan of sugar, is the method by which you are dehydrating any of the bacteria that could form in the making and canning of this food, essentially rendering it food-safe (not sure about botulism and sugar, but the water bath component would take care of anything like that). Swapping it to a cane sugar means less processing of the sugar, and more minerals and nutrients are left remaining in the sugar. But sugar is sugar, so we consider this kind of thing a treat at our house.
But look how it really cooked down, and how thick it got! The spoon was standing straight up and wouldn't budge! That's how thick you want it to be, that's the consistency of a fruit butter you are looking for.
After that two hour simmer, this hot pot of sweet goodness was ready for canning. So canning we did. We prepped our water bath, sterilized the jars, and my sister got busy filling those jars up.
Truly, this kind of task is quite laborious, and time-consuming. But the effort is well worth it. This is the kind of task that for me, signalled that fall was upon us when I was wee; it also meant my grandmother was coming over to help my mom put up her pickles and relishes, peaches and apples for the winter months. It is a sensory experience that lends itself to meditation, but also to doubling up with someone for the sheer time and effort commitment, making it a joint effort and getting in some good visiting time with a good friend or sister. One of my favourite things about this time of year, to be sure.
Once the jars were filled and lidded, my sister popped them back in the water bath, we cranked the heat again, and counted 20 minutes from the rolling boil. A fruit butter recipe is typically a 10 minute boil in the water bath, but seeing that here in Calgary we are at such high elevations, we had to add an extra 10 minutes to ensure food safety. Once the timer was up, we took the lid off, waited 10 minutes, and lifted the rack to the top of the canner and let the whole lot cool until morning.
Oh yes, when you are planning to do a canning bee, ensure plenty of time and don't start this recipe at 4pm, because by the time all was said and done, we were finally able to go to bed at 2am. Mind you, there was a big dinner and a big family walk and dishes in the middle of that, but know that it is indeed a time monger of a task. But so so so worth it. Thanks to my little sister for supplying the goods, and the inspiration and for joining me in this canning good times!
Thanks to YOU for checking out this month of putting up the harvest, I hope you have tried some new things and been inspired to pick up some local goodies to keep for the winter months. I have been meaning to mention that my most favourite way to put up the harvest is to EAT GOOD FOOD, LOCAL FOOD, RIGHT NOW. Your body and the energy stores you are building are probably the BEST way to keep up the harvest my friend.
Now go play with your food. Please and thank you.