Fruit Season Primer
by Rachel Turiel
The first thing I ever “put up” for winter was applesauce. I was new to Durango, and being just sprung from college, quite frankly, new to my own life. It was the dawn of October: golden aspens, green chile perfume, and apples glowing like lights on every street.
While other people my age were groaning up switchbacks on their mountain bikes, I was roaming around town stuffing my backpack with apples like some crone from the old country who didn’t really understand about supermarkets. I took to this foraging like a career.
Dan and I met this same autumn, and early in our courtship we exchanged—unplanned—homemade peach bread (his) for a jar of plum preserves (mine). We were like two skiers swooshing down a black diamond on a first date, thinking “Man, she can ski.” Except in our nerdier case it was “He knows where to pick peaches and what to do with them.”
We packed the best apple “eaters” into the fridges at our respective rentals, hoping the assorted roommates would appreciate the worthiness of a 30-pound bag of apples crowding out their perishables. We made huge batches of pink applesauce, which we poured steaming hot into plastic containers from the Mexican restaurant at which Dan worked, the hot plastic surely exhaling phthalates right into our sauce. Shudder.
::our kids, carrying on the apple tradition::
That applesauce became so indispensable--on pancakes and toast--we've made it every year since. Not having your own apple tree is not a problem. Even on a poor fruit-set year like this one, there are trees around the county that are stacked with fruit. Take a neighborhood walk, a country drive, an alleyway stroll. You will find apples, and maybe even a pear, plum or peach tree as well. When you find a good tree, knock on the door. It never hurts to ask.
::a trio of sibling spies alerted me to this neglected pear tree in my neighborhood. A note was left and Steve called me that night, giving me complete rights to his pear and plum tree!::
Perching in an apple tree is like a game of twister. When the spinner points to the clump of polished ruby apples just beyond reach, it seems I’ll collapse if I stretch another inch. But when an image of barren January flashes before my eyes, I’m always more elastic than I thought.
~ because fruit is naturally, wonderfully sweet, none of these recipes call for sweetener~
Most of our apples go to applesauce. Applesauce is versatile enough to turn plain yogurt healthfully sweet, top pancakes, join peanut butter for sandwiches. We don’t sweeten our applesauce, nor do we peel the apples, which would remove a significant amount of the vitamins, fiber and phytonutrients.
::applesauce, so simple, so tartfully sweet::
Chop apples small, simmer with just enough water so the apples don’t stick to the pot. Cook down for approximately one hour (depending on how chunky or smooth you like it). Let cool and then pack into freezer bags or can with water bath canner.
FYI: never put hot foods into plastic containers. The heat can release harmful phthalates and BPA into your food.
Something happens to dried pears that turns them into the tiramisu of plain old fruit, which is to say, they are so sweet and caramel-y and delicious that your kids will think they’re getting a very special dessert when you serve them dried pears, and they are.
::slicing pears onto drying racks and Rose undoing my work::
Here in the sunny Southwest we dry fruit outside on oven racks (removed from oven) covered with flexible screen (available in bulk at the hardware store) to keep flies out. Cut pears (or any fruit - apples, peaches, plums) no thicker than 1/4 inch and lay out so pieces of fruit aren’t touching. Pears will dry outside in 3-4 sunny days. Bring inside at night.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Buy a gallon of unpasturized apple cider (available at Turtle Lake Refuge or Farmer’s Market). Transfer to gallon glass jar if possible. Remove cap and cover top with cheesecloth or mesh to keep flies out. After one week it will become hard cider via natural fermentation. Leave it out three more weeks and it will become apple cider vinegar!
Fruity frozen yogurt
Pull any dessert out of the freezer and my kids will start salivating, even if it’s an unsweetened frozen yogurt.
Mix: 2 cups pureed (cooked or raw) fruit with 2 cups plain yogurt. (Add 1/2 cup honey and your kids will be really happy). Freeze and serve.
To freeze fruit raw, slice thin and uniform and lay slices on cookie sheets in the freezer. Once frozen place in a ziploc bag The fruit should shake out of the bag for rather than clump together. The fruit may lose it’s color if frozen raw rather than blanched, but you also preserve beneficial enzymes.
Storing apples raw
The best place to store apples is the fridge (unless you have a root cellar with 90% humidity). Place apples in a plastic bag, sprinkle water in the bag, poke several holes in the bag and seal. Add water every week. Apples will keep for 1-2 months like this.
Rachel Turiel fell in love with local food when she tapped a Durango box elder tree for syrup in 1996. San Juan Table appears on the Edible San Juan Mountain website every Monday. Rachel also writes a blog, 6512 and growing, about growing children, chickens and vegetables at 6512 feet.
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