It is fall! Well, almost. But the apples are starting to come in and to me that signals fall. Each year since before I had kids I have been making apple butter in the fall. After the first slightly scary leap-of-faith canning with my friend Sarah it has become a ritual. She had the equipment (large black pot you could fit a child into) and had seen it done. I had nothing but came anyway. We followed the directions and amazingly we got 3 cases of delicious spicy chunky apple butter (that link goes to my favorite apple butter- I double it and usually up the spices) for our labors and gifted it away at Christmas time.
I’ve learn to go it alone since then and have added to my equipment. Somehow I inherited (or stole, but I can’t remember and she never asked for it back) her great canning pot. I’ve since gotten a few tools I feel are essential. Top of the list? Jar grabbers– for avoiding nasty steam burns when taking your hot jars out of the sterilizing bath and when putting them back in for the “hot water bath” after they are filled. I’ve tried dishtowels and tongs– usually out of desparation because the jar grabbers have gone missing in the garage or other– but they really are essential to pain-free canning.
Since the “old days” of peeling 3 bags of apples by hand with a paring knife I’ve also upgraded to an apple-peeler-corer. I have the Pampered Chef version (which I coveted for 2 years and 4 pampered chef parties before I felt wealthy or justified enough to spring for it) and it works wonderfully clamped on my butcher block island. The true bonus of this contraption is that the kids love it too. Wait, actually that can sometimes be a drawback as they will run like wild things, whooping and laughing with glee when they see it and not let me alone until they get do turn the crank for at least 3 apples each. But delays in productivity aside, it is a great kids-in-the-kitchen tool. I have seen them used at my son’s preschool- each child allotted one apple only to their dismay- to make joint apple sauce, or they just enjoy the great long strip of apple slice it makes for a snack.
But my canning days aren’t here quite yet. Usually I prep my apples and then freeze them until a calmer October day seems right. It is too hectic this time of year-back to school-last minute vacations- sunshine and warmth to enjoy. It is also often too warm. Canning necessitates being in the kitchen with a huge pot of boiling water for quite a while– great swathes of steam enveloping your face and hot jars lining your counters like a marching band in formation. So I save the warm cinnamon smells of cooking apples and spices for the cooler months, BUT before Christmas. That is always my true deadline, because I absolutely love giving these little jars out every year.
So last week I bought my box of Gravenstein apples. They have a short season so you have to act fast. By the time I found time to peel and prep them though, they had already gotten a little too soft to use my handy-dandy apple peelin’ contraption on them, so this bunch I did have to peel by hand. Surprisingly I found that when you are not in a mad dash to peel 3 bags of apples, but rather just a half a box (we ate the other half!) the hand peeling is relaxing. There is a welcome rhythm in guiding the knife around and around, sliding under the slightly tough skin and pulling it through the apple flesh. My children splashed in our little pool in some late summer heat and I smelled apples and thought ahead to fall with it’s brisk mornings and orange afternoons.
These apples won’t actually go into the apple butter. They’re for apple pies. My apple butter apples will probably come from an acquaintance’s over-loaded tree for free- and I won’t care what kind they are because I’ve find all kinds make great apple butter. But Gravensteins are built for pie and so I get them ready now. This is a trick I learned from Sarah again (who in turn had stolen it from her Grandma. As my neighbor said, “the Grandmas have all the tricks”). I sugar and cinnamon/nutmeg them and into the freezer they go in usable amounts (quart freezer bags). When the desire hits for warm home-made apple pie I run to the store for a pre-made crust (Trader Joe’s makes a really nice “natural” one) and toss in the frozen apples and bake.
Easy as pie.