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It’s 5 C today. It’s been going below zero overnight. Our garden is finished for the year, the last of the plants harvested or left to die (you should see how sad frozen tomato plants look). We’re getting ready for winter, which, for me at least, involves mostly mental time. I have to remind myself that winter’s coming (as if, with this weather, it would be easy to forget), and make my plans. Mostly this is a good thing. I think of books I’ll read, TV shows Carlo and I will watch when it’s too cold to get outside and walk, and of winter stews. I will admit, though, the retreat of summer is always a little bitter. No more garden tomatoes! No more bare legs! No more grass!
Something we’ve done this year to lessen the blow is preserves. Since I was a little girl, my mom has canned in the fall. I remember canned peaches and pears, but most of all, applesauce. Do you know what applesauce tastes like? No, really, what real applesauce tastes like? Because what you can buy off the supermarket shelf, that’s not applesauce. It’s a pale, tasteless, gag-inducing interloper. Real applesauce is peachy-pale, tart and tasty. It’s a perfect preserve to keep in a winter pantry arsenal. And I’ve got my own applesauce arsenal this year! I’ve never done it before, but this year I joined my mom in the kitchen, and we took advantage of a neighbour’s unwanted wealth of crabapples.
Crabapples are beautiful little fruits, just a bit bigger than cherries and nearly the same colour, a dark, dusky, purple-tinged red. But you have to process them to enjoy them. These are definitely not eating apples–they’re super-tart, not to mention too tiny to offer any real apple satisfaction. So we processed. And processed… and processed. There were a lot of apples. We made applesauce, we made jelly, we made liqueur, we made sorbet. And there are still two or three litres of crabapple juice sitting in the freezer waiting for my next idea.
Crabapples are a pain to work with because of their size, but their deeply-coloured skin makes for a gorgeous final product, and I love their distinctive tart flavour. Here are a few recipes, none super-precise, as we were winging it in the kitchen.
This is a beautiful pink sauce (see picture below). If you’re making a small amount, feel free to just transfer finished sauce to a jar and into the fridge. If you have a load of crabapples to dispose off, try canning them–crabs are super-acidic, so they take well to canning. When you’ve cooked your apples, save any juice that may have accumulated in the bottom of the pot–it’s perfect for jelly!
Crabapples, washed and stemmed
Sugar (to taste, but I found a 2:1 apple to sugar ratio was good)
A touch of water
After you’ve washed and stemmed your crabs, put them in a large pot on the stovetop with a splash of water in the bottom (just to prevent sticking). Cook over medium heat until apples are very soft and beginning to disintegrate (about 30 to 45 minutes or longer, depending on how big your pot of apples is). When apples are soft, process them in a food mill to remove skins and seeds. Reserve the clear juices at the bottom of the pot for jelly. When you’ve processed the apples, you’ll have a smooth, pink, and very tart sauce. Add sugar to taste, beginning with about 1/3 as much sugar as you have sauce (eg. 1 1/2 cups sauce=1/2 cup sugar). Taste and continue adding sugar until you’re satisfied with the flavour. Transfer to a jar for the fridge, or put sauce into sterilized jars and can in a boiling water bath.
I think because there is so much skin compared to flesh in crabapple, their juices are very high in natural pectin and thus is super-welcoming for jelly making. I love this jelly on pancakes, but I feel like it would be good with chicken too.
Leftover crabapple juice from sauce-making OR crabapple juice extracted with a juicer
An equal amount of sugar
Combine juice and sugar, and bring them to boil on the stovetop. Make sure the sugar is totally dissolved, then continue simmering for 10 minutes. You’ll have a thick syrup. Pour this syrup into sterilized jars for canning, or just throw it into the fridge. When the mixture cools it will set, so don’t worry if it doesn’t seem thick enough for jelly. It’ll happen.
This is so easy–it requires no real skill but patience. I added a couple sprigs of thyme to my vodka-crabapple mix, just to try it out.
Crabapples, cleaned, stemmed, and halved
Sugar syrup (combine sugar and water in equal amounts, and bring them to a boil. Allow sugar to dissolve, then remove from heat)
Gin or Vodka
Fill half-litre jars with crabs (almost up to their necks), then add 1/3 cup of sugar syrup per jar. Add liquor to cover, then put on lids. Agitate gently to combine liquor and sugar. Put jars in a cool, dark place for a few months. Go ahead and shake them up occasionally. If you do this now, it’ll probably taste good by Christmas.
I have something to tell you. Up to now, this blog has been decidedly positive. We tell you how much we love a food item, give a little run-down on why we like it, maybe give a glowing description and a couple preparation suggestions. Then you get the recipe. This is good. And positive. Everything’s all right here at Supper in Stereo.
But here’s my confession– I’m not generally sunny. I’m a whiner, a complainer, a look-on-the-dark-side kind of person. I complain about my job, curse the cloudy weather, call my cat stupid.
Actually, I only did that last one once. And I felt really bad afterwards.
I’m working on it, I am. But sometimes Carlo’s and my self-imposed exercise of listing three good things that happened every day ends up sounding something like this: Today is over. I survived today. I can go to bed now. This, my friends, is not positive.
Sometimes when you’re busy feeling grey like this, food falls by the wayside. Oh, we still eat, of course. But cookies turn out tough and floury, soup tasteless, meat dry. And we dutifully shovel it in, to get enough energy to slog through another day. January and February are especially bad when you live in a wintry climate. We’re lucky to get one sunny day a week and the rest of the days are plodding and overcast. They’re not even grey, they’re just… nothing.
Have you had enough yet?
Then listen: every once in a while, even I have to poke my head up and say “wait, this is pretty good.” The other night, Carlo and I were contemplating a beautiful pan of chicken parts scattered with chunks of lemon and rosemary that we were about to roast (the recipe was yet another gift from my generous aunt and uncle, and I’ll pass it on to you soon). It was gorgeous, even uncooked, and we could tell just by looking that it was going to be delicious. Carlo said “man, we have it pretty good.” And I agreed.
I had another moment like this the other night, standing in the kitchen, sticking my tongue out while I took a paring knife to the skins of our last Meyer lemons. I was sticking my tongue out because I was concentrating on only getting skin and not pith, so that the mini batch of limoncello that I was preparing wouldn’t come out with any bitterness at all. To be honest, the task of carefully peeling thin-skinned lemons isn’t really all that fun. I was tense and my shoulders were aching. But at the other end of the counter, Carlo was preparing a batch of one of our favorite ice creams. He was talking himself through the steps, pretending to host a cooking show (sample instructions: “…then you take a thing… or a spoon… and you move the stuff in the bowl around with it.” Sample banter: “I’m okay! Do you like me? You’re okay!”). If I wasn’t concentrating so hard, I would have been giggling. Carlo finished preparing his ice cream, and I finished peeling my lemons (it took me 30 minutes for four lemons– that’s dedication). Then Carlo put his ice cream into the ice cream machine and I put my limoncello in the cupboard to steep.
It’s just a little jar, mind you. I only had four lemons left (and incidentally, the more-than-half-empty bottle of vodka on our bar had the exact right amount of alcohol left, which was a nice coincidence). When the limoncello’s finished, it will be enough for a few sips, not much else. But I still like knowing that it’s sitting in the cool darkness of our cupboard, getting more and more delicious, waiting for us. You can steep your limoncello anywhere from two weeks to four months. I’m leaving mine there for all of February. We’ll see how I feel come March.
I’ll let you know how the limoncello turned out in a couple months. And Carlo’s ice cream? It was perfect, perfect. Life is good and we are lucky. I just don’t feeling like talking about it.
BROWN SUGAR SOUR CREAM ICE CREAM
We follow the recipe for brown sugar sour cream ice cream from Mercedes at Desert Candy faithfully. The last few times, we’ve used panela instead of brown sugar, just because I found panela in the store and felt that it needed to come home with me. I highly recommend this variation, as the panela has a great intense smoky, molassesy flavour. However, you MUST try the original recipe as well. It’s great! I love the addition of bourbon to the mix, but you could easily leave it out and still have a great ice cream. Plus there’s no custard to fiddle with (Farhan, I’m thinking of you…).
If you want to make limoncello, here’s the recipe I used. I used vodka, as it’s what we had around, but if you can find a grain alcohol, that would probably be better. The linked recipe makes a huge amount, but I scaled it to the following proportions:
4 lemons, preferably unsprayed and unwaxed
350 mL vodka or grain alcohol
1 1/4 c. water
1 1/3 c. sugar
Wash and dry the lemons, then peel them. Place them in a mason jar with the alcohol. Make sure the lemon is fully covered. Put the mason jar in a cool, dark place, shaking it once a day. Leave this for at least two weeks, but I’ve read you can go up to four months.
When your lemon concoction has steeped to your satisfaction, it’s time to sweeten it. Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. When the mixture is room temperature, put a strainer over the saucepan that’s holding the sugar syrup and strain your steeped lemon mixture into the sugar syrup. Combine the liquids well, then place the mixture back into a mason jar. Put the mason jar back into your cupboard and repeat the first process, shaking twice every day for about three weeks.
Finally, after all that time, it’s ready to taste! The Washington Post recommends storing your limoncello in the freezer, where it will turn a milky yellow.
By the way, I juiced the lemons after I peeled them and boiled the juice with sugar in a 1:1 ratio to make lemon syrup. You could use this syrup to make lemonade, or you could pop in a vanilla bean and do a bit more fiddling to make something like this (which looks super-lovely).