Monday, October 25, 2010

10/19: Bringing in the Corn

The corn harvest was so inspiring, it produced a true sense of reverence even in wild child. Here's a link to the photo album. Watch the slideshow to get a sense of the day.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

10/6: Apple day (or, adventures in food preservation)

Every year, one of the SunRidge families lets the third grade come and visit their apple orchard, taking over their kitchen and yard for the day for a variety of apple-related activities. All I know ahead of time is that I’m assigned to the canning group. Hoo, boy. Let’s just say that I’m a less than experienced canner, though I have managed to produce a few jars of jam over the last few years that haven’t killed anyone yet. Still, I don’t have the proper equipment, nor do I really know how to use it. And somehow, my mother’s knowledge of canning passed down to me only in the form of a vague fear that canning causes explosions. My rational mind knows that this is only if you are using a pressure cooker and its pressure release valve malfunctions, but I still have lingering malaise about the whole process, like, show me a Ball jar, and there’s a small part of me that ducks and runs for cover. And so, of course, I’m now expected to perform this potentially fatal task in close proximity to several Other People’s Kids.

In preparation for the apple day extreme canning adventure, I stop by the hardware store’s canning section to pick up some lids for the many quart jars cluttering up my kitchen. While there I grab one of those stainless steel funnel things that are supposed to prevent you from making too big a mess, or an unintended trip to the burn unit, as you transfer boiling substances from a large pot into a small opening. Just in case whoever is supplying all the other canning supplies: the pots, racks, and those funny tong things, forgets the funnel. And as I head to the register, I grab a “Blue Book of Canning” so I have a reference in case I don’t know, say, how long we are supposed to do what. I mean, risking my own kids’ health with possibly under- or over-boiled jars is one thing; introducing botulism to the entire third grade is something else altogether.

Fortunately, and inevitably, when we arrive en masse at the orchard, T has it all under control. There are to be four rotating stations: apple picking, apple pressing, applesauce making/canning, and apple cake baking. I breathe a sigh of relief to learn that not only does the other parent volunteer assigned to my station know a lot more than me about canning, we also don’t have to keep six kids at a time entertained for an hour solely with hot objects and substances. The canning is just the last step of the applesauce station; most of the time we are simply dealing with multiple sharp objects. No problem.

T comes and demonstrates Apple Cutting 101 for our first group. Unlike me, she has the forethought to encourage them to “never put your fingers between the cutting board and the knife.” Who knew? I don’t think I’ve ever cut the core out of an apple without holding it in my hand, but there she goes, showing those kids how to cut up an apple without endangering their digits. We also have these cool apple corer/peeler/slicer gadgets that clamp to the edges of the table and are way more fun and exciting than just using a knife and cutting board, so the kids clamor for their turns. And those gadgets produce long strings of peeling that would end up as compost if Wild Child didn’t start grabbing at them: “I want the worms! Can I have the apple worms?” thus turning them into commodities to be hoarded, valued, and continuously eaten throughout the rest of the day. Of course, the gadgets, in order to provide all this thrill and functionality, have numerous (okay, two) extremely sharp components. Ever-enthusiastic about my teaching responsibilities, I demonstrate the real and present danger of these blades by gashing through my knuckle, with a dramatic and convincing show of blood that continues seeping through bandaids for the rest of the day, a reminder to the kids to stay vigilant.

Somehow we do it, kids and parent helpers, we make it through an entire day of all-apples-all-the-time with the worst casualty being my bloody knuckle (good thing I wasn’t assigned to the juicing group, where I probably could have ground my fingers into mash). Quarts upon quarts of properly (no thanks to me) canned applesauce line up beside the propane camping stove, several pans of apple cake cool on the counter, a huge vat of apple juice sits by the press. There’s a large bowl of leftover cut-up apples for sauce that in the heat of the moment I volunteer to take home and finish up.

The kids are tired and full of apple worms, tastes of apple cake and the richness of a day taking their food from tree to table. We’ll save the applesauce for them to eat with latkes when they learn about Chanukah; the apple cake will freeze for serving with their play in a few weeks; the juice will similarly wait in the freezer for a time when we need a little reminder of our hard work and the earth’s gifts. I’m tired too, more than I realize until I get home and notice that my feet have turned into sluggish bricks of dull pain. I throw the leftover apples into a pot and cook them down into sauce, then feel entirely too exhausted to deal with the canning process, so I throw the sauce in the deep freeze with the cakes and juice. Cheating, perhaps. But then again, we managed to get through the day of canning without blowing up any kids, so why push my luck?

Lazy Mom Applesauce

Take a bunch of leftover apple chunks (peels and all) and throw them in a large pot with a little bit of water. Turn the stove on low, cover the pot, and forget about it for a while. Give it a stir whenever you wander through the kitchen. When it seems sufficiently applesauce-like, turn off the stove; briefly consider canning it and decide to not bother; take off the lid, and let it cool. When cool, place in a freezer-safe container and freeze. Any smallish amount that doesn’t fit into the container can be served to your own kids with their supper. Try to remember to remove the applesauce at least 24 hours before you need to serve it in December.