Saturday, September 5, 2009


Our Food Project CSA includes a fruit share in the fall. The first week's share included gorgeous Paula Red apples, which look like Macs, but have a slightly firmer texture and a slightly less sweet taste. Perfect, in other words, for the season's first applesauce.

Homemade applesauce is one of those things that sounds like it's going to be a lot of trouble, and then once you've done it, you realize two very important things:

1) It's really easy to make; and

2) It's almost impossible to screw it up.

All you need to do is wash, core and cut up the apples, toss them into a big pot over medium-high heat, add a splash of lemon juice, a sprinkle of sugar, and perhaps a bit of water, and then let them get mushy. I don't peel the apples, because I like a pinkish tint to my applesauce, and also because I'm really pretty lazy. If you want yellow applesauce, you'll have to be industrious and get to peeling. You go ahead and have fun with that; I, for one, just can't be bothered.*

Here are my lovely little Paula Reds, on their way to becoming applesauce. These are small apples, and so I cut most of them in half, quartering a few of the larger ones. I'm telling you, it's quick business.

After you've got everything into the pot, pop in some freshly squeezed lemon juice (half a lemon's worth ought to do it). As for the sugar, I like to be stingy with it, because I want my applesauce to taste like apples. I put in maybe a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sugar for every 8-12 apples, none at all if the apples are sweet enough to begin with. I've seen recipes that suggest up to 1/2 cup of sugar *faint*, so play with it and see what you like. I also sometimes add a cinnamon stick or two at this point, but I think that does more for fragrance than for flavor. Then heat the fruit for 20-30 minutes, until it's nice and soft.

At this point, you can just mash everything with a potato masher for nice chunky sauce, but then you've got to fish the peels out with a fork, and that's too much trouble for me. I put it all through a food mill. Once the apples are smushed, however it's done, I like to add a teaspoon of vanilla, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and (ssh) a generous pat of butter, and stir everything in while it's still warm.

After that, you can just go ahead and continue to dump cinnamon in there to your heart's content. See? Wasn't that easy?

Homemade applesauce freezes nicely, if you can get to that point. Ours usually doesn't hang around long enough to make it to the freezer. I've tried making applesauce and canning it, but haven't come up with anything that withstands the additional heating time in the canner well enough for me to prefer it to freezing.

*If you have one of these fun apple corer/peeler/slicer gizmos, go for it. My kids love to use ours, but I usually save that for apple pie projects.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I Know, Everyone's Doing It, But...

OK, I caved. After seeing Julie and Julia a couple of weeks ago, I kept pulling out my Child cookbooks and thinking about diving in. I opened Baking with Julia and made some nice buttermilk muffins, but I really couldn't summon the courage to face anything from Mastering the Art of French Cooking - it all just seems too much, especially on a warm summer evening. And of course everyone else is doing the Julia thing now, which makes it seem silly and redundant for me to chime with one more voice in praise of Mrs. Child., I returned home from our CSA pickup laden with fresh eggplants, zucchini, onions, parsley and plum tomatoes. Shortly thereafter, I found this in my garden (OK, not really a garden - in one of my Earthboxes on the deck):

This pepper is particularly beautiful to me because I've not had much success growing my own food. I've managed a few feeble herbs from time to time, and I had one summer of successful cherry tomatoes (successful in that the plants produced nicely, but I can't say much about their taste, because our dog harvested most of them), but that's about it. The Earthbox thing seems almost too good to be true, especially for someone like me.

At any rate, faced with this particular combination of vegetables, I felt I really had no choice. So I dragged out a splattered copy of Julia Child's recipe for Ratatouille (yep, the old complicated one from Mastering) and braced myself.

I made a huge mess, and used too many pots and pans and dishes and spent far too much time peeling tomatoes and measuring zucchini slices and thinking this surely wasn't worth the trouble - which is what I think every time I try a Julia Child recipe. And then I tasted it. Damn. This ratatouille is one of the best things ever produced in my kitchen.

The only real issue I have with the recipe is that it allegedly serves 6-8 people, and I could quite easily have eaten the entire casserole. That's 6-8 French people, who have a much more reasonable attitude about food and who sit and savor their meals and eat small portions of fabulous things. A nice way to go about it, if you have the time.

Oh...what about yesterday's angst and resolve to work to fight hunger, not to wax poetic about food, you ask? Don't worry, I'm still feeling guilty and still determined to do something worthwhile. But sometimes food just tastes really good, and you can't fight it.