Our apple harvest has been excellent. As you know, we've been eating out them of hand, and drying slices for snacks. But I knew I also wanted to do two other things with them - pie preserves, and cider vinegar. An awful lot of folks make applesauce from their apples, but we only eat applesauce about once a year. I do use an awful lot of cider vinegar, though, so I knew that would be a worthwhile project. And last year I made pie preserves which we didn't use for pie, but rather for apple crisp, which was a great treat for breakfast on cold winter weekend mornings. I would take a jar of this apple pie mixture, put it in the bottom of a buttered square pyrex dish, then make a crumble out of thick-cut oats, a bit of flour, a little brown sugar, and some cinnamon. We'd pop that in the oven, say 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly, and with a little cold cream, that was breakfast. We loved it. So I wanted to do that again for sure.
First, I had to peel and core many, many pounds of apples. This is a chore, no doubt, but the whole time I just kept thinking about how great it was to be using up the apple harvest, how nothing would go to waste, etc etc. It's funny what you tell yourself to get through the drudgery part of things, but it was all true and it worked well to keep my mind off the peeling. I peeled off a nail in the process, but oh well. Am I the only one who gets canning injuries? Surely not. The burns alone...
Once that was finished, I could use the peels and cores and seeds to make apple cider vinegar. Tom and I have made both red and white vinegar over the last six months. Tom got me a beautiful vinegar crock and also a 'mother' - the bacteria necessary to turn wine into vinegar - at Christmas. I really like both the vinegars we've produced already; they are very 'winey' and have a nice sharp flavor. The mother seemed diminished after using it for those two batches, so we sacrificed it to the compost and washed the crock, awaiting this apple harvest.
You don't need a mother to make cider vinegar, though I did add a tablespoon or so of the vinegar we have on hand, Bragg's, which has a mother in it - that should help the process along. But the peels and cores, plus a little sugar and water solution, should start things fermenting and create a new mother, sort of like a scoby in Kombucha (which frankly, I just can't like, no matter how hard I try). Tom recently purchased some glass weights to use on top of our ferments, to keep the food under the liquid, in order to keep air out (and make a sort of seal). These have come in handy for this project. After filling the jars with peelings and the sugar solution, I popped one of these weights on top, then covered it with a bit of cheesecloth and put them in a dark corner to ferment for a couple of weeks. After that time, I'll strain out the peelings, and put the remaining liquid in our vinegar crock for several months to cure.
My next project was the apple pie filling preserves, which are a bit of a pain to make, but oh so worth it. I use the recipe found here, at the Growing a Greener World website. The recipe is by Theresa Loe, their preservation expert. It's a mixture of cider, apples, and spices, just what you'd expect.
One thing I want to caution you about. The recipe calls for Clear Jel. I took a shortcut and bought some from Amazon, this product by King Arthur Flour. It did not work well in this recipe. I had a gloops and glops of un-mixed clear jel that I ended up scooping out and throwing away. Buy it from the source Theresa gives you in her recipe.
Despite this snafu, I had enough thickening power to create a nice bubbly pie filling that filled five quart jars for canning, and a pint jar for someone to put on vanilla ice cream tonight. (Hm, wonder who that will be.)
It's lovely to think we'll be able to have a special breakfast once a month for a few months when it's rainy and cold. It's also a comfortable feeling knowing I used all the apples on our tree and didn't waste a one. From the early thinnings, I made all the pectin we needed for jam. The pruned branches have made a brush-pile-home for lizards and birds. The fruit has been used four different ways, and will be enjoyed all year. One small apple tree can provide a lot of food for a family of four.