One kid's adventures in gastronomy


Jude Appleseed

I am not a baby who doesn’t know where food comes from. I’ve found eggs at the homes of some of my friends, and I’ve picked strawberries and blueberries and raspberries, as well as peaches and apples. We grew peas and tomatoes last summer, too, but (as Mama will be quick to point out), I kept picking them off the vines before they were really ready to eat. And then there was the mint that grew so out-of-control that I could have played hide-and-seek in it.

In the fall, Mama took me to an organic apple orchard not too far from our house. I knew just what to do. And, aside from the branches still being wet from that morning’s rain, I was really good at getting to the inside branches and picking big beautiful apples…each of which I, naturally, tried to take bites out of.

Mama can’t remember how many apples we picked that day, but it was definitely two full grocery sacks. And Mama says you can never have enough fresh apples in the fall. Why, for 1 pie alone, you need about 5 of them. And then consider applesauce. All that peeling and chopping cooks down to hardly anything! Let me show you.

But first, Mama pointed out that it’s very important to choose a sweet apple: honeycrisp, gala, fuji, pink lady, winesap, Cortland, jonagold, rome…the list is nearly endless. If you go to an orchard like we did, just ask the owners. They’ll be able to tell you! You want to avoid tart little numbers like grannysmith, otherwise you’ll have to add a whole lot of sugar. And you know how Mama feels about sugar. (Something else you can ask is whether they have any seconds–these are the apples that they’ve picked off the ground. It’s not as bad as it sounds–a wind could’ve just blown it off and caused a bruise, making it “unsuitable” for selling…but ideal for applesauce!)

Some folks choose to not peel their apples when making sauce. Some even toss the whole, roughly chopped apple in, seeds and all, choosing to strain the finished sauce. Do whatever works for you. Mama peels them, and Papa and I eat the peels. It’s win-win. There’s no formula for chopping or slicing the apples. Large chunks will take longer to cook down, but you also don’t have to make them itty-bitty.

Just lop off the apples "cheeks" for a quick way to core them.

Just lop off the apples’ “cheeks” for a quick way to core them.

Add the apple chunks to a large pot with a splash of water in it. (Mama says this keeps the apples from sticking initially.) She added a few cinnamon sticks and cloves, but she cautioned that it’s better to use cheesecloth that you can easily fish out, or just remember how many of these you put in the pot, as nobody wants to bite into a whole clove. (Alternatively, you can skip the spices, or use dried.)

The apples chunks don't have to be that small when you start.

The apples chunks don’t have to be that small when you start.

Turn the heat to medium to get everything going, and put a lid on the pot. Stir it occasionally. You don’t have to linger, but do keep an eye on things. Lower the heat a bit, and if the apples seem to be sticking or scorching, then turn it down some more, stir them, and maybe add another splash of water. (You shouldn’t have to at this point, but better to be safe than ruin a batch of applesauce.) Taste it, too, from time to time. Maybe you’ll want to add some brown sugar or other spices.

Here's what the apples look like after a little bit of cooking.

Here’s what the apples look like after a little bit of cooking.

Once the apples are supersoft, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, you have a couple options. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, then take a potato masher and go to work. That’s usually what Mama does, but this time she decided to use her immersion blender. You could also use a food processor, a blender, or a food mill to reach your desired consistency. Spoon the sauce into clean jars. If the jars are hot and the sauce is hot, Mama says you could get lucky and have them seal. But Mama just let the jars cool, then she stored them in the freezer. (Let them thaw in the fridge overnight.)

The apples are so soft they're practically turning themselves into sauce. Don't forget to fish out the cinnamon sticks and cloves!

The apples are so soft they’re practically turning themselves into sauce. Don’t forget to fish out the cinnamon sticks and cloves!

The applesauce was slightly spicy and very smooth. We ate it warm right from the pot, and it was the perfect snack on a crisp afternoon. Of course, it’s also good cold. Sometimes Mama mixes in raisins or adds it to oatmeal, but mostly I eat it straight. And what did we do with the couple dozen remaining apples we had? Stay tuned…

Love, Jude


Cooking lessons first, morality lessons later

When Mama was growing up, she told me she had an Italian plum tree and a sour cherry tree in her yard; later, there were apple trees. One by one, though, they began to die, but the plums and “sours” (as she calls them) continue to be among her favorite fruits. It’s probably how she came to pinch the cherries from the tree down the street from her, in the yard of an old woman whose tiny house was all that stood guard over the coveted summer crop.

It’s a wonder, then, that it took three summers before Mama noticed the wild raspberry bush in our neighbor’s yard…especially since the house has been vacant since before I was born. When she noticed the red gems glowing in the sunlight, she darted across our semi-private mountain road with me (after looking both ways, of course) and pointed out the very reddest ones, showing me how to pick them and either pop them right into my mouth or put them in a dish. (Sometimes I pick the orange ones and throw them because that’s fun too.) She only let me get the berries closest to the edge of the bush because, as she soon discovered, the vines and leaves were positively covered in thorns of all sizes that made her skin itch.

Mama explained I can only ever pick berries when I’m with her or Papa, and only then, just the berries they say are okay to eat. (Papa later pointed out that she failed to explain that we shouldn’t be picking someone else’s berries without their permission. Mama replied, “Who’s there to ask?”) Luckily, there’s a small vine of berries on our side of the road, in front of the whistlepig’s hole, so maybe next year it will have enough fruit for us.

This is a photo from this year. We get about this many berries every other day.

This is photo was taken a year after the original post. We get about this many berries every other day.

Until then, Mama goes on a raspberry raid almost every day, though she sadly reports that they’re coming to an end. I get to eat them with my yogurt in the morning or as a snack throughout the day. They’re yummy and very sweet. I like that they’re so tiny, and Mama likes that they keep in the fridge for a couple days without spoiling. When she started picking more than we could eat, though, she decided to make a small batch of freezer jam. Because it gets very hot and can splatter, she didn’t let me near the stove when she made it. But I did get to taste the result when she spread it on a homemade flatbread that Papa grilled, then topped with arugula and dollops of ricotta. Wherever the fruit comes from, I could get used to this kind of eating.

Love, Jude

Purloined Wild Raspberry Freezer Jam 

2 cups wild raspberries (or any other berry, or a mixture)
2 cups sugar
Juice of half a lemon (or to taste, but you need some acid to make this all work)

Wash and prep your berries (hull and halve strawberries, destem blueberries, etc.). Add them to a small saucepan with the sugar and lemon juice.

Equal parts fruit and sugar... I like this already.

Equal parts fruit and sugar… I like this already.

Bring it all to a gentle boil, and lightly smash your fruit. You can leave a few whole chunks, but you need to smoosh the fruit to release its pectin. Boil, stirring frequently, until the jam begins to thicken. This could take about 10 minutes—the riper and sweeter your fruit, the longer it will take.

See how it's getting all gooey and jammy?

See how it’s getting all gooey and jammy?

If you think it’s jammy enough, you can test it by spooning a bit onto a plate and sticking it in the freezer. Once it’s cool, you can tell whether it’s ready by tilting the plate—if the jam runs right off, it’s not done; if it sort of goozes the way jam should, then you’ve got yourself jam. Carefully pour the hot jam into very clean jars—this recipe makes less than 1 pint. Mama uses a Ball jar and waits to see if the seal pops shut (a time-honored tradition in my grandma’s kitchen, she tells me). Regardless of whether they seal, Mama waits until the jars are cool to the touch then puts them in the freezer. No special canning equipment or know-how required. Unfrozen, the jam will last in the fridge at least a month, but really, could you wait that long?

Note: Some people use pectin when they make jam. Mama says it’s a natural ingredient in fruit anyway, so she doesn’t add it to hers. Even though it ensures your jam will “gel” every time, she likes the simplicity of measuring sugar and fruit in equal proportions. And her jam is usually thick enough to spread between cake layers. Usually. If you decide to use pectin, she suggests buying the no-sugar-added kind, following the package directions for the amount to use, and decreasing the amount of sugar you use in this recipe. (You’ll still want to add sugar, even with this kind of pectin.) Be sure to boil your jam to activate the pectin—but not too long, or the pectin will start to break down!