After Apple Picking

I love moments that seem to stop the world for a second, time slowing to a molasses pace and you catch an extra breath or two.  A few weeks ago I was at my mother’s house on Salt Spring Island where she has a glorious little apple orchard.  I’d gotten it into my mind that this year I was going to go all out with those apples.  We would press juice for freezing, making hard cider and vinegar.  There would be applesauce, chutney, jelly and maybe even an apple barbecue sauce.  Maybe I go overboard sometimes, but I wanted to make hay while the sun shone, you know?

The first step to all those great projects was picking the apples of course.  So there I was with my jeans rolled up to my knees and a cloth bag strung around my neck, wedged into some branches and limbs at the top of a tree.  I’d already picked a few boxes from the lower branches, but I was determined to get all those rosy clusters from way up high.  I was sweating and reaching as far as I could without losing my balance when all of a sudden I stopped.  My schedule had been so busy lately, it seemed as though I was always running from one thing to another, racing to ferries and back, my poor dog patiently hopping in and out of the truck.  But at that moment, up in the tree, everything stopped.  The sunlight was filtering through the leaves, dappling my arms and warming the apples so that the sweet, blossomy smell of fruit surrounded my head.  It was perfectly quiet (one of the things I love about my mom’s place), I could hear the leaves gently ticking against one another in the breeze, a bird calling somewhere nearby and the snuffling rustle of my faithful boy, tail wagging, as he investigated every pile of leaves or clump of bushes.  I leaned back against the trunk of the tree and took several deep breaths.  I sat there in appreciation for a few minutes.  I wanted to capture this moment somehow, bottle it for later, for whenever I needed it.  Seemingly impossible, although after consideration I realized that was kind of my plan.  Frugality and nourishment aside, to freeze, can and bottle all these apples so that during the grey winter months I can taste a warm autumn afternoon whenever I want. That thought spurred me on to keep picking.  And picking.

Nearly three hundred pounds of apples later the real work was about to begin!  The first thing we did was take about 200 lbs to a local apple press, where they were pressed into such a richly flavored juice that it makes anything from the store seem depressing.  It was bottled straight away in two liter jugs for the freezer.  I’m already thinking about what I can use the juice for, other than just drinking.  Imagine how great it would flavor roast pork or a delicious pan sauce for chicken?  It will definitely be going into a few squash soups or gratins, maybe a splash to help sweeten cabbage and bacon, an apple-caramel sauce to spoon over a warm pumpkin cake.  Wait, this is just the juice, there is more work to be done here.

So I move on and juice another 15 lbs at home with my mom’s Champion juicer.  This batch I divided into litre jars, adding a vinegar mother to half of the jars, and a yeast/apple cider starter that I’d made earlier, to the remaining ones.  In three to four weeks I’ll have cider vinegar.  I decided to try two different methods side by side so that I could see which one turned out better.  Then my mom and I turned our attention to applesauce. We’ve both made applesauce before and each experimented with different styles and flavors, but this year we decided to stay simple.  My favorite way to make big batches of a simple applesauce is to cut all the apples into halves or quarters (keeping them similar size), cut out any brown bits but leave the cores and skin, they add body and color to the finished sauce.  Load all the apples into roasting pans, splash about 3/4 cup of water into each pan, cover tightly with foil and roast for a couple of hours in the oven at 325 degrees.  This way you won’t have to keep stirring a big pot on the stove.  After a couple of hours check to make sure all the apples are soft, take the pans out of the oven and cool slightly.  Pass everything through a food mill into a pot, taste for sweetness and add a little sugar to taste.  We split our batch into two pots, adding a bit of maple syrup and vanilla to one but only a little agave syrup to the other before we canned it all in a water bath.

While the apples were roasting for sauce we got to work on a chutney and a barbecue sauce too.  I also set aside about 45 lbs to make hard cider, which is a whole other story!  The rub after all this is that I barely got past the halfway mark in the orchard.  In another few weeks there will a whole bunch of trees with late ripening varieties just waiting for me climb up and pick them.

“My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree

Toward heaven still,

And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill

Beside it, and there may be two or three

Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.”

From “After Apple Picking” By Robert Frost

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