Saturday, 17 November 2007
Today I picked more apples from my tree. It's a tiny tree but still loaded with apples, some of them small and hard and green, others golden and yellow, most of them coated in some kind of scabby thing and about half of them with little beasties in the core. I like to think of it as low-maintenance organic gardening; leave it alone and see what happens. Nature's harvest has been especially good this year - does this mean we're in for a really cold winter?
Having already filled the freezer with pints of applesauce, and having enough jam to satisfy the hungriest hordes, I decided to be bold and branch out into apple butter. I couldn't make it zero food miles as I don't actually grow sugar, but homegrown pesticide free apples with recycled jars has to count for something doesn't it? And I hope extra brownie points for the fair-trade sugar. Hmm should that be greenie points instead?
So, an afternoon of chopping and stewing and sieving and filling the house with gorgeous wintery smells. There's just something heavenly about the scent of stewing apple, especially with a hint of cinnamon. Interesting (to me at least) side note; in the years BC (before children) I used to burn a lot of essential oils and my very favourite ever was tangerine and cinnamon. Once Mog moved in I had to stop, as the slightest hint of an aroma makes her wheeze and gasp. She doesn't however have this problem with "real" scents; if I cook up a bowl of mulled fruit punch which smells pretty similar to me she just loves the smell and agitates to be as close to the cooker as she can get. I thought essential oils were by their nature well, natural. And the strength of the aroma is the same to my nose. So I wonder what the difference is to her? Meanwhile I am forced to cook if I wish to fill the house with yummy smells. Good for Mog's breathing, bad for my waistline. Oh well. Another sacrifice I have to make, one of those motherhood things people don't always appreciate. I realise I could simply leave the house smelling bad, but with incontinent children, a partly resident cat and some interesting outside plumbing bad can be really very very bad at times.
But I digress. Sieving large quantities of apples is always interesting. I distinctly remember my mother straining fruit through butter muslin by tying the muslin to an upturned kitchen stool and setting a bowl to catch it. Great, except as it turns out my stools are rather narrower, and I should possibly have thought more carefully about how turning the bowl on its side to get into position when empty might possibly have repercussions when full. Let's just say that today I had opportunity to be thankful for my lovely lino flooring.
Abandoning the muslin I went for the straining through a sieve option instead. Little Fish decided to help at this point, so she spent the afternoon sitting on the floor stirring apple pulp and transferring it from one pot to another, from her socks to her head, from her head into a bowl, from the bowl back onto the floor and from the floor attempting to put it back into my sieve. Thanks kid, but that bit's all yours now.
I've not made apple butter before, not heard of it even until Trina started extolling its virtues. So I am not entirely sure what consistency it is supposed to be. Oddly, the apple butter now in jars is mixed - in some jars it has set as solid as rapeseed honey, and in others it is closer to tomato ketchup. I could understand this if it got steadily more solid as it cooled, or if it continued to cook in the preserving pan so later jars were more solid than early ones, but this doesn't appear to be the case, it seems purely random. Any Apple Butter experts (or scientists) care to tell me why this happened? Or how it's supposed to look? It's a deeply rich brown colour and tastes wonderful. Mum and I have plans to use it for jam tarts, with buttercream in cakes, on pancakes as well as on toast. I suspect it might just work quite well to replace the lemon curd in my pumpkin pie too.
Not zero miles with all the sugar, but I did walk to the shops to buy the sugar, does that count? Actually Little Fish and I walked over to our local farm shop to pick up some sprouts yesterday. It's only a 15 minute walk-and-wheel away, and is right opposite a large housing estate. Once opposite the entrance I made the always pleasing discovery that there was no way we could cross the road. Not that traffic made it impossible, but there were no dropped kerbs and the difference in height between pavement and road was too great for Little Fish's power chair. So here's another dilemma for you - if I want to shop locally for fresh zero miles food, I am going to have to take my car out and drive half a mile to the shop. Not because it's too far to walk, but because there is no disabled pedestrian (wheelian?) access. So is it better to walk to the local Budgen's and buy food that has travelled further, or get the car out and drive a ridiculously short distance because we can't walk to the farm? Or is it better to get the food delivered? We had a fruit and veg box delivered weekly at one point, which did mean no driving for us at least, and did mean eating lots of fruit and veg to get through the contents of the box before the next one arrived, but the box itself contained fruit and veg which had travelled from Kenya and other places. The bananas are always riper in someone else's continent.
I suppose, realistically, the absolute best way of solving this would be to grow everything we need. But that isn't going to happen. I like my little apple tree a lot; I do nothing at all for it and every year it gives me more apples than I know what to do with. I've tried growing other things and I am not cut out to tend anything which doesn't remind me of its existence with the odd plaintive mew (or "MuMMEEEEEE" bellowed acroos the room). We had three carrots one year. And six strawberries two years in a row. Our rather fine crop of mint was chopped down by the builders who mistook it for nettles. I'm not certain what I'd do with more than one bumper crop in a year anyway - there's only so much food storage space here. So I'll need to carry on buying food - but which is the best way to do it? What do you do?