I need to write about apples. Not that there is anything new under the sun to say about them, but they figure strongly in our recent food life, and they may help point the way for other poor families trying to eat better.
Around the end of September, we went apple-picking, and as I reported on it at the time:
Another apple-related expenditure happened the weekend before last. We went apple-picking north of town and came back with 50 pounds of Cortlands for…wait for it…twenty dollars. Oh, yes, we did. Even figuring the cost of gas to get up there, it came to 60 cents per pound. We even got to press our own cider for $4 per gallon, not that it lasted long. So, those apples are going to get stored, stashed, chopped, frozen, baked, stewed, sauced, and eaten all winter, and cheaply enough that I might be able to buy a food mill or a corer-peeler to help me process them.
We are gradually working our way through the Cortlands from the orchard, as well as an equal amount of what I believe are Granny Smiths from, of all places, the little apple tree in our backyard:
Once I realized that this tree was putting out viable, edible fruit rather than the crabapples we were told to expect, I set out to salvage and harvest as much as I could. A lot of the drops had already started to spoil, so I raked them off into a little ravine next to the yard so they could compost. As for the rest, I collected the good ones off the ground and picked all I could from the tree itself. I probably gathered three-quarters of what the tree had to offer:
These apples have a crisp sweetness that balances the sharp Cortlands really well in recipes and goes wonderfully with the Oregon Cheddar cheese we buy. Yum.
In between the orchard day and the backyard harvest, I attended another event sponsored by a group named, suitably enough, Backyard Harvest. This organization works to provide affordable, healthy, local food to people in the region, and is affiliated with The Co-op too. The event was an applesauce-making clinic at The Shed, a refurbished garage that seems to serve as a combination kitchen, storeroom, and clubhouse:
Beyond the shed is a small yard and larger garden, which that day was dominated by sunflowers stretching well overhead. The goal is to have a closed-cycle operation, and a big part of that cycle is played by our friend, the chicken:
Along with their more obvious uses, they make good pets as well.
Meanwhile, roughly a dozen of us were busy with the tasks of production: washing, chopping, and cooking the apples; turning the cooked apples into sauce with two small hand mills; prepping the canning jars to receive the sauce; filling and capping the jars; cooking the jars to “seal the deal”; and repeating until all was done. All in all, it took about 5 hours to produce 66 quarts of applesauce, not that we were pushing for maximum efficiency. Backyard Harvest is also concerned with building community and connectivity between people, and an afternoon spent at such tasks with a group of like-minded folks is certainly time well-spent. My youngest son tagged along with me, and when he wasn’t chopping apples he whiled away the hours in the garden and yard, happy as a lark.
Speaking of efficiency, though…it was interesting to notice that we made concerted efforts to streamline the sauce-making process as we went along. I don’t know whether it’s a primal desire to conserve effort or a more modern urge, but there was no mistaking it in how we arranged the food mills and Mason jars on the tables, coordinating who did what and when, and keeping things moving all afternoon. Then again, the weather threatened rain that day, which provided some motivation.
We each wound up taking home 6 quarts of freshly made, all-natural applesauce, along with all the other benefits of the day. And how much did this cost, you ask? Well, the cost for the workshop was listed at $15, which seemed reasonable enough. But when Carol, the outreach director for the co-op, heard about my situation, she gave me an on-the-spot scholarship; my cost fell to zero.
That’s the most affordable price of all.