Sunday, October 9, 2011

Autumn Musings and Lots of Apples

As I walk out of the house the past few mornings, along with a deep lungful of crisp air that smells like melting frost, I hear a lone cicada rasping its mating call. It's a beautifully strong sound, but filled with loss in that I know those final few clicks won't last long. The odds are stacked up against us, the cicada and me, autumn has arrived, and winter is not far off.

Please make some jam out of these Italian prune plums. You'll thank me later.
It's been a strange season ever since the storms Irene and Lee passed through. Aside from the obvious guillotined harvest season, there have been lots of bugs. Merciless mosquitoes, stink bugs aplenty, and now ticks are back in full force. Usually September is the month for festivals and fun, but it was dampened by continuous rain and bugs that kept you inside.  Now, we are noticing a late foliage season. Lots of my sugar maples, often bright yellow and gold, have already dropped their leaves, and those leaves were brown and crunchy from the seemingly endless rain. When I stop at farm stands, it's often the topic of conversation, and with it comes the inevitable long face for this is the season to make some money before the cold comes. People are jubilant that this weekend, touristy Columbus day weekend, is gorgeous. Thank goodness.

One of my favorite grapes: Niagara.
It's still been a busy season for me, making jam after jam after jam. Right now I am still slogging through a lot of apples (like 100 pounds a lot). This week I'll be getting a case of quinces, some concord grapes, and the thought of all this preserving just sends sort of a shiver through my mind. It's the fear of the onslaught, but of course it's exciting nonetheless, with its delicious ideas: conserves, jellies and preserves!

There is something about walking through an apple orchard...
The beginnings of my apples have yielded me applesauce, jelly and a new favorite, Caramel Apple Jam from Linda Ziedrich's Joy of Jams, Jellies, and Other Sweet Preserves. My favorite (read: easiest) way to get through a lot of apples is to quarter them, about six pounds at a time, and just barely cover them with water in a large stock pot. Bring them to a boil and let them simmer for about ten minutes. Drain them, reserving the juice for jelly. The cooked part gets put through a food mill, and becomes a jam, butter, or unsweetened applesauce.

If you are familiar with New Paltz, you can make out Mohonk in the distance.
I make sure to cut out the blossom end of the apple before quartering them, to ensure a good jelly. There's an enzyme in that part that inhibits the pectin's strength. To make this little annoying step go quicker, I've found that a teeny tiny melon baller does the trick. Melon ballers seem obscure, but I can't tell you how much they come in handy, and not just for that vodka-soaked watermelon ball boat. (Do you know what I'm talking about?) Regular sized ones are perfect for coring pears.

My teeny-tiny melon baller.

For tons of great info on cooking and preserving apples, take a look at these great links:

Preserving Apples from Local Kitchen (the most recent post of which is Apple Bourbon Butter!)

I'd love to hear what you are preserving this autumn. Leave a comment!


  1. I love reading about what you are up to, Jules, and what it is like in your neck of the woods right now. I feel the wistfulness, some of the sense of loss in your post-hurricane part of the country, but I also see and sense the beauty in what you describe. I can smell the moist fall air.

    I am sad about my quince. I was given many pounds by a friend, but they were picked far too early and now they are rotting green. It's hard to watch, but I am hoping I might find more before the season's done. (I'll probably try to make some jelly juice from some of the green ones, anyway.) I haven't got my apples yet! When I do, I am going to try that caramel apple jam.

    Nice to hear your voice.

  2. I love how you've captured this year's in-coming fall in the northeast. I just arrived in SC to visit in-laws and am reminded how different the seasons can be experienced. anyways...apples! unfortunately I had to leave a bunch of them, and pears, back home in my fridge. but I do have a post coming up soon 'cause I managed to squeeze a few into jars before I left. thankfully!

  3. No onslaught of apples this year but I'm happily munching off the tree in the garden and they are pretty perfect eating apples. Yum!
    I love your italian plums! Our tree isn't producing yet, but I found a lonely tree out on a walk =) I can't stop eating them. I slightly dehydrated them and then froze them (halves) and now they are like plum candy popsicles. Or Plum Crack.
    Caramel Apple Jam sounds fantastic!

  4. I totally had my eye on that caramel apple jam, too. I am envious of things like quince, I have never had the pleasure of trying it... and I wonder if it even grows around here. I did find Italian plums at a farmer's market, and made a crumble of them, but your jammy ways are so inspiring to me! Despite your nasty weather this year, you seem to have made the best of it!

  5. Caramel Apple Jam... yum! I have a bushel of apples that have been waiting for the right preserving inspiration. Thank you! I 'm going to forward this to my jammin' husband.

  6. Shae - Thank you! I was just recently waiting for my quince, I called the orchard and they said they weren't ready, and I thought to myself: well, I don't mind them a little green, right? I figured they knew best, though, and it looks like they were right. I picked a friend's quince from her flowering quince bush and they weren't very tasty. I wonder if it was the bush type, or that they were very green?

    Tigress - I can't wait to see what you did do those little pomes! It is amazing how different the seasons glance everywhere you go, isn't it?

    Meg - I am so jealous of your gorgeous trees. Do you have a tips page for fruiting trees? I am afraid I am horrible at fruiting tree care so far. Plum crack, indeed. Plums are amazing. People don't know what they are missing out on!

    Rebecca - There's got to be quince around you somewhere! Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it's out there. That apple caramel jam is very comforting despite it not having any butter or cream in it. It's treats like these that have gotten me through the drear!

    Erin - And your husband does the jamming? How cool is that?!

  7. I was surprised how much I liked Italian prune plums for jam - first year for it. I will definitely be looking for them again.

  8. Just saw the caramel apple jam. On my list as I think it will be perfect for gifting.

    Been seeing quince at the grocery store, but my guess is its imported.My mom moved this summer so I lost my access to one right as I finally wanted it.

    Sadly I know New Paltz, but not well enough to know landmarks by sight.

  9. I'm going to raid a friend's quince tree tomorrow I hope. Apple shipment coming this week too. I don't know how I'll find time to deal with it all, but there's something about the season that will not be refused.

  10. Kate - Aren't they amazing? I think the world is missing out. I want to change that.

    Angela - No! You lost your quince connection?? So sad. Did you used to live near NP?

    Peter - Lucky! I've been looking for a friend with a quince tree for a while now. Had to start growing my own! Yes, lately it's been a little out of control, but when I'm longing to read a book or just sit on the couch, I just keep thinking one word: February.