October 31, 2012

8th Annual Cidering

The weekend before last, I took the two girls to Maine for the 8th instalment of our fall cider making get together with Ben Polito and a cast of other characters. We had a nice time, despite rain on Saturday. 1000+kg of apples were processed into 750L of cider using our custom built bicycle powered cider machines. Ben's blog has the definitive writeup of the weekend.

October 26, 2012

Apple Pie and Pie Preparation Strategy

I am a particular lover of pie, and apple pie is my personal favorite. Apple season in New England is a wonderful thing, and I like to take full advantage of it by prepping a stack of pie fillings with fresh in season fruit, then freezing the filling for later use.

October 25, 2012

Home cured pancetta

Since Becky took our family's diet away from Vegan and straight to Paleo, I became interested in possibly trying out some home meat curing. I read Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn, and hit some of the great web resources for meat curing like Jason Molinari's Cured Meats blog. My first effort was turning a big piece of pork belly into pancetta. It turned out nicely!

October 24, 2012

Apple Sauce - 2012

Here is the ingredients list of what I like to put in my apple sauce:  APPLES. That is it. It is my feeling that with the right variety of apple, sourced fresh and in season from a local orchard, apple sauce needs nothing else to be optimally delicious. The other year I happened to taste some commercial apple sauce someone had brought to work, purchased at Whole Foods. It tasted like insipid mush one might find in a paper factory compared to quality homemade sauce.

My favorite apple to use for sauce is a good old MacIntosh. This apple has a number of aspects to recommend it for use in this application.
  • It has a respectable endowment of sweet, tart, and apple flavor
  • It is probably the #1 by volume variety grown around here, so supply is a bit stronger than demand and consequently it is fairly cheap
  •  Macs are in season in September, which is earlier than most of my favorite apples. This means I either need to go picking twice, or buy them from the farmer's market. But in a way that is ok, since it gives me time to make sauce before the most intense part of the fall schedule commences (cider making, halloween, birthday parties for the girls, etc.)
  •  The worst thing about Macs is probably that they have a rather mushy texture, especially after a few days from picking, and thinnish skins. This is however a benefit for sauce making since the Macs cook down quickly and beautifully and run through the food mill easily
This year, I ordered one bushel (~19kg) of Macs from Nicewicz Farm and picked them up from the Union Square farmer's market. I also picked about a liter of cherry sized crabapples off an ornamental tree along the bike path on the way home from work one day.

These have quite a bit of bitterness from tannins and tartness from high acid. Of course they are not really suitable for eating fresh, but I thought they would add to the flavor of the sauce. I can imagine the sauce is slightly more interesting, but its probably my imagination since at ~3% by volume its hard to see them having more than a symbolic impact.

Last year I did three bushels, which made about 50 liters of sauce, and actually we just finished the last jar the weekend I bought the apples for the new sauce. But we have not been eating as much apple sauce lately, and I was feeling rather busy so I went small this year.

First, Violet and Millie helped me give the apples a quick wash in water.

Child 1 helped out by eating some apples.

Next we cut them up and loaded them into pots. A cup or so of water was added to each pot to help initiate heat transfer, and they were cooked down for 1-2 hours.

I borrowed a fantastic hand cranked food mill called a Squeezo from Jim Serdy, a colleague at work, for the third year in a row. It has a hopper feeding a tapered extrusion screw, which jams the food into a conical screen. Whatever food can exit the pores of the screen does so, and the leftovers plop out the end.

The process using the mill is to cook down the apples complete with skins, seeds, and stems, then run the sauce through the mill to separate the waste material. Previously I had peeled and cored all the apples, then cooked them down into the final sauce. The mill process is faster and easier by far.

The girls enjoyed cranking the mill and feeding the hopper with a big ladle from the pots full of cooked down apples.

After separation with the mill, we cooked the sauce on the stove some more to prepare it for canning. This year I readied my canning jars in the dishwasher rather than boiling them in the canning kettle. I think this saved some time but it wasn't a huge difference. I mostly did the canning myself since there wasn't much the kids could help with. The apples in the background are about to get turned into pie filling...

We are now enjoying this year's sauce!

October 10, 2012

Apple Picking - Fall 2012

Last Sunday we spent a lovely fall afternoon at Red Apple Farm, in Philipston, MA. We had a tasty BBQ lunch, chose pumpkins for halloween, picked about 100kg of apples, and generally enjoyed the New England countryside during its best season.

Red Apple Farm is our go to place for the yearly family apple picking outing. They are about 80 minutes drive from our house, so they are generally less crowded than places closer to the city. This year had a number of late frosts, which wiped out the apple crop in some locations, so I've heard several people say they tried to go picking and found their chosen orchard was out of apples. Fortunately this was not the case at RAF.

Red Apple has a pretty good selection of apples. Not much in the way of specialty cider varieties, but they have a decent number of Roxbury and Golden Russets.

Russets are some of my personal favorites as they are great to eat out of hand, keep reasonably, make an excellent pie, and are some of the few types of apple which make a good single variety hard cider. The Russets also look a bit mangy due to their rough brown skin, so they are not as popular with the pick-your-own crowd and as a consequence are often very thick on the trees. I rather like the russetted skin; it kind of grips your skin when you are handling the apples, and it provides and interesting texture in your mouth.

We picked 10 overful bags altogether, each about 10kg of fruit. We got about one bag of Mutsu, one Rhode Island Greening, one Yellow Delicious, a few odd Arkansas Black, and the rest Golden Russet. The back of our xB was pretty much packed solid with apples. Here they are unloaded into the basement to await being made into pie filling and cider and for fresh eating.

I try to eat 4 or 5 apples a day for a couple weeks after our picking expeditions.

RAF also has hay rides, goats you can feed, rabbits, a toddler play area, pony rides, cider donuts, etc., in other words the full fall farm festival.

After we had secured our pumpkins and apples, we took a walk around some of their fields.

 We found some small trees which appeared to be chestnuts, not sure what kind though.

The girls also had a ton of fun playing on a log pile for quite a long time, and were only extracted by the onset of an afternoon thunderstorm.

So it was a great year for the apple picking trip. Both Child 1 and Millie were stung by yellowjackets, but even this couldn't put a lasting damper on the trip.

October 8, 2012

Purl Girls

I made a Purl Girl for Analeise, my friend Carrie Whitter's daughter. I did most of the work in short intervals during a recent visit we made to California to see some of my family, and was motivated to finish the doll by the firm deadline of seeing Carrie and Analiese on a jaunt to my childhood home of Tehachapi.

For quite a while I've admired the work of the artist that designed the doll. Her name is Mimi Kirchner, and she lives in the next town over
from us, Arlington. Her blog is at: http://mimikirchner.com/blog/
She periodically offers doll making workshops; I would love to someday attend one!

A while back she donated a pattern and instructions for this doll as part of a collaboration with Purl SoHo in NYC. She is called Purl Girl, and you can find the instructions and pattern here, and a Flickr stream with people's completed dolls here.

The first one, which I made for Violet, took a lot of time since I had to read the instructions carefully and figure out how to do things. I am also not that skilled at hand work, but I do want to get better and these dolls make excellent if not particularly demanding practice.

The second one, which was for Millie, went much faster. And the one I did for Analiese went faster still (partially because I wasn't being as meticulous with the stitching and used only one thread color for assembly, in order to finish morequickly). This last one probably took 8-10 hours total, done in chunks between 15 minutes and a few hours.

I was very pleased with how the two I did for my daughters came out! A big thank you to Mimi Kirchner, and to Purl SoHo!

I wish I could whip out awesomely cute doll designs, but for now I'm glad to have the opportunity to make Mimi's dolls occasionally as presents. I do hope to sew a boy doll for Child 1, though the design I've started is shamelessly reminiscent of Mimi's style. She makes some really nice man dolls, including some tatoo'd old fashioned carnival guys who are brilliant.

If you want to start making a Purl Girl, make sure to use the highest quality wool felt. I used lower quality felt on some parts of my daughters' dolls and these parts totally fell apart over two years of play.

The high quality felt parts are in much better shape. I got the better felt from here:
The felt sold on the Purl Soho site also looks good, I might order
some from there next time.