Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Pennypinching: Fruits

This wasn't a good garden year in western Washington, and our little orchard didn't fare much better. A couple of deer incursions eliminated most of the apple leaves, then the brief but intense hot spell sunburned most of the apples that the deer had missed. Once they were sun-damaged, the apples invited insect attacks. The few apples that survived all that fell prey to birds and wind. All in all, we had mostly salvage and windfall apples. I finally picked the last of them short of perfect ripeness, to save them from the birds.

Salvage was an ongoing operation, with small green apples turned into puree (for applesauce bread and muffins) and larger ones canned for pie filling or made into chunky applesauce. But I was running out of pint canning jars and didn't want to buy more. Since there are usually just the two of us here, I prefer to can in pints. (Besides, the rack for the big canner went missing when we moved, and the little one isn't deep enough for quarts.)

Freezing in bags was the obvious option, but filling little bags with applesauce is a tedious and messy operation. Then I had one of those "Doh! Why didn't I think of that before!" revelations. I still had a wide-mouthed pint jar available. I placed a sandwich-size plastic bag in the jar, popped in my canning funnel to hold the bag open, and filled the bag as easily as filling a jar. Since the jar is tapered, I had no problem sliding the bag out and sealing it. I further simplified the operation by placing the small bags inside a gallon Ziploc, so I only had to label the outer bag. I do that when freezing small portions of meats and vegetables also. The outer bag doesn't touch the food, so can be reused, and a big bag is easier to find in the freezer.

Do you ever wonder what to do with the juice/syrup from either store-bought or home-canned fruits? It can be thickened with tapioca or cornstarch to make pudding or a sauce.

For tapioca pudding, mix two cups of juice with three tablespoons of quick-cook tapioca (Kraft's Minute brand). No need for sugar, unless your juice isn't as sweet as you want it. An egg is optional--I had one that had cracked a little on the way home from the store, so I wanted to use it right away. Stir it and let it stand about five minutes, then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full rolling boil. Let it cool and serve either warm or cold. You can also cook it in a microwave, in a large bowl to avoid boil-over, stirring every three minutes. It should take about 10-12 minutes.

You can make a sauce using one tablespoon of cornstarch for each cup of juice. Either mix it all together before cooking, or stir the cornstarch into a small amount of juice, bring the rest to a boil, and stir in the cornstarch mixture. It's about the same as making gravy. Use it warm as a sauce for cake or ice cream; it will set up into a pudding in the refrigerator.

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