Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Apple Sauce Day, 2015!

For about the past 5 years now it seems I have roved about, knocking on doors and such, in an attempt to scrounge up free apples.  Well ever since we moved to the property, about two years back, I have been keeping my eye out for apples.  I have quite a list of different locations for apple tree's in case we should have trouble, but this year we had no trouble at all finding a good source of apples! 
Fortunately for us, we have multiple neighbors with multiple trees.  This year we went North and filled up the truck with apples in a very short time... shown is a mix of Jonathan and Macintosh apples, with the majority being the later.

5 Gallons down, a whole bunch to go!

I know everyone probably does it a little different, but I thought I'd detail for you how we make our sauce.

STEP 1 - Quarter, Clean and Sort

This one is pretty simple and straight forward... well, they all are in my opinion.  ANYWAY... sharpen those knives, grab a cutting board and get down to it! 

Apple Quartering Party!  (A great family working experience)

This step is kinda neat as it is something the whole family can do.  Now if your age group is a little bottom heavy, there might not be as many jobs for the yungsters, but they can still help.  Shown above, my eldest is making sure everyone has enough apples to quarter while those who are mature enough quartered the apples and cut out any bruises and bugs.  The simply bad apples were quickly tossed into the compost bucket along with any of the bad parts trimmed off.  The rest of the quarters were tossed into a bucket, awaiting the cooking.

STEP 2 - Cook

In the past we would fill up our stock pots / soup pots and slooooooowly cook the apples - that was boring.  Then one year I went out and got a pressure canner with some birthday $'s and haven't looked back since!  The one pictured below is the All American 921, I think... it can hold 7 quarts, so if you are interested, you can figure it out here or on Amazon here (I don't have affiliate links).

Cook'n with gas...

Pictured above, I was trying to get things out of the wind.  I eventually moved to the garage and left the door partially open.  It was much easier to see when it was venting steam when it was inside as well.

The process started with filling up the caner with apples after I add about an inch of water to the bottom.  I didn't bother to use the canning rack under the apples, but it might have prevented one batch from burning!  After I seal it up I set it on the turkey burner, let the steam vent for a few minutes, then put the pressure weight on at 5psi.  Once the weight starts to jiggle I turn off the heat and within a half hour I'm done cooking and it looks like this:

Soft, cooked apples...

 STEP 3 - Strain (the apples, not your back)

I put up a post titled Food Mills vs Food Strainers not too long ago, so you can read that one to get an idea of how that works.  But needless to say, that's what I use to separate the skin, the seeds, the core and all the nasty stuff from the pulp of the apple.  It sends the nasty stuff out the end and lets the good stuff go down the slide into whatever you have to catch it.  Below you can see two of them set up and ready to go (I got one at a garage sale for $10 after I purchased the first one).  We ended up not needing the second, as the cooking and canning ended up being the primary bottle neck's in the process... which was primarily due to none of the helpers being confident in the ability to do that work correctly.

STEP 4 - Season

For this part of the process, it sure helps to have a large stock pot... the one I have holds about 21quarts and is made of stainless steel.  Aluminum is cheaper, but I worry about the acid reacting with the aluminum and consuming too much of it... besides, it was a Christmas present!

UPDATE AND CONFESSION:  The pressure caner is made of Aluminum... if I'm worried about the Aluminum in the stock pot, I should be worried about it in the caner as well... ok, that's all.

At this stage of the process we dump the sauce from the strainer into the stock pot.  When we get maybe 15quarts or so, we dump in cinnamon and vanilla to taste.  I used to put cloves in as well, but somebody's blood work came back indicating a food intolerance to cloves, so we left that out this year.

STEP 5 - Can

Water bath canning is a lot of work if you are doing it by yourself.  One thing that I had this year that I have not had in the past is a 8oz ladel (I could have sworn it was a 16oz) for filling jars... but beware, after a lot of use, the one I linked to would have better served me with rounded edges, as the flat edges started digging into my hand.  That said, water bath canning is alright to use on apple sauce as they have enough acid to prevent butulism... don't water bath can low acid foods and meats, use the pressure caner!

A typical water bath setup... with an added reflector/wind block (insulation below unnecessary)

I'll spare you with the details of water bath canning, as you can look that up just about everywhere.  I will add one tip, however: When you put the jars into the water bath, put them all the way in!  If you put one half way in or less (if you place a jar in the rack as positioned above and the water touches the bottom of the jar), you could have a jar bust on you and loose the contents you've worked so hard to put into that jar... yep, it happened to me... the alternative that I later switched over to putting the first two jars into the rack when filling the jars and then put the rack into the boiling water - I recommend that method.

The Spoils of the day's work
 Also, in the picture above, you can see I am using Tattler reusable canning lids... I'm a huge fan!  Also shown is my storage method for the rings, bundled up with rubber bands pulled off of broccoli and other veggies.

In closing...

We now have over 50 quarts of corn syrup free thick apple sauce from apples that were not sprayed with toxic gick.  We were able to bless our neighbors with leftover apples and the kids got to spend time with the grandparents.  I did take a day off work, so the $ might not work out perfectly, but now I have memories and you got to read a blog post.

Feel free to contact me with any questions!  God bless and have a great week!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Go ahead, say hello... And hello to figs!

I'll be the first to admit that I am not doing a great job posting new stuff for you guys.  But I've been looking at the data and I know there are people checking up on what I'm doing here...

That said, so far I think I've only gotten two comments in the history of this blog... both of which came from friends...  SO... if you wouldn't mind, please post a comment and let me know what keeps you coming back to check things out over here at Balancing The Empire.  You never know, I just might start talking about your favorite subject a little bit more often!

Oh my lucky stars, its a fig!

On another note, this past weekend we ate our first fig from the tree's I planted this spring!  No, I dropped the ball again and didn't take a picture... but if I did, you would immediately recognize a fig that was not quite ripe!  ...I know now!  (Which reminds me of this guy...)

Anyway, this past spring I put two of these little guys in the ground, via and didn't know if they were going to make it... but they did!

A Chicago Hardy Fig

As much as I don't like Illinois (political and personal liberty reasons), I had to suck it up and go with the Chicago Fig.  These guys are supposed to produce in a year or two, but for me, they produced in less than 6 months, pretty cool I think! 

Well anyway, I've been keeping an eye on them and got a little bit too excited when I saw one turning purple and picked it.  It didn't taste bad, but I think it might have tasted much better had I waited another week.  Hopefully we'll get a few more out of it before the frost hits so I can take a picture for ya!  If that doesn't work, I'll have to wait till next year and hope that I do a good enough job protecting it through the winter.

I'd point you over to walden effect, but the internet filter at work won't let me go there... so if you need a guide to protecting figs over winter, check out this guys blog... by memory, he does some fine blogging!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Excuses, excuses... yea, I know, I've been slacking off (when it comes to posting stuff)

Okay, I just realized how much I've been slacking off on this blogging thing.  Not so much due to the lack of activity to post, but much more so due to being a glutton for punishment.

So far this summer I've harvested over 25lbs of tomato's, 30 or so butternut squash, 1 watermelon, more banana peppers than I know what to do with... and it keeps going.  If any of you know good recipe's for preserving banana peppers, please share it with me!  

Last week we also butchered 58 white broilers from Meyer Hatchery... I initially thought I'd never raise them again, but I was actually rather pleased with how things worked out.  At the end of the day, they didn't save me much money over the Red Rangers I raised last year (60 birds, straight run (mix of male and female) butchered @11wks & 1250# feed - no numbers on dressed out weights), but the average was roughly 5# birds (60 hens (they are smaller) butchered @ 8wks (could have gone 9) & 900# feed).

58 beautiful ladies in my backyard

I should note that last year we put our birds in plastic bags with twist ties, and just about all of them got freezer burn.  This year we dropped some $'s and bought some heat shrink poultry bags from  I got to spend two evenings bagging birds with my beautiful wife... which would have been very enjoyable had I not been so stressed about it.  While I would have bought them from Herrick over at he didn't have the smaller bags for the parts, so I went elsewhere.

This is the second year I have used my home made chicken nipple watering system, and recently built some more for a neighbor, which was fun, in a weird sort of way... I'll have to put up a post on how I build those thing, but for now, here are some pic's...

Making use of the last drop before it goes into the trash... you'll likely need some lube!

My home made chicken nipple insertion device

 Lastly, for today, I'll leave you with a quick fix I came up with for when that Red Ryder bb gun is just too big for that young shooter... a piece of 5/8x4in scrap cedar laying around made the perfect shortened stock!  All I used was a band saw, some chisels and sandpaper.  I figured that would be better than cutting up the original...

When stock just isn't the right size... make your own!

With that, I'm out of here... I have a load of manure to pick up to put on my garden!  Have a good weekend and God bless!