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the view from my window

The predicted snow came. Twenty-five inches in my part of Connecticut. It was, and still is, beautiful. A friendly snow, as January blizzards go. While the volume was substantial, it was really rather benign–light and fluffy, little blowing or drifting.  But it did slow things down a bit, and that is almost always a good thing.

a winter treat — anytime 

dig in! granola, milk, and last summer's blueberries

How do you spend a gift “snow day”? One of my favorite places is in the kitchen, making something warm and hearty, something I might not have time for on a more scheduled day. Granola. Why not? It takes a bit of time to make, mostly because you need to bake it slowly at a low temperature. It’s aroma fills the house with a feeling similar to what you achieve with a baked apple pie: sweet warmth, goodness, security.

It’s not just a winter treat at all; I enjoy it year round. It’s full of good-for-you ingredients with high doses of fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s not exactly a “diet” food since much of what makes it nutritious also adds calories and fats (like the nuts), but you can take comfort that there are few hollow calories in this granola.

getting the goods

Go to your local health food, or healthier food store and raid their bulk items aisle. Not only will you get better products (a good variety of organic options), you’ll most likely spend a lot less than buying the prepackaged varieties.

granola recipe

Preheat oven to 250°

Spray large roaster pan with oil spray — I like to use olive oil in pump bottle.

Mix in a large mixing bowl the following ingredients in these approximate quantities:

  • 4 C. regular (organic) rolled oats — NOT instant or quick cooking
  • 2 C. raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 C. raw wheat germ (toasted will work, but raw is better)
  • 1 C. ground flax seeds — must grind or crush to release oil, which contains the good nutrients

    I use a thoroughly cleaned coffee mill to grind the flax

  • 1 teas. salt
  • 4 C. roughly chopped nuts de jour. I love nuts and load my granola with them, but I use whatever I have on hand: walnuts, almonds, pecans usually — heavy on the walnuts since they are so high in Omega 3 fatty acids.
  • 2 Tbsp. pure vanilla
  • 4 Tbsp. water
  • ½ C. mild flavored olive oil or other good quality vegetable oil
  • 1 — 1 ½ C. honey
Mix all ingredients until thoroughly moistened. The order of the ingredients isn’t really important, but I put in the dry ingredients first, then add the oil and liquids. The mixture should be sticky and moist, but not drippy. If it feels too dry, add a bit more honey and oil.

no particular order needed for adding the ingredients

Pour into prepared baking pan; bake at 250° for 30 minutes.

mix ingredients very well

Check and stir, then pat down softly. Continue to bake another hour to hour and a half, check, stir, and pat down every 15 to 20 minutes. Check it more often once it starts to brown a bit. You’ll find that the browning process is not linear. Once it begin to brown, it will brown or burn quickly.

check the granola often at the end, should be light brown around the edges

When done, remove from the oven. If you like chunky granola, let it cool before you stir it, and it will form big hunks. Once cool, add raisins, craisins, dates or other dried fruit, if desired.  Keep in air-tight container.

store in airtight container

The granola should easily keep fresh on the shelf in an air-tight container for four to six weeks. If you need to keep it longer than that, divide the finished batch and store part in the freezer until ready to use.

When using the frozen granola, remove from freezer and thaw completely before opening the container. That will prevent moisture from creeping into the thawing granola.

apples -- before

apples -- after, aka, applesauce

Apples!

What is more iconic of fall? Applesauce! What says comfort food better? If you haven’t enjoyed the pleasure of picking your own apples, you are missing a real treat. I’m very fortunate to live in an old farming community that still boasts many orchards, and most encourage pick your own. It’s a fun outing and a very economical way to get good, local apples. Not sure whether there are any pick your own options in your area? Check out PickYourOwn.com for a listing of farms in your area. You’ll also find good information about local foods and food preservation.

Of course you’ll want to eat lots of your apples fresh and make apple pies, cobblers, tarts, and what not. But don’t forget the simple, homely applesauce. Using my recipe, you can easily make it in about an hour, and if you want to can it, add maybe another hour total. Applesauce also freezes very well. By the way, this recipe and many more will be found in my upcoming book, Hobby Farm Homes: Canning and Freezing to be published by BowTie Press in September of 2011. **

easy does it

Nearly every recipe I’ve found for applesauce tells you to peel and core the apple, then cook, and mash or strain. Yes, you can do this, but why would you when there’s an infinitely easier method (which is just as safe and tested) that saves you the time peeling and coring and yields more applesauce. This recipe is perfect for babies (and grandchildren — just ask granddaughter Ava) since you don’t need to add any sugar.

Ingredients

Apples, water, and some ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) or lemon juice to prevent darkening. That’s it. I make my sauce when the McIntoshes are plentiful. You will hear other folks proclaim the benefits of other apples, and I’m sure that they are good as well. Some tell you to use a mixture. One actually gave me the percentage of McIntosh to Fuji, Yellow Delicious, Gala, and Winesap. Okay, I don’t disagree that you might get a sparkier flavor by mixing a tangy Winesap with your Mac, but try to find a good Mac when the Winesaps are ready. So, I just use Macs. They’re generally pretty inexpensive, sweet, flavorful, and cook up perfectly for sauce. A bushel of apples will give you about fourteen quarts of sauce.

Steps

  • Wash the apples thoroughly, cutting out any bad spots. Clean the blossom end thoroughly.
  • Cut the apple into about six slices — don’t worry about removing the seeds or skin. Rinse.

    put your cut apples (skin, core, and all) in a heavy pot

  • Place the apples for about 5 minutes in a water bath containing 3,000 mg.  of ascorbic acid (that’s six 500 mg Vitamin C tablets crushed) or 3/4 C. lemon juice per gallon, or follow manufacturer’s instructions if you use a commercially prepared mixture, such as Fruit Fresh(R). This will help to prevent oxidative darkening.
  • Remove apples from water bath (do not rinse again) and put them dripping wet into a very heavy saucepan.  Ideally, you’ll want an aluminum core with stainless steel inside surface, but I’ve used heavy aluminum for years with success. A flimsy saucepan can work, but you’ll need to keep the temp very low to prevent scorching.
  • Fill the heavy pot nearly to the top with the cut apples. Add a little bit of water. For a three-quart pot, I add about ¼ cup of water.
  • Turn stove top temperature to medium high (or medium if you don’t have heavy-duty pot) and cook apples until they are very soft and the flesh falls off the peel. Check on them now and then, and stir. Depending upon the pot size and heat, this will be about twenty minutes. I do multiple pots at one time.

    cook apples until tender and mushy

  • While the apples are cooking, if I’m making enough sauce to can or freeze, I get my jars, lids, and other equipment ready. *
  • When finished cooking, pour the cooked apples into a food strainer or food mill. If you have a fancy food mixer, there are attachments that you can buy to do this, but I’ve used a crank-style food mill for years and it works great.

    cooked_apples_foodmill

    cooked apples in food mill

  • Strain the apples to remove the sauce from the skins, stems, and seeds. It’s amazing how much sauce you can get in this way. From my bushel of Macs, I only lost about six cups of apple peels/seeds, and such — and that ended up on my compost pile.
  • If you are planning to use your sauce right away, you’re done! Just eat and enjoy; store any extra in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Should easily keep for a week to ten days.
  • If you plan to can or freeze your sauce, as you finish each strainer full, empty the sauce into a large pot until you have finished cooking and straining all the apples.
  • If freezing, let the sauce cool, then put in freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch head space (pints) or 1 inch (quarts) for expansion.
  • If canning, heat the sauce slowly to boiling, being careful not to scorch.
  • Working one jar at a time, pour the boiling sauce into the jar, leaving ½ inch head space. Remove all bubbles, wipe rim, adjust lids. Process in a water bath canner 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts.

* In future posts, I’ll go into canning and freezing processes. They are all covered in my book, but until then, I suggest the web site from the National Center for Home Food Preservation, which was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Please beware, there are a lot of canning and preserving instructions floating around cyberspace, and not all are accurate or safe! Only use canning recipes that have been approved by the USDA.

**Portions of this post taken from Hobby Farm Home: Canning and Preserving are copyright protected, BowTie Press(R), Inc.

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