Accidentally Cooking

Documenting my mistakes in the garden, kitchen and pantry

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Plans for 2013

December 21st came and went, and now that we’re sure the world isn’t going to end it’s time to start with planning for 2013. Since this is the last day before 2013, it seems like as good a time as any to plan ahead for it. Here’s a quick rundown of some projects I want to accomplish next year:

  1. More Preserves. We’ve been giving away jams and preserves as gifts. They make great gifts for friends and family who really deserve more than just a card, especially around the holidays. When the jars start flying off the shelves, you realize just how little you actually have to keep for yourself. Next year, I’ll be doing a much larger quantity of jams and preserves.
    1. Cherry Jam: We loved this stuff but got relatively small amounts of it. We want more cherries, and more cherry jam. I’d like to experiment with more new recipes and combinations too.
    2. Peach Jam: We had a couple batches of peaches that didn’t turn out (got moldy before we could use them, etc). Next year I want to be more efficient and make more peach jam, especially the vanilla peach jam which has become a household favorite. We’ll probably stay away from white peaches for a while, since our luck with them was so bad last summer.
    3. Apple Butter: This made up the bulk of our holiday gifts and it was very well-received. Next year I’m going to experiment more with different varieties of apples, make much larger quantities, and tweak my recipe.
    4. Apple Sauce: It’s dirt simple to make, and is a great gift especially for people with young children. Who doesn’t love a dollop of apple sauce?
    5. Pie Fillings:  Next year I’d like to make more, and more varieties.
    6. Other Fruits: I didn’t do anything in 2012 with pears, plums, citrus, or anything else that makes for fun preserves. Next year I’d like to try to do some of that and try many more new recipes. I want to do more stuff with blueberries,  though I don’t have anything specific in mind.
    7. Tomatoes: I plan to greatly expand my garden tomato-growing efforts next year, and I’d like to be able to put together a few jars of sauce. If I can find a good local farm stand selling good varieties, all the better.
    8. Pickles:  I didn’t have good luck with them last summer, but if I can harden my nerves I’d like to give it another shot.
  2. Flavored Liquors:  Some things I’d like to be making myself, corking up, and keeping on hand:
    1. More Limoncello: It was awesome, and I think I can do even better next year.
    2. Spiced Rum: I’ve seen a few cool-looking recipes online, and I’d like to give it a shot. Plus, there are some people for whom a bottle of spiced rum would make a better gift than a jar of jam.
    3. Triple-Sec: It’s made a lot like Limoncello, just substituting the lemon peels for orange ones and making a few other tweaks.
    4. Amaretto: If we can find a good, cheap source of unmonkeyed almonds I’d love to try my hand at making amaretto and almond extract for baking.
    5. Vanilla Extract: It’s not a liquor per se, but it’s made with booze and it costs so much less to do it yourself than to buy the little bottles at the store. Plus, I’ve found that I can buy a 1lb bag of the beans on Amazon fresh from the supplier for a decent price.
    6. Vinegars: We don’t drink a lot of wine (especially not red wine) but we always end up with a few spare bottles after the holidays. I need to find a good vinegar starter and some good clean glass jugs for brewing. Also, I’ve seen some interesting recipes for making apple cider vinegar from apple scraps.
  3. The Garden: More tomatoes in the garden next year. We’ve got garlic in the ground already, and would like to do some onions and maybe shallots with them. I want bell peppers, a better selection of hot peppers, and maybe some greenish stuff (peas, green beans, broccoli, lettuce, spinach, etc) to fill in the gaps. I’d like a big barrel with potatoes, and maybe a few small cucumber bushes in pots on our patio. I’ve got a few other plans in mind that I’ll talk about later.
  4. Pick Your Own: The munchkin loves to go picking, and we put the mountains of fruit to good use. Next year I’d like to get more peaches and apples and I’d also like to try other fruits as well. Certain ones like cherries, plums, blueberries, grapes and pears are harder to find for picking, but there are a few places nearby that might offer them if the season is good and we’re very attentive to the schedule.

Some of my plans are going to have to get rolling soon (Tomato seeds have to start around March!). I’ll post updates about all these things as they progress.


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Apple Pie

I loves me some apple pie. Not just any apple pie, of course: The absolute best is my Nana’s apple pie. She follows a deceptively simple recipe, and she always uses the same Stayman Winesap apples. She won’t make a pie without them, and for the most part I won’t either. There’s a reason for this: These apples make a damn good pie.

I also love them for other purposes too. They cook great and they’re great for eating out of hand too. They’ve got a juicy, almost creamy mild apple flavor that I absolutely love. You can’t always find them at the grocery store next to some of the more popular varieties, but when I can get my hands on them I like to buy them in bulk.

They’re a late season apple, so when they finally came it around the beginning of October, we went out a-pickin’ with my parents and the munchkin. And picked we did: We came home with almost 40lbs for ourselves (my parents took home about half as much for themselves).

The recipe my Nana uses, and I try to follow, is very simple and very similar to recipes I’ve seen in some common cookbooks.  I say that I “try to follow” the recipe because I never seem to do it correctly and the results of my efforts are never quite as good as hers is. I’ve got a whole lifetime to practice, so eventually I might start getting it correctly.

These are the bags of the stayman winesap apples we brought home, after pulling out enough for a pie, a slow-cooker full of simmering apple-butter, and about half a dozen for hand eating. What are we going to do with all the rest of these apples? More pie, of course!

Nana’s Apple Pie

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp Flour
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Butter
  • 6-7 Cups Apples, peeled and sliced (Stayman Winesap)

Combine the dry ingredients together. Spread 1/2 cup of the dry mixture in the prepared bottom crust. Add apples and sprinkle the remaining dry ingredients on top. Dot with the butter. Cover with top crust and cinch. Cut several small holes in the top crust to vent. Protect crust rim with aluminum foil if necessary.

Bake on the lowest rack in your oven on 425 degrees for 35-40 minutes (I actually think my oven requires a little bit more time than that). Remove from oven and let cool. Jam it into your face with the force of a thousand suns. Repeat. I’ve got so many apples laying around, I almost can’t afford to not make another pie. Or two.


Pick Your Own Peaches and Apples

We’ve got two pick-your-own orchards within a few minutes drive, and we’ve visited them several times this summer. Next year I plan to go even more. The first one, Shady Brook Farm seems to have fewer selections but does have a market and a nice playground to keep the munchkin occupied. The other one, Styer’s Orchard has many more trees and more varieties, but no market and not a lot for the kid to do besides pick fruit. There are other orchards a little bit further away that we haven’t been to before but I expect next year we’ll do a little bit more exploration.

We picked lots of great yellow peaches and made a few batches of peach jam to share with family. We also picked up 10lbs of white peaches early in the season and those ended up being a disappointment: Not ripe enough, not flavorful enough and spoiled too quickly.

All told I made two batches of regular peach jam, one batch with a little bit of vanilla extract mixed in (the small things can make all the difference!) , and two quart jars of peach halves in light syrup. The ones in syrup are already gone, Dana having turned them into a fantastic cobbler.

This picture shows four of the things I’ve canned so far, from left to right: a quart of cherry pie filling, a half-pint of a no-pectin cherry jam, a half-pint of peach jam and a half pint of peach vanilla jam.  I’ll talk about the cherries in a later post.

My takeaways from this peach season are that white peaches and late-season peaches gave me some real trouble. I’ll keep that in mind for next year.

Mid September now and apple season is in full swing. For our first trip out we picked up about 10lbs each of Honeycrisp and Gala.  The honeycrisp we like for eating out of hand, the gala have turned out to be one of our favorite varieties, both for cooking and eating if there are any left. I put up three pint jars of gala applesauce and two pint jars of gala apple halves in light cinnamon syrup. The sauce is already gone and the halves in syrup are looking mighty tempting. Next year I plan to get many more of both these varieties, gala especially.

Last weekend we picked up an apple pealer/corer/slicer contraption and to celebrate we picked 30lbs of Jonathan apples. These apples are decent and plentiful but we definitely don’t like them as much as the Gala. The first 10lb bag turned into apple sauce, and 5 cups of that immediately turned into a gorgeous Caramel Apple Jam. This recipe turned out a little sweeter than I would like, but it’s a great starting point for me to try new things next year.

The second 10lb bag of jonathan apples was peeled, cored, sliced and boiled down for a few hours into a nice apple butter. The flavor was good but I didn’t get the consistency as thick as I normally like.

This picture shows four apple products I’ve made already. From left to right we have gala apples in cinnamon syrup, jonathan apple sauce, apple butter, and caramel apple jam.

The last 10lb bag of jonathan’s turned into three quarts of apple pie filling. I normally use Stayman Winesap apples for pie, like my mother and grandmother before me. Those don’t ripen for at least another week or two, so I wanted to test the recipe with the jonathans. The results are not bad at all, and I’m looking forward to making some pie!