Friday, August 22, 2014

Wood Street Gets Serious about Canning

Gale coring apples
Sam peeling apples
Every year the orchard gave us more fruit than we could dream of eating, and just giving it away was a lot of work. Many people were generous with us too, and we particularly liked the mason jars of homemade delicacies we received from our friends John and Sue.  This past year and a half those jars have been filled with soups, exactly the warm touch I needed.  This summer, inspired by all those jars, I decided to try my own hand at canning.

Of course that's much more work than just giving fruit away; family and friend to the rescue.  My oldest sister Gale and my younger son Sam both helped me prepare applesauce, and the pictures tell the story.

Sam pausing in his work
The tools of the trade,
some of what we made
Gale was first, when the only specialized equipment I had were the jars, bands, and lids themselves.  Then I talked to my friend and colleague Ted, ever generous with his candid opinions, who politely but firmly refused when asked if he wanted to take a jar home with him.  He pointed out that "You needa huge pot with a rack" to boil the jars, that just putting them in a pasta maker simply wouldn't do.  Next week, on day one of Sam's apple peeling efforts, we both donned masks and gloves, and used the huge granite pot you see in the last photo. But some of the jars had air bubbles at the bottom and needed to be reprocessed. On day two we had the fruit spatula you see in the foreground of the same photo, used to remove remove bubbles by sliding it down the side of the jar and pushing toward the center.  We also had the tongs that the spatula rests on, used for lifting hot jars out of the granite pot.  I had been using my hand wrapped in a dishtowel; surprisingly, I avoided a serious scalding.  De Tocqueville quipped that "God protects fools, drunkards, and the United States of America," and it seems her beneficence extends to ordinary Americans and their follies as well.

This weekend Gale's coming over again, and we'll use our cumulative experience to make the last batch. Will any of these final, safest jars, find their way into holiday gift baskets, with cute labels compressing a family newsletter saga into a few square inches?  Maybe in 2015, after I past last and most important food safety test, surviving a year on my own sauce.


  1. Great story, Matt! I hope you thrive throughout the year on your homemade sauce.

  2. I shared a jar with my friends Nick and Ronnie, soon after cooking so as to avoid the food safety issue. The presentation was alluring — breaking the vacuum took effort, and the lid made a soft sigh when I finally pried it off, releasing a bouquet of sweet spices. More importantly, it passed the taste test, although it's hard to describe that taste exactly. It has more character than your average applesauce, and the lemon juice gives a touch of tartness like chutney. And it's rich like apple pie filling … yet there's no sugar added. No reason not to just throw caution to the wind and abandon ourselves to sensual pleasure. We passed around little plates and ate eagerly.

    In case you're interested, here's the recipe to make one gallon of apples à la Wood St.


    1. Enough apples to fill a 450 cubic inch pot, after peeling, coring, and discarding pieces with bruises and insect damage.

    2. 6 tbsp vanilla

    3. 3 tbsp almond extract

    4 5 tsp cinnamon

    5. 1/2 cup lemon juice

    6. 1 1/2 cups currants


    1. Peel all the apples. Discard any with extensive bruises or insect damage.

    2. Core the apples so that they're sliced into wedges. Discard the core, and inspect again for bruises and insect damage. Be ruthless and thorough, and throw out anything suspect.

    3. Use a paring knife to cut the wedges into half-inch chunks.

    4. Put the apple pieces in the large pot, then blanch with boiling hot water and drain thoroughly. Rinse twice with cold water and drain thoroughly.

    5. Repeat step 4 once.

    6. Add the other ingredients to the pot, cover and cook on low for an hour. You do not need to add water, unless you really like your apples runny.

    7. You can tell it's done with the apples have the consistency of extremely lumpy porridge. Follow the procedures for canning, boiling the jars in a canning pot for 40 minutes.