A Bushel of Apples: Sweet Simplicity
This isn't a recipe post. Not really, anyway. I just felt compelled to share the moment of rediscovering that Simple is Beautiful. We all know this, but it must be human nature to over complicate things, because even in a time when Simplicity is clearly and splendidly Trendy, we continue to make things more difficult than they need to be at frequent turns. At least, I know I do. My eye-opening recollection came from a bushel of apples. After all, what can be more unpretentiously gorgeous than a bushel of apples? OK, maybe they were more of a "crate" than a bushel; I didn't actually weigh them, and I don't truly know what a "peck" is, but I do like the pastoral implications of the word. And these were lovely, fresh from the tree apples, each uniquely awash with shades of green and yellow, some with a blush of red, mottled, deliciously imperfect, and crisply sweet.
I decided to make apple jelly. Every year, my friend Rachel and I set aside at least one day to can together; we make jams, chutneys and pickles, both for ourselves, and as parent volunteer gifts for the holidays. We always do this at Rachel's, because she has a spacious set-up with a big deck grill we can plop the canning equipment onto. Rachel has become a master of efficiency and multi-tasking when it comes to these canning dates, and I must admit, I've let myself be slightly hand-held. This year, it's been especially difficult to plan a time to can, and we've had to split our tasks up into stages. Since Saturday was chilly and wet, and my apples were closing in on their expiration date, I chose to be bold and jam it up on my own, despite my lack of confidence. I was armed with our canning bible, the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving.
Something about standing in the kitchen with steamy apple odors wafting everywhere was unexpectedly, soothingly inspiring, and while I was initially dismayed at how little juice was yielded considering the amount of apples I'd chopped, I was more gleefully amazed at how far those apples stretched. To make apple jelly, you cook the apples, adding 1 cup of water for every pint of chopped apples, until they are soft enough to strain for juice; then, the juice is combined with sugar, boiled then cooked to gelling point, and processed in a canner about 10 minutes. I cooked the apples in a big pasta pot with a fitted colander. Before mashing the apples for more juice, we had some of them with yogurt, and they were so meltingly lovely. They didn't need anything--no sugar, nor cinnamon even, though that would have been nice, too. They were warm and soft, and the steam brought out this meltingly buttery texture which was perfect for the cold afternoon. It feels funny describing them this way, because actually really, truly find butter--the smell and the taste of it--nauseating, but the idea of warm butter evoked by the apples was great...if that makes sense.
After straining the apples further, we had a fat container of chunky unsweetened applesauce, adding to the sense of accomplishment, alongside 5 half pints of golden apple jelly. I still have some apples remaining, enough to make a strudel with filo dough, or something else warranting an actual recipe inclusion. For just a moment, though, I'm relishing the perfection of apples simply being on their own.