Juiced

Columnist Shannon McKinnon details her late-summer experiences with apples.

Well, we’ve certainly had a hot one. Three months of temperatures in the mid to high 20s and scarcely a drop of rain.

Despite the drought fruit trees had a stellar year in our area. One friend told me how an apple tree that hadn’t borne fruit for 26 years burst out with a bumper crop this summer. She said every time she looked at it she had to smile. No doubt. If it were me I would be doing cartwheels. As for my own young orchard … not so much as a wizened up marble in the bunch. Sigh.

Fortunately my sister had half a dozen assorted mature apple trees dripping with fruit and generously offered to share her bounty. We spent a lovely afternoon picking apples and came home with almost 100 pounds of beautiful, fresh, organic-as-it-gets produce. For the next few days all I did was slice and dice. I have a nine-tray dehydrator, which I loaded up over and over with apple slices. I stewed and simmered countless pots of mashed up apples for juice and jelly.

Or what I hoped would be jelly.

Even though I had a box of perfectly good pectin, when I started to make my jelly I was struck by a thought. Since pectin is made from apples, why did I need it at all? I would just use apples and a dab of honey from my very own bees for a purely homegrown product. Delighted beyond description with my cleverness, I proceeded to boil up some apple jelly. And boil, and boil and boil. I watched all the nutrients and liquid go up in steam, along with my cleverness. Finally I bottled what was left. It never did gel. It’s not even syrup, but that’s what we’ll use it for I guess. Or I suppose I could serve it in a side bowl and we could dip our toast. I just need to come up with a fancy name for it.

The apple juice was far more successful; you can’t go too far wrong with apples and water. I ended up with two types from two different kinds of apples; a gorgeous pink juice as well as the regular golden colour.

My favourite part of canning is removing the finished jars from the water bath, setting them on a towel on the island and then waiting to hear the lids pop down as they make a safe seal. Oh, how I love the sound! Some people get their kicks out of climbing mountains; I get all the giddiness I can stand from hearing my jars go “Pop!”

In the midst of apple juice canning, I was stopped short when I realized I had ran out of jars before apples. There was nothing for it. The kitchen cannery had to close while we made an emergency trip to the nearest town to grab more. Since it was on the way (and plant nurseries are always on the way) we stopped in at a local family owned nursery to check out the fall sales and picked up a Fat Albert spruce and four shrubs (buy three get one free!) When I mentioned we were on our way to get some canning jars the owner ran into the house and came out with a dozen and a half jars, which he insisted we take for free.

Try getting that kind of service from a big box store! I was even more grateful when we arrived in town and there wasn’t a box of big jars to be found … not even at the big box store.

As we stood in line at the grocery store with some other purchases, I did a mental count of the jars of apple juice lining our pantry shelf and the apples still left to process. I started to fret about having enough juice to get us through the winter.

“How much apple juice do we usually go through?” Darcy asked.

And that’s when I realized neither Darcy nor I are juice drinkers. We pretty much stick to water, tea or coffee. I was still mulling this over as we went through the check out. The cashier handed me a couple scratch and win cards, which I passed over to Darcy. As we left the store Darcy started to laugh.

“What?” I asked.

“We won!” He said looking at the cards he had just scratched. “On both of them!”

“No way! What did we win? A car? A year’s worth of groceries? Both? Tell me!”

Darcy handed over the cards. Guess what they said? And I swear I’m not making this up. We were the lucky winners of … two free cartons of apple juice.

Shannon McKinnon is a Canadian humour columnist. You can read past columns by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com.

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