Eat and tell

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then I figure my family and I should be set for life, and maybe even the afterlife. See, after several years of lackluster output, our geriatric apple tree struck the fountain of youth. What began as a dizzying profusion of white blossoms last spring exploded into the gigantic motherlode of apple crops. The stately tree’s gnarled limbs are fairly dripping in ruby colored orbs, and the backyard has become a hazard zone littered with four-inch, red ball bearings. One careless step and we’re talking unanticipated slip and slide at best, a painful, early retirement from biking season at worst. The kids are no longer allowed to stand under the tree for fear of gaining a concussive thump on the head, giving new meaning to “bumper crop.” Even the worms have made a mass exodus, seemingly gorging themselves to death. It is literally raining apples.

At first, we made a game of it, seeing who could toss the most dead soldiers into the compost barrel. But the novelty of target practice soon wore off, as did seeing who could make the best “sour face” with the bitter, immature cast-offs. See, as any true apple connoisseur knows, apples reach their sweetest peak after the first frost. As such, for several weeks, we were stuck with bucketloads of cheek-puckering, chalky wannabes. But now that Jack Frost has paid my backyard garden a visit – thankfully sparing my tomatoes but alas, zapping the tomatillos – the heat is on.

Maybe it was a childhood filled with reruns of “Little House on the Prairie” and “The Waltons,” but for some strange reason, I feel obliged to try to sack away as many apples as I can before frigid nights set in, turning them into useless, mealy mush. Plus, there’s the whole sustainability thing, making me unable, in good conscience, to buy apples trucked in from halfway across the country when I’ve got a gajillion of them right out my back door.

Alas, I am faced with the classic Durango late-summer dilemma: what to do with 800 pounds of fresh (insert overly abundant fruit, vegetable, squash or “other” here.) Unfortunately, ding dong ditch only works for so long before the neighbors clue in, and the kids have grown wise to my clever apple cookery and disguise. With bushels to go, I have found myself plum out of ideas. Needless to say, I haven’t quite gotten around to digging that root cellar and with fridge and freezer space at a premium and dried apples only minimally intriguing, there’s really only one option. The one that strikes fear in the heart of Barely Crocker’s such as myself everywhere: canning.

I know, any moron can boil water, which is basically at the heart of the canning process. And humankind would not have made it to the 6 billion mark if food preservation was all that difficult. But let’s just say I don’t have a great eye for detail when it comes to the domestic arts. And yes, I have been known to take some creative liberties from time to time. (I don’t care what you’ve heard, the scrambled eggs in the brownies story is a total myth.) Anyway, from what I understand, canning is a little like writing obituaries in the newspaper world. If you’re feeling creative, just step away from the stove (or the keyboard).

Sure, a little botulism may be good for the crow’s feet and laughlines, but apparently not so good for the innards. Only problem is, you don’t know you’ve done wrong until, well, they find your corpse on the kitchen floor next to a jar of tainted bread and butter pickles. Besides, haven’t I already exacted enough unseen mental damage on my children without adding neurotoxins to the mix?

Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for anyone, my dear grandmother Pat included, who can coax a winter’s stash of fruit and veggies for nine children from a backyard garden plot (totally true, mostly.) In fact, I went so far last year as to even try my hand at the time-honored science of home preserving. After a day toiling over a hot canner, I had several shiny jars of salsa and apricot jam to proudly stow in my pantry. Anyway, who would think you could actually overcook canned tomatoes? Suffice to say, I finally tossed the last, lone jar of salsa (which was hiding behind the ice cream maker) last week, and the remaining jars of jam, which I swear had taken on a suspicious brown hue, met a similar fate. Hey, at least I recycled the jars.

Call me part of the hand-sanitizer generation, but when it comes to deadly microbes, I get a little nervous. Of course, this isn’t to say the genetically frankenfied, chain-store, plastic-wrapped alternative is much better. In fact, to this day, I cannot bring myself to buy produce from any super-retailer with the letter “W” in its name.

Which, of course, lands me right back at square one – under that old apple tree. As luck would have it, I still have my canning supplies from last year (minus a few jars) and in hindsight, that limpy salsa wasn’t half bad come the deep, dark throes of mid-January. Not to mention, despite my overactive imagination, I lived to . Who knows? Maybe this will be my year to master the water bath and conquer my canning phobia once and for all. After all, that which doesn’t kill, only makes us stronger.

– Missy Votel



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