New, Old Food: Preserving the fall harvest (and all those apples)
Those who work the land or live off of it know that although it may seem like the weather is fit for sowing thanks to the bout of warm weather this week, preparations on all fronts are in place for harvest. The Upper Valley, and New England in general, has brief, impressively productive and incredibly seasonal agricultural contributions.
Speaking from personal experience in viticulture, Madison Sabol ’18 said harvest “brings a sense of wholeness to a new season.”
“(Though) it is not yet complete … harvest is the culmination of a season of growth and work,” Sabol said.
Using and preserving the bounty brings forth entirely new opportunities in equal respects exciting as challenging. Methods of preservation are ancient. Using dry heat, salt, fat, sugar, vinegar and yeast — before our modern industrial food system allowed us to consume tomatoes and strawberries in winter and apples in spring — allowed people to stretch the foods they grew and consume them in “new” ways. While these processes were thought to allow the item to withstand time, they actually shed new light on the stored ingredient’s flavors and properties. So paradoxically, when one eats produce preserved in these ways, one consumes “new” old food.
Furthermore, in the Upper Valley and greater New England, our modern food culture deeply reflects its roots of preservation. Maple products and honey — both non-perishable sweeteners — cornmeal made from ancient varietals, cider and wine, jams and jellies, cured and canned vegetables and pickled produce all reflect this.
“Fall reminds me to be mindful about food in general,” Ethan Smith ’20 said. “Seeing those products, how they are made and the work that goes into them is important for me to engage with people in the food system.”
For the home and college cook alike, experimenting with methods of preservation are wins: arguably a win for the environment, your wallet and yourself.
I often find myself disappointed with supermarket produce. I feel like I do not know the ethics that went into growing this food, the agricultural practices that made my food and the overall impact that food has on the environment.
I’ve come to the conclusion myself that the terrible strawberry is just not worth its environmental toll, so I don’t buy it.
Instead, ideally, I will go into my freezer and take out last-season’s berries that I froze, or the strawberry preserves, or the strawberry vinegar or the strawberry vodka.
Why? To try to reclaim food as it had been, and arguably should be; to connect more with the ingredients; to waste as little as possible, to reclaim an ancient cultural practice and to concentrate my efforts where I believe they should be concentrated. And to get to eat something delicious in fun new way six months later.
When interacting with food, I am profoundly reminded of my connection to the food, land and people who sustain me. Also, breaking into that jelly you made with the apples you picked with your housing community may make you feel connected and help you find a better sense of place here.
Since we don’t yet have our own root cellars, cupboards, time and plentiful fridge space in every dorm room, here is a simple recipe you can make on your own with those apples that you picked last week with your friends. If you would prefer to keep your apples as they are, they will actually hold up quite well when stored properly in a cool, dry place; however, this recipe will surely spice up any slice of toast, granola or yogurt.
Honey-Apple Jam (Spiced, Herbed, Both or Neither)
⅓ cup white sugar or ⅓ cup maple sugar
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons apple cider or water
1 pound apples
2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
Pinch of spices, such as ground cloves, ground cinnamon, nutmeg or star anise (optional)
Pinch of herbs, such as rosemary, tarragon, lavender, thyme (optional)
Peel and core the apples. Save cores and keep whole while chopping apples to small ½-inch chunks.
Bring maple sugar, honey and 3 tablespoons of water or cider to boil in a thick-bottomed pot. Boil until the mixture reaches “soft-ball stage” — the stage in which the sugar will form a “soft ball” when a drop of it is placed into cold water or becomes a thick syrup.
Add chopped apples and cores.
Add spices and herbs to taste if you wish.
Cook low and slow until the apples are soft and translucent. Remove the whole cores, and break apart the larger pieces or leave them in chunks. Once most of the liquid has evaporated and the mixture feels like a dense apple sauce or paste, add the apple cider vinegar. Stir to combine.
For best results, store in a sanitized glass container. Eat right away, or keep unopened in the fridge for a month or longer.