November 11, 2008

Canning Weekend 2008

This post is intended to chronicle exactly what I did for this year's apple canning season so that I can repeat or improve upon my process for next year.

I purchased about 17 pounds of mixed variety apples from the grocery store for .99/lb. This was the same price it was at the local orchard for pick your own apples when you picked greater than 20 pounds. I opted to skip the actual picking this year...maybe next year I will do it with the kids just for the experience. A few years ago, I took Sara (then about 15 months) and picked about 60 pounds of apples. Did I mention that it was only me and Sara...and 60(!) pounds of apples? Not the brightest idea I've ever had, and probably the main reason I skipped it altogether this year.

In addition to the store-bought apples, I bought 2 big boxes (24 pounds each) of apple seconds from the Catoctin Orchard in Emmitsburg. They were $6 a box for a total of $12. I was not exactly sure what I was going to be getting with "seconds" but I was pleasantly surprised! The apples were not the prettiest things. There were lots that were misshapen, too big, too small, or with a small defect on the peel. But they were all most certainly edible and you can't beat .25/lb! Also, I was able to have the orchard make up my boxes of seconds with the kind of apples I wanted...I only specified red vs. yellow/green, but I think next year I will ask if they can avoid adding certain varieties of apples. (I will have to figure out the type, but there was one kind that was a very soft fleshed apple that totally fell apart when cooking.) For next year, I will definitely go with all apple seconds and no store bought. I think

After I got all the apples home, I cut them into about 6 pieces each and tossed them into this big tub that Sara so (un)willingly let me borrow from her toy room. It didn't occur to me to take a picture till we were well underway, but at the beginning the bin was very full!

In the midst of chopping, I began cooking the apples. They needed to cook for about 15 minutes, so I had a sort of rotating schedule of starting each pot about 7 minutes apart.

When one pot of apples was done cooking, I processed them down to sauce using my Kitchenaid mixer and some amazing attachments (the food grinder and the fruit & veggie strainer)! Sara was a big help with this step mixing and pushing the apples down the chute to be processed. She also dubbed the waste coming out the end of the strainer the apple poop. She thought that was hilarious!

The next step in the process was to cook the applesauce with sugar and cinnamon and then to process the jars. For the applesauce I added about 1/2 c sugar and 1 tsp of cinnamon per quart. This was not scientific at all. It looked more like 2 c sugar and a heaping hand full of cinnamon added to the pot on the right in the picture below. As for the jars, some people run them through the dishwasher to get them sterile/hot, but I decided to boil them empty in the canning pot for about 10 minutes before filling them with the hot applesauce. After the jars were filled I processed them in the canner for about 20 minutes. It worked out well once I got my system going. 20 minutes of processing time plus 10 minutes to prepare the next set of jars was just the time I needed to cook up another pot of applesauce. Rinse, lather, repeat...and repeat, and repeat, and repeat...

So here's the final tally...I canned 15 quarts and 13 pints of applesauce and 11 pints of apple butter. Why both quarts and pints of applesauce?? I really have no idea. I wish I had a good explanation...I had enough quart jars to do it all in quarts. At first I thought I would only do the cinnamon applesauce in the smaller jars, then do plain in the quarts but I liked the cinnamon so much I did it for all of the jars. I am wondering if it will work out OK throughout the year to have some smaller jars to use when we don't want to refrigerate leftovers. I will have to see how it goes and plan better for next year.

A note about the apple butter--pick a recipe that starts with cooking the apples in cider vinegar. Don't add too much (if any) of the cooking liquid back into the processed makes it take forever to cook down again. Spices to be added include ground cloves, cinnamon and allspice. The more the better in my opinion!

So now let's talk about cost effectiveness. I will preface this by the fact that I already had the quart-sized jars and I bought the pint jars for $3 a dozen at a local thrift store. Because they are reusable, I am not going to count them in the cost. Also, the rings are reusable so I won't be counting them either. It wasn't a huge money-saver, but it was alot of fun!

lids $2/dz (x4)
apples $29
Extra ingredients for apple butter $10
TOTAL: $47

This compares to a retail value for similar products of:
Applesauce qts: $2 (x15)
Applesauce pts: $1 (x13)
Apple butter pts: $2.50 (x11)
TOTAL: $70.50

I am adding this post to the Works for Me Wednesday series over at Rocks In My Dryer...go over and check out some other great ideas!

November 10, 2008

Babywearing--Crazy Name, Amazing Results!

In another realm of the blogosphere, Adventures In Babywearing is having a fun little contest to win a new baby sling. A stipulation of the contest is that you link to the company donating the slings, so here goes: Nonni&Boo. I had trouble getting the pictures on their website to load, so I will admit that I am not sure exactly what it is I stand to win, but I do love Love LOVE my baby carrying accessories, so I am happy to write a post about my experience...well, my second post on the topic's the first.

When I had my first baby (pictured above) I was a basket of raw emotion, and admittedly, not all of them were good. I felt very useless sitting around all the time just holding my baby in my arms. (So naive I was! That's probably the most important thing I could have been doing at that very moment!) It is shocking really how such a tiny baby can make your arms/shoulders/back ache after all that holding.

When I finally got my wits about me after about 10 weeks of moping, I started doing some research on baby carriers. I found several very helpful sites with information that really spoke to what my heart already knew about the importance of holding your baby as much as possible...for the baby's sense of security, for the mother's ability to sense when she needs something. One of my favorite sites was Mamatoto. I especially liked the pictures explaining how to use each of the different styles of carriers.

Ultimately, with my first I decided on a ring sling. When I looked for one to buy, I found their prices to be outlandish for the simplicity of them. I decided I could definitely make my own and got the pattern and the weight-tested rings (this was very important to me) from SlingRings. I learned that for the best result, you should choose a fabric that doesn't have a "wrong side". I love brightly colored batiks and they worked perfectly! Sara, in the picture above is wearing her doll baby in my first sling that I carried her in from about 10 weeks until about 2 1/2 pretty much every day.

When Rachael was born, I couldn't wait to bring out the sling! It was such a lifesaver with Sara and an absolute necessity with more than one child in the house. My beloved sling did have a drawback though. While I did have use of both hands, since it only goes over one shoulder, I couldn't use both arms equally. This proved to be a major challenge while chasing a toddler! I picked up a BabyBjorn for cheap at a thrift store but felt that it wasn't quite right for me. I didn't use it for longer than a month or so. After the recommendation of a friend and an opportunity to try her carrier out in person, I *invested* in a BabyHawk carrier. I do not use the word invested lightly--it was very pricey in my opinion. However, with two small children, what little time I thought I had was officially gone for good (or for at least 18 years) so I resigned myself to buying instead of making. Now that Rachael is walking, I find that I most use it when we are out and it's only practical to have the 1-kid stroller. (I think I have a collection of strollers to rival my collection of baby carriers!)

All in all, I love all of my carriers for different reasons...I can't wait for the opportunity to use them again!

November 5, 2008

WFMW: A sibling...the best toy ever!

Over at Rocks in my Dryer, this week's WFMW series is all about the best toys. In my embarrassingly overindulgent middle class house, we have seen our fair share of toys come through...if only they would make their exit in the droves that they seem to come in! When we just had one child, the toys that we *stockpiled* (Little People...AHEM!) were admittedly more for me than for Sara. Now our basement overfloweth...there is no space for variety, and the Little People have lost their splendor...with Sara too.

Now that we have our second beautiful baby, we are really feeling the space crunch...more kids, more toys, right? But here's the truth--the girls really prefer to interact (read poke, sit on, hug, carry, wrestle, etc. all with the grace & gentleness of a 3 & 1 year old) with each other than with most toys that are so widely available...hmm, littering...our home. I have come to realize the more kids you have, the less toys you actually need.

What's the toy that my kids enjoy the most? It's each other!

Fall Means Fun!

When was the last time you stopped to admire the beauty of God’s creation with your child(ren)? Almost every day during the fall, I am amazed by nature…a bright orange and yellow tree that hasn’t lost it’s leaves quite yet, the cool breeze that blows in a gentle reprieve from the summer’s heat, the apple trees at our local orchard whose branches are so heavy with fruit I for the life of me can’t figure out why they don’t break under the weight.

Preschoolers are naturally observant and mine in particular has really been receptive to my directing her attention to the things that make fall…well, fall. This past weekend, while my husband was home caring for our sick baby, I was able to spend some one on one time with Sara. We took a “nature walk” around our little suburban block and talked all about the trees and the leaves. We found deer footprints and collected pinecones to make birdfeeders. When we ran errands in the afternoon, we bought about twenty pounds of apples that I am hoping she will help me can as apple butter later this week. We have been reading several fall-themed books as bedtime stories over the past several weeks.

While I have not personally tried any of these yet, I have been thinking about a few more ideas to infuse a fall theme into our ordinary routine.
--Make leaf rubbings with leaves found in our own yard
--Have Sara participate in fall chores like raking the leaves and cleaning out the garden
--Roast one of our Halloween pumpkins and eat it for dinner

I would love to hear what your family is doing to celebrate fall!