Monday, September 26, 2011

Healthy, fresh, oh-so-good apple butter

Perfect, sweet, local Cortland apples. Good enough to eat raw every single day, but as I mentioned in my last post, I wanted to try my hand at apple butter.

I'd found a recipe on one of my favorite healthy-eating blogs (Eating Bird Food, which I've mentioned here before), and it sounded so good, so fall-like, and so easy, that I had to try it.

The only part that made me a little nervous was that it called for the apples to be cooked in the crock pot for 15 hours. Fifteen?! I cross-referenced the idea in a Fix-It and Forget-It cookbook, and sure enough, all apple butter recipes called for it to be cooked for 15-18 hours. Wow! Knowing my crock pot tends to run a little hot, I was still nervous, but I put on my game face and gave it a try.

The recipe is very simple and very easy. I was especially drawn to the fact that it has no added sugar, so it's very healthy.

Healthy Homemade Apple Butter
From Eating Bird Food

10 medium-sized apples (I used Cortland. Pick a sweet variety, since there's no extra sugar.)
2 cups unsweetened apple juice (I used R.W. Knudsen's organic 100% apple juice)
1/4 cup water
1/4 apple cider vinegar
1 T cinnamon
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt

1. Place cored and sliced apples (not peeled—easy!) into a crock pot/slow cooker. (Mine's a smaller-variety crock pot.)
2. Pour juice on top of the sliced apples. Add water, vinegar, and spices. Stir all ingredients together, cover the pot, and let it cook on low for 15 hours.
3. The liquid and the apples will reduce to about 1/2 their original volume. They'll be very soft and dark. Turn the crock pot off and let it cool down for about 30 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until completely smooth.
4. Let it cool, then transfer into storage containers. My batch only made about 2 full pints of apple butter, so it's not a huge recipe. Store in the fridge for a few weeks, or freeze for later!

As I said, my crockpot is on the smaller side, so 10 apples filled it.
I started the batch at about 5:00 p.m. on Saturday evening, so it finished at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning. It smelled wonderfully after just an hour or two, so it really started driving me crazy. I always get a little nervous about letting something cook overnight, wondering what the state of my kitchen counter will be when I wake up, and that, combined with the scent that filled the house, meant I had a really restless night of sleep. I was awake every two hours.

Thankfully, the smoke alarm never went off, everything stayed in the pot, and it turned out perfectly. (Hooray!) This is how the apples looked when I woke up:
After a quick whir in the blender, I had two pints of perfect, delicious, healthy apple butter. It's a little more tart than what you'll find in a store, but it really doesn't need any sugar added. By choosing a sweet variety of apple, it's plenty sweet on its own. 
It's so good, I have to really resist standing by the fridge and just eating it out of the jar with a spoon.
Now I'm trying to think of all the ways I can eat it. Spreading it on toast or biscuits is an easy answer. I stirred it into my hot cereal this morning, and that worked very well.

Any other suggestions? How do you like to eat apple butter?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

My favorite apple orchard

Welcome to fall! One thing I always look forward to doing at this time of year is going and getting fresh apples from my favorite local orchard: Beasley's Orchard in Danville.
It was because of Beasley's that I first discovered Gala apples, and they've become my all-time favorite. This year I tried a new variety, though, and it comes in at a very close second: Cortland.

Beasley's Orchard has a market inside a Civil War-era barn, and you can smell the sweet apples and spices before you walk in the door.
They go far beyond selling apples. You'll find everything from apple and pumpkin butter to local honey, maple syrup, popcorn, pumpkins, squash, and fresh vegetables. I made a trip today and couldn't resist getting a pint of pumpkin butter with my 1/2 peck of Cortlands.
If you're looking to support a local food producer—and maybe want a little fall field trip—I highly recommend you go for a visit.

I have my first-ever batch of apple butter cooking in my crock pot as I type. I'll share the results (and the recipe, if it's good) soon!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Annual horse pull at Old Fashioned Days

Labor Day weekend for me means it's time to head west to North Salem's Old Fashioned Days. Going to this small town's annual festival has been a tradition for me since I was a kid in many ways, and attending the Sunday night horse pull is a regular activity.

For people who've never been to a horse pull, it might be hard to imagine why this kind of activity would draw a crowd. But like any good competition, it quickly sucks you in, even if you don't consider yourself a "horse person" to begin with.

You can't help but pick out a team to root for, whether it's because you know someone involved, like their story, are impressed with the team's size, or one of the horses is your favorite color. This year's story was bittersweet: One team owner's father, who's been raising these horses and participating in horse pulls for many years, passed away last month. His son is a regular attendee at this particular horse pull, so you can't help but root for him, if only to honor his dad's memory.

And wouldn't you know it, but he ended up winning in the end. His team of Belgian horses pulled 8,000 pounds to beat the other five teams for this year's victory.
The husband of Mom's horse trainer rode his horse at the beginning of the pull during the national anthem. He's one of the organizers of the event, and he served as emcee during the pull, as well. His horse—her excellent training, in particular—was what caught our attention years ago and got us involved in this particular training program. This photo is a testament to a great "stand cue" (a horse trained to stand still while her reins are placed at the base of her neck. 
This horse, Sis, is 26 years old, so she won't have many more years of carrying a rider and flag. She knew she was being called to perform this day, though. She didn't show her age at all.
Can it really be September already? It won't be long and I'll be photographing the changing leaves and fall colors! I'm not ready...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Final weekend of Symphony on the Prairie

One of my favorite things to do in Indianapolis during the summer months is venture to the northeast side, to Conner Prairie, and hear the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra play under the stars.

What exactly is it about these kinds of outdoor activities that we all seem to love? Think about it: This was the 30th year for Symphony on the Prairie, so they're obviously finding some success with their Indianapolis audience. I've chosen to spend my birthday with friends at the Indianapolis Museum of Art's Summer Nights outdoor movie series more than once. If you stroll through Broad Ripple on a nice day, you'll have a hard time snagging an outdoor table at a restaurant, but there will be plenty of open seats inside in the air conditioning.

I also know that getting to eat my lunch outside at work is a recharging experience that helps me better enjoy the afternoon.

Do you think we've always had a love of the outdoors like this, or do you think the fact that we spend increasing amounts of time indoors—often in front of one screen or another—that makes these experiences that much sweeter?

Regardless of the psychological reasons behind it, I love that we have these kinds of opportunities in central Indiana.

Last weekend was the final weekend for the Symphony's outdoor season, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy sent us all off in style.
They gave us a night full of high-energy, big-band style music that drew people immediately to the concrete patio in front of the stage to dance along. The crowd near the stage only continued to grow as the night went on.
I love this kind of music to begin with, but I enjoyed this show even more than I expected to. It made me want to dust off my own dancing shoes and get back into it.
Farewell to yet another great summer season of outdoor entertainment!