Apples and Apologies

I am so sorry for those of you waiting with bushels of apples for my step by step guide to bottling them.  It's been a while and I have been soooo busy and when I have had a moment I really did not quite feel like it.  Anyway, this step by step guide is a little short on photographs but I hope that you will get the idea...

Firstly... if you want to bottle your apples as whole apple pieces then it has to be the type of apple that holds its shape when cooked.  Some apples simply disintegrate to fluff almost immediately that you apply a little heat and that is not good, it's good for making apple puree or apple butter - which can be bottled too of course.  As it turned out nearly all of the apples that I have are only good for puree or apple butter, but I have managed to get one bottle of whole pieces in syrup so I will explain how to do it.

You need to peel and core your apples and remove any brown bits or blemishes.  They should be pretty perfect or they will not keep well.  If you want them to keep their nice white colour then you need to do one of two things... either, soak them in a water and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) solution.  About one teaspoonful to a large bowl of water.  You can buy ascorbic acid from the chemist.  Or, you coat the apple pieces in lemon juice - be warned, they need a lot of lemon juice in order to keep their colour, most recipes or books just say juice a lemon and pour it on, but one lemon is usually not enough, especially if you are cutting and peeling a lot of apples, which takes time.

Next you make up a syrup solution.  You can use plain water if you are calorie conscious and I will explain how to do that in a bit.  You take equal quantities of water and sugar and dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat, you bring it to the boil and boil vigorously for three minutes.  At this point you add the same quantity of water again and add the apples and bring to the boil and then lower the heat and simmer for one minute only.

OK... how much water and sugar?  well it depends upon how much apples you have... for this one litre jar I used 8oz sugar with 8oz water adding another 8oz water once the syrup was made. (And I had a little syrup left over).

It is important that your jars are washed and sterilised.  I do this by first giving them a soapy wash and a hot water rinse and then I dry them in a warm oven for about 20 minutes to half an hour.  The lids or rubber seals are scalded in hot water just prior to use.

Take the hot jars from the oven and spoon the hot apples into the jar until almost at the top, leave about an inch space.  Then pour in enough syrup to just cover the apples. You should end up with about half an inch space at the top (my ingredients shrunk a bit during the processing but the jar has sealed so I am not concerned).

Now the important bit - sealing the jars.  If you are using kilner type jars with rubber seals, you fit the scalded seals onto the lids and close the jars.  If you are using the metal disc lids and metal screw tops then you place the metal disc onto the top of the jar and screw the lid on until it is just tight, no more.

There are several ways of then making the jars air tight - sometimes the contents are so hot that the air is driven up out of the jars anyway and they seal within a few minutes, but it is not enough to just leave it to chance.

The Water Bath Method:  place your jars onto a rack which you have placed in the base of a large stockpot (if you don't have a metal rack a folded tea towel will do equally well).  Place your closed jar onto the rack or tea towel and fill the pot with warm water until it is at least one inch above the top of the jar.  If you are processing several jars at once then insure that they do not touch each other in the pan, or you can place one jar on top of the other with the water coming up to the shoulder of the jar on top - this one does not need to be immersed totally.

If you only have a small pot and the jar is too big, so long as the water comes up to the shoulder of the jar it will still work.  Bring the water up to a gentle boil and keep it boiling gently for about 10 minutes.  The jars can now be removed from the water and left to cool - keep them upright and simply leave them alone for 24 hours before checking that the seal is intact.  Any jars that fail can be resealed in the water bath again (but this tends to over cook the contents) or put in the freezer or into the fridge for use straight away.

The Oven Method:  Place your jars into a roasting tin with a couple of inches of water.  Put them into a warm oven (about 160C) for half an hour.  Remove and leave to cool for 24 hours before testing the seals. 

The main aim of these processes is to heat the air inside the jars so that as it rises (hot air rises) and escapes from the jar a vacuum is formed and no more air can enter because of the rubber seal.  Once there is a vacuum in the jar your products will last for at least a year (provided they remain sealed).  The timings given are for apples being processed at sea level - yep folks it makes a difference if you live in the mountains.  You really should get a good book to act as a guide, because the topic of preserving is much bigger than a single blog post.  Just remember that your produce is still cooking while in the water bath or the oven for the sealing time - so if you have really over cooked your puree and then you seal it for half an hour in the oven - it will be well and truly over cooked which may be noticeable in the flavour when you come to eat it.

Fruits that are made into jam do not usually need to be sealed in the jar, wax paper and selophane tops are generally all that is required to keep them fresh - it's the high sugar content that ensures the 'keepability' of the jam.  Likewise, chutneys and pickles that are high in vinegar also do not require sealing (although sometimes they will seal anyway, especially if you are potting them at a very high temperature, into kilner or disc and screw-top jars).  It's the fruits that are lower in sugar that are best vacuum sealed.  Especially if you are concerned about the amount of added sugar, bring a quantity of water to the boil and then simply simmer the apples in it for one minute before bottling.  As long as the jars seal they will keep just the same.

To release the seal on a kilner type jar, especially if it does not give when you pull at it, use a small pair of pliers to pull on the sticky-out bit of the rubber seal and pull it outwards so that contact between the rubber seal and the glass is broken and the air will rush in and the lid opens with a pop.  To open the metal disc lids, you need only stab the top with a knife or other sharp implement to pierce a hole in the disc, the air will rush in and the lid falls off.  The contents of your jars must now be treated like fresh produce and kept in the fridge or consumed within 24 hours.

Recipe for Apple Butter:  this is great in porridge or on toast or with pork, or make an apple/cheese soup by adding a cup full to a pint of chicken or vegetable stock and a little sweated onion and seasoning to taste.  Grate some cheese in a bowl and pour over the soup and add a sprinkling of paprika and some croutons - yummy!

Apple Butter:
  4lb mixed apple varieties (some that go to mush and others that don't when cooked)
1 cup apple cider
2 Cups granulated sugar
2 tbsp lemon juice

(yes I know the recipe is in cups.  Even though this is an American way of measuring I do think investing in a set of measuring cups is a really good idea - using the correct measures ensures the success of your recipe - and there are a lot of really good US recipes out there to try)

Cut the apples into chunks... cut the mushy apples into larger chunks than the other varieties.  Combine the apples with the cider in a heavy based saucepan and cook on a medium heat until the mixture is reduced by half or there are still some chunks of apple not gone to mush.

Stir in the sugar and the lemon juice and boil gently for about 25 minutes or until the mixture is very thick.  Remove from the heat and ladle into hot jars and then process as instructions above.  To vary you can add some ground cinnamon or mixed spices to the apples when cooking.


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