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Not Far From the Mason Jar

Canned spiced apple preserve ready for the cold room

Canned spiced apple preserve ready for the cold room

Thanks to Not Far From the Tree I have finally had the experience of picking fruit in an urban backyard.  Like many other Torontonians I was introduced to this organisation through Toronto Life’s 50 Reasons to Love Toronto article this spring.  The idea is so simple that I’m shocked it wasn’t implemented thirty years ago: Connect volunteer fruit pickers with the dozens of homeowners who have fruit trees in their backyards that go unpicked every year.  A third of each harvest goes to the tree’s owner, a third to the volunteer “gleaners”, and the final third is donated to a charitable community organisation.

The backyard that I was assigned to pick in had a very large pear tree and a medium-sized apple tree.  My short time in the pear tree demonstrated why dwarf fruit tree stock is so popular.  It seems like it would be a simple task to lean an extension ladder against the tree, climb it, and fill your bag with ripe fruit.  Not so.  At least in the case of this tree the fruit seemed to be concentrated on the highest, least-stable (and therefore least supportive of a ladder) branches.   Appropriately for urban fruit-picking our efforts were further hampered by the cable and telephone supply lines that run through the middle of the tree’s crown.  Even spotting the green pears amongst the green foliage was a difficult task that required the help of ground-based spotter.  Optimistically speaking we might have harvested about ten pears from the whole tree.

The six pounds of apples that I took home complete with twigs and leaves

The six pounds of apples that I took home complete with twigs and leaves

The smaller (maybe fifteen feet tall) apple tree was a much different story.  The apples were also concentrated in the upper branches where they get more sunlight, more airflow and are less crowded by neighbouring branches.  Many were reachable from the ground using these nifty fruit pickers mounted on telescoping aluminum handles.  By climbing onto a sturdy fork in the tree I was able to reach the higher fruit. Thirty minutes of balancing, stretching, and twisting in an apple tree is surprisingly good exercise.

The haul of green but still quite sweet (personally, I think they could have used another couple weeks on the tree) apples was an amazing forty-eight pounds.  From this total I got to take about six pounds home with me.  These apples were tasty but because of their small size and abundant scars I designated them for preserving and luckily had just come across a recipe for spiced apples on sweethome.ca.

Grated apples ready to have the juice squeezed from them

Grated apples ready to have the juice squeezed from them

I used the recipe, without alteration, and found the process quite easy.  The apples are prepared by quartering, coring, and removing any bruises (no peeling necessary, thank God).  The apple wedges are then grated in batches in a food processor and then transferred to a towel- or chessecloth-lined colander so that the apple juice can be squeezed out.  The juice extraction takes more force than you might think and the bigger the towel the better.  After spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) are added and the grated apple has been boiled in sugar syrup it can be canned.

Five jars of spiced apples that will adorn many bowls of oatmeal this winter

Five jars of spiced apples that will adorn many bowls of oatmeal this winter

I often find that preserving recipes yield a volume of product that doesn’t fit exactly (and sometimes not even remotely) into the size and number of jars listed.  The extra half jar is a good way to tide over our appetite until the rest has a chance to mature in the cellar.  This time round the amount of apples I used exactly filled five jars (three 500 ml and two 250 ml) but one of the smaller jars didn’t seal properly (if there is any give to the lid after processing either refrigerate or re-process) so I can report that the flavour is wonderful and reminiscent of apple pie. I know that the picture on the sweethome recipe page seems to suggest that this preserve would make a good pie filling but my plans for these spices apples are tending more towards topping oatmeal or vanilla ice cream.

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6 Comments

  1. Heather Ann says:

    Lovely post, and a great summation of picking with Not Far From The Tree! I picked apples with them at Spadina House today, so I may end up using this recipe! I’m drying some apple slices and I’ve already made apple cake. Apple butter and apple crisp are also on my list. :)

    Also, your RSS feed isn’t working at the moment.

  2. [...] the prep for the spiced apples this process is rather long and needs to be done manually with a knife (texture and flavour [...]

  3. [...] With Legs – reaping the rewards of volunteering with Not Far From the [...]

  4. Elizabeth says:

    What a cool idea “Not Far From the Tree” is! Too bad about the pears though. (I was imagining how great it would be to oven-dry thinly sliced pears.)

  5. [...] Spiced Apples:  The taste of this apple preserve is great but so far I haven’t used very much of it.  Maybe that is because we haven’t reached oatmeal-for-breakfast weather so I’ll reserve judgment on this preserve’s utility.  Much of this batch’s cachet comes from its use of foraged apples and as I’m finding more apple trees at the cottage that go unharvested I continue to look for good apple recipes.  Next year: Uncertain. [...]

  6. [...] wrote last summer about my experience picking apples with the community organisation, Not Far From the Tree.  That [...]

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