Sunday, September 16, 2007

Apples, peaches, and raspberries

Dave said today, as he took some pictures of us picking raspberries, that everything that used to be a Kodak moment is now a blog moment. This was one of those weekends:

It's been a harvest weekend. Yesterday Dave's friend Ki-Yun came for lunch, up from the New Haven area--he's on his way to work for Google in L.A.--and we all went apple and peaching picking. Really nice farm in Whately, Quonquont Farm, owned by two friendly women who let Lily play with their Aussie-Border Collie mix while we three trudged up the hill to the peach trees.

Ki-Yun is a veteran fruit-picker and oriented us newbies to the sport. I realized, too late, that we actually live 15 minutes away from these farms and we don't have to pick like we live in Brooklyn still and won't get back to the country again for another year, at least. We got too much to deal with in two days, in other words. Read on...

Peaches are on their way out but we still got lots and they are small but really tasty. Dave and Ki-Yun were ooing and ahhhing about peaches they were tasting when I brought over a white peach for them to try. Dave was ecstatic, couldn't believe how delicious it was and how much better than the nasty old peach he was nibbling on. I have never really cared much for fruit and I think it's because supermarket fruit, or any fruit that's traveled a-ways, just isn't always very good. But this stuff! It's to die for.

We picked got apples, which are just starting to come in, at this farm. No macouns yet, but lots of macs and empires and jonagolds, which Mark Bittman says are pretty rare (at least in supermarkets), as well as some varieties of delicious. Ground fruit was half-price, so I picked that, especially for the applesauce, and let Lily have fun getting stuff off the trees.

Today the three of us picked Nourse Farm raspberries, which are just into their brief fall season. Both days were gorgeous, after the rain ended yesterday morning. I am a sick puppy: There were probably five acres of raspberries and at most 20 people picking, and I started panicking that there wouldn't be enough for us, that they were taking all our berries. Sick, I tell you. We filled up our buckets and hadn't even gotten half way down our row. Dave convinced me that what turned out to be 11 pints of berries was enough, and he was right, of course. And of course we can always go back next weekend.

We picked a lotta fruit. Here's what we did with it back home:

-- We made a dozen quarts of applesauce yesterday. Even Lily liked it. She said, "This is the best applesauce I ever had--it tastes just like store-bought!" Err, yeah. She asked for it for breakfast, though, so I guess we're onto something.

-- Today I froze a half dozen quart bags of peaches, including those luscious white peaches, and I just put two more trays of slices into the freezer, which will translate into another half dozen bags. (You are supposed to blanch the peaches very quickly, 10 seconds, and that makes the peeling, pitting, and slicing a lot easier. You put the slices on a tray lined with Saran Wrap or plastic because the peaches are very wet and juicy at this point and will stick. Once they are frozen you transfer them into plastic bags. When they are frozen they aren't mushy and won't stick to each other. I measured them out two cups at a time to use in future recipes.)

-- I froze three gallon bags of raspberries--you freeze them on a cookie sheet and then transfer them into the bags. How best to freeze all this fruit comes from my mother who, I believe, learned these techniques from one or both of my sisters. Credit where credit is due. I did not measure them into two-cup portions because the blueberries pour out so easily I figured the raspberries will, too. So I can just pour out two cups, or whatever, at a time.

And let me just digress here to give more credit here to Emily Noyes, who showed us how to suck the air out of a ziplock bag full of blueberries using a straw. Way cool. Emily has also taught me a lot about picking and freezing and cooking. She makes an extraordinary blueberry pie, and I am not a big fan of blueberry pie.

-- In addition to foodmilling all the applesauce and helping me with the peach blanching, Dave made eight jars of peach jam today. Don't you wish you were on our Christmas list!

All this is on top of many bags of whole tomatoes and cooked tomato sauce that Dave had already made, along with some gallon bags of corn from leftover corn on the cob. (We'd get a dozen, eat four or five, and then scrape off the rest. I love corn chowder, especially in the dead of winter.)

The kicker was that for some reason (I guess I'm in nesting mode and I'm eager to try out our new freezer), I had decided earlier in the week to defrost the chicken backs and necks that Dave had gotten for me at Whole Foods. I was thinking this would be a great weekend to make stock. Dave reminded me this morning that I had defrosted all this chicken, and that meant I had to cook it up. So I now have a half dozen quarts of rich chicken stock in our new freezer, as well.

I suppose all this food prep and making our own sounds really fussy and anal. Why not just buy chicken stock or frozen corn? Why not open a can or dial for take-out? Of course, we are not above doing all that when we have to.

But one of the first things Dave and I found we had in common was our love of food--he would say, "I want as much food in my food as possible." That's as opposed to preservatives and additives and artificial chemicals; did you know that "natural flavor" means "artificial flavor"? Celestial Seasonings has "natural flavors" in many of their teas. Dave would also say he didn't like to eat something he couldn't conceivably make at home, which lets out Twinkies and Coke, more or less.

I come from a family where what you ate and how it was cooked was important, and I have been on various food journeys of my own. Together we have found that the flavor of homecooked food simply tastes better. Homemade stock in soup is better, IMHO, than water, or a bullion cube, or even a box of pretty good stock. That's just me.

Besides, I decided tonight, as I was musing over all this, exhausted, bleary, my back and shoulders aching, my hands sliced up and dried out from all my chopping accidents and all the dishes I've washed for these two days: I enjoy it. Go figure.

Come visit us and taste the difference.

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