Saturday, October 15, 2011

Organic Local Apples

A new source for Organic Apples
Farmer, farmer put away your DDT now, 
I'll take spots on my apples, 
Leave me the birds and the bees... 

I love that song. The original. The remakes. Of course, we're not using DDT anymore, but there are plenty of other "proven safe" but make you (or me) nervous chemicals being sprayed on our agriculture still. Living in the mid-Atlantic, the problem I've found is that if you want local, as I generally prefer, you're going to have a tough time finding organic fruits. Sure, plenty of people have an apple or pear tree, or two, growing in their backyard. They don't touch it and it produces fine, if not beautiful, organic fruit. There is an organic blueberry farm not too farm from here (in Olney, Md), but blueberries are among the easiest fruit to grow organically. Tree fruit is tough.

So, I was delighted when a friend mentioned a source for organic apples out of Pennsylvania: Oyler's Organic Farms.  And I was thrilled when I saw the prices. Where the organic blueberry prices are several times those at the average pick-your-own farm (but chemical free), the organic apples were just plain normal grocery store prices. They sell #1 and #2 apples, by the 1/2 and full bushel. These aren't pick-your-own. You place and order, then drive to pick them up.

Since I had no idea what to expect, I went with a full bushel of #1 Ida Reds in a box. I figured the extra costs for #1 apples and also for the box, over a bag, might be worth it. The apples were $42 for 42 lbs! That's unbeatable in my book. Friends told me that they still used the #2 apples as eating apples, but that you'd have to cut pieces out here and there. I am processing a lot of my apples into sauce or freezing them for winter desserts, so you'd think I wouldn't mind cutting. I probably don't, but not cutting is even easier. And it would tell me what to expect.

My box of #1 Ida Reds

I was thrilled with these apples. They were indeed spots. All of them had some scab looking thing, but not a single one had an issue under the surface. Not one. I peeled and sliced about 30 apples (with the ever-helpful Pampered Chef tool) and found absolutely no problems. Another large bunch were sauced whole, but cored, and again, no issues.  The last big bunch went to making Fresh Apple salsa that I mentioned in my last post, for freezing. And, a handful went to the fridge.
All the apples had some blemishes like this
And all the apples looked great inside - like this !

There's still some time left for apple picking in the season. There's no doubt this is the best way for me to go. I'm looking forward to some York apples, which are supposedly much more sour, in the next few weeks. Yum yum.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Variety of Thoughts for Fall

Hot pepper and lemon basil jellies
Well, this Summer turned out to be quite a trip, and unfortunately, the first thing to go by the wayside was writing and food sourcing. I have no idea whether my posts were missed, but here I am again, and hopefully will get back to being a bit more regular. Sadly, we've passed the height of fresh food from local sources, so we'll see how it goes. Since so much time has passed, instead of a cohesive topic, I have a bunch of early Fall subjects to touch upon today. Hopefully some of it will be helpful.

If you find yourself thinking about the long winter ahead without fresh local food, a winter CSA might be for you. My local buying group is going in together again with subscriptions at Everblossom Farm, outside of Gettysburg, PA. With pick ups only every other week and a group of families to share the driving, you can have a wide range of produce throughout the five months you would normally trek to the grocery store and get straight from Mexico or elsewhere. If you're in Southern Carroll County, you might even be able to join our group. Check out my earlier posts on Everblossom and our CSA experience last year.

My only worry about the CSA this year is that the weather here in the mid-Atlantic has been beyond dreadful this year. Today is our second day of clear blue sky in literally many weeks. The rainfall for August and September was ridiculously high and washed out a lot of farmer's Fall plantings.  Many farmers were left with poor growth and failed seedlings.  Tom of Nev-R-Dun farm in Westminster even failed to show a few weeks at the farmer's market this last month, as his plants had been hit so hard.

My own adventures didn't fair well either. I wrote earlier about my big project to create a fenced garden. It was a raised bed filled with about 7 yards of compost from D.R. Snell Nursery in Mt. Airy. Unfortunately, their compost, though extremely expensive ($27/yard+delivery), was really not good. It had not fully composted, had huge chunks of cloth, wood, and rocks in it. But most importantly, it's nutrient levels were way off. It is supposed to be manure and leaf litter, but it was very low in nitrogen, and it all but killed off my tomatoes. Everything except cucumbers were a complete failure this year.  I can only hope that next year the ground will be fully composted and ready for seeds.

The other thing we do about this year is plan for our winter meat orders. Chickens are a big one. You can't get pastured chickens locally from about November until around April. So, my group always puts in big orders to freeze through the winter. Unfortunately, this Summer was a kicker for local chicken farmers. Predation took hundreds of birds. Our usual sources, Sattva Place, Akeys Farm, and Jehovah Jirah can not fulfill our usual big order (~20 birds). So, that's incredibly disappointing. If you know another good source in the area, please add it to the comments section. We also buy our turkeys about this time of year, but Copper Penny Farm also suffered huge losses due to heat and predators this Summer. It's unclear whether they will be offering any birds for Thanksgiving. Bummer, man.

My usual source for beef, Ruth Ann's Garden Style Beef, is doing their winter orders earlier this year.  Her pick up will be in November this year, and orders are due very soon. Other farmers may have later order times, but I haven't seen any specifics.

It's apple picking time ! I've been asked by a number of different people about preserving apples recently, specifically about freezing apples. Yes, apples freeze extremely well. I do a few things with them. I'll slice about 6 apples, toss them in sugar (for preservative), and freeze them in a ziploc, removing as much air as I can. This is exactly what you need for an apple pie. You can use the apples frozen, and some people even freeze the apple with the bag sitting in a pie tin so they have the exact shape they need. You can also just dice the apples, skin on or off and freeze them like that. That's great for apple toppings and crumbles. I also make a lot of sauce, but my absolute favorite these days is apple ginger salsa, which freezes fabulously.

I think I got this recipe from last year, but am not sure... in any case, they have one listed there... they call it Fresh Apple Salsa Recipe. Make a bunch. Freeze it in pint or half pint jars. It goes fast.  I like it best with yellow corn tortillas.


  • 2 tart apples, cored and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 fresh Anaheim chile, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. In a large bowl, stir together apples and lime juice. Stir in jalapeno and Anaheim chile slices. Stir in onion, cilantro, walnuts, ginger, and salt. Mix thoroughly.
The other thing to do right now is deal with herbs you have in the deck or garden. Most of them can be cut and dried inside - hung in the basement is perfect. Oregano is a perennial. Just cut a bunch of it's stems off, dry them, and ta-da! you have oregano for the winter. Mint is the same. I also usually dig up a bit of mint, pot it, and bring it inside for the winter.  If you have lemon verbena for it's fabulous herbal tea or otherwise, you can actually bring that plant in for the winter. It is a tender perennial, so if you don't, you'll have to buy another next year. Instead, dig it up, shake off all the outside soil. Cut off almost all of the growth - and dry that in your basement for winter tea ! -- so that it doesn't stress out. Re-pot and keep in a sunny location. It will completely regrow during the winter and you can use it fresh. 
I also grew lemon basil this year and didn't use it. So, last week I was contemplating what to do.Turns out, it makes awesome jelly. With about 2-3 cups of lemon basil, you can create a lemon tea, add sugar and pectin. I doubt you need to use a hot bath canning process, but I did. The result is a lemon drop flavored jelly - delicious ! As is always the case with jams/jellies, getting it to set how you want can be tricky. The batch I made this past week set, but is a bit runny. It sorta has a honey texture. In any case, lemon basil jelly on cream cheese and crackers.... yum yum.  I'm certain that lemon verbena would produce a similar tasting jelly.
jellies with cream cheese on crackers - scrumptious!
 While you're  in the mood of topping cream cheese and crackers, might as well make some hot pepper jelly. If you've never had it before and you like hot-sweet combos, you are seriously missing out. This super easy jelly is made with apple cider vinegar, chopped hot peppers, and sugar. A lot of recipes also add sweet red peppers. Last year I made bulgarian carrot pepper jelly -- at it set perfectly. This year it set a bit runny, so you never quite know. There are any number of recipes out there for hot pepper jelly. It's so easy and so acidic (so there's no real risk of getting sick later), I always recommend it for beginner canners. 
 Well, I guess that's enough for now.