I have a beautiful, unexpected day off today, and am spending it in the kitchen, drying, preserving, mixing dough, thinking. Invariably it happens - someone close or far, a friend, a relative, a colleague, visits this blog and asks the same question. Why make bitters, or butter, or vermouth, or ketchup from scratch? Usually, the answer seems so clear to me, I needn’t even consider before answering. But last night I wondered aloud if it wasn’t just a little petty maybe, or a little silly, a grown up way, maybe, to play with my food.
No, Andy (my beloved, my better, more humane and just self) said, it’s a search for authenticity, for the authentic experience. Indeed. We are so far divorced from the way our food is made or grown, we often have trouble recognizing the real thing.
What, for instance, would real grenadine taste like? We have the “false” version on our bar (ingredients: high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, natural and artificial flavors, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, red 40, blue 1.), but I’ve been thinking of making some from scratch, out of real pomegranates. How about mayonnaise, granola?
I’m reading And Then, You Act, a collection of essays about making art, and more specifically, theater, in an unpredictable world. In her introduction, Anne Bogart suggest that as Americans in the 21st century we are the objects of “constant flattery and manufactured desire.” “I believe,” she says, “that the only possible resistance to a culture of banality is quality.” I believe that to be true of art, but I feel the same way about food. In many ways, quality and authenticity are synonymous. Eat, Michael Pollan suggests, food that your great, great grandmother would recognize as food. So today I peeled and sliced pears, cut apples into rounds.
Dried fruit is so easy, it hardly deserves a recipe. If you don’t have a food dehydrator, you can dry fruit successfully in the oven, but it will take a bit longer.
Dried Pears or Apples
- 4-5 lbs ripe apples or pears, peeled if desired
- 1-2 cups lemon juice (optional) or
- 1 cup honey (optional)
1. Cut fruit into uniform slices or rounds, about 1/8 - 1/4 inch.
2. If desired, treat with lemon juice (to help preservation), or honey (to sweeten). Place fruit on drying rack or cookie sheet with room enough between slices to allow for air circulation.
- To treat with lemon juice, mix 1 part lemon juice to 1 part water in a large bowl and place fruit into it. Allow to soak 10 minutes, drain well and place on drying rack or cookie sheet.
- To treat with honey, mix 1 cup honey with 1 1/2 cups warm water and stir to dissolve. Add fruit and soak 3-5 minutes. Drain well and place on drying rack or cookie sheet.
3. Set dehydrator to 135 degrees or oven to the lowest possible setting (or 140 degrees) and set racks inside. If using an oven, leave the door open slightly and, if possible, point a fan in to increase air circulation.
4. Dry for 6-12 hours depending on temperature and humidity, checking frequently when fruit is close to being ready. To test for doneness, cut several piece in half. There should be no visible moisture and fruit should not stick to itself when pressed together. The dried fruit should have about 20% moisture content.
5. Allow to cool and pack tightly into clean, dry, well sealed containers. Store in a cool dry place. Fruit will keep for up to one year.
Making apple or apple-pear sauce is just as easy as drying fruit. The sweetness of ripe pears works perfectly with tart, ripe apples. I used a variety of both - McIntosh, Granny Smith, and Cox’s Orange Pippin apples, and Bosc and Comice pears.
- About 20 medium apples, or a combination of apples and pears, cored, quartered, and peeled if desired
- 2-3 cups water
- 1 tbs honey
- 1 tsp almond extract
1. Place fruit in a large, heavy pot with about an inch of water and simmer, stirring regularly, until soft. Crush any remaining chunks against the side of the pot.
2. Stir in the honey and almond extract. The sauce will probably be sweet enough without the honey, but I like to add it for the flavor. Orange and vanilla extracts are also excellent, as is cinnamon.
3. Pour into sterile jars and process 15 minutes in a boiling water canner. Or transfer to a glass container and store 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Yields about 5 pints.