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Low-Fat Apple Bread

slices of apple bread slices of apple bread (photo by jhy)
You will need:
  • 2 c chopped apples
  • 1/2 c chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
  • 1/4 c oil
  • 1/2 c yogurt
  • 1/3 c honey
  • 1 egg (or 1/4 c egg substitute)
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t nutmeg
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t soda
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1 c white flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour
9x5 loaf pan or equivalent bowl measuring cups sharp knife spoons, scrapers, etc This bread is less sweet than the Pear-Almond Bread. I really like them both. I think this apple bread is good for breakfast, or to go with a vegetable-based soup. Peel and chop the apples. I usually make the chunks 1/4- 3/8 inch on a side- something between what I would call fine and coarse. Prepare the pan by greasing, lining with wax paper and grease again. Breads with large chunks of fruit tend to stick to the pan, and the extra minute it takes to line with wax paper is well worth it. Mix the wet ingredients and beat well. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until they are all moistened. Add the apples and nuts and stir in. The batter will be very thick.
unbaked apple bread in a loaf pan spread the dough in a loaf pan and level (photo by jhy)
Spread in a loaf pan. (I doubled the recipe, which is why there are two pans in the picture). You will need to level the dough. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick or tester comes out clean. Remove from pan and peel the wax paper immediately. Cool before slicing.
You may be able to tell that my pans are not 9x5. They are approximately 10x4, and have no brand label, but they make a nicely shaped loaf. The only ones of a comparable size that I find on line are these ridiculously priced ones. What can I say? I really prefer this shape for quick breads because the slices are more nearly square instead of low rectangles. Glad I found these somewhere in my past!

Making Applesauce with No Food Mill

apples cooking in a pan pan full of apple chunks (photo by jhy)
You will need:
pan with a tight lid
sharp knife
potato masher or strong fork

This is actually my preferred method of making applesauce. Since almost all the apples I use are free, low-quality apples, I would have to do a lot of trimming anyway, and I think it's just easier to peel and core them as well. The food mill is a lot of mess (in my opinion).

Peel, core, and remove bad spots from the apples. There is no set amount- it makes no difference, but you wouldn't want to fill a pan to the very top. You need some expansion and stirring space for cooking.

Place the apple chunks (I cut apples into quarters if small, or eighths if larger) in the pan, and add just a skim of water to the pan. Really, just a tiny bit. In this 6-quart saucepan I used maybe a quarter-cup of water. This is just enough to get the juices to start flowing in the apples with out burning.

Put the cover on the pan and place over the lowest heat possible. Check in about 5 minutes. Remove the cover, and the apples should have started creating their own liquid. At this point you can raise the heat a little bit, but keep it no higher than medium. Leave the lid off, and continue cooking until the apples are soft. Stir occasionally to redistribute the apples at the top down into the liquid.

When the apples are soft- usually in 5-10 minutes, use a potato masher to turn them into sauce. You can leave it as chunky as you like.

homemade chunky applesauce homemade applesauce- this batch is quite chunky (photo by jhy)
You can't get all the chunks out with this method. However, my husband likes extra-smooth applesauce, so I usually put some in the blender for him.

The flavor of the applesauce will depend on the variety of apples used. It's up to you- sweet or tart- or just whatever you can get! Sweeten to taste and/or add a dash or cinnamon or nutmeg.

Shaggy Mane Mushrooms- First Impressions of Edibility

shaggy mane mushrooms, picked shaggy mane mushrooms, just harvested (photo by jhy)
I have read, and been told by several people that shaggy mane mushrooms, Coprinus comatus, are some of the best there is, but I had never tried them. They pop up in my own lawn once every few years, so I decided to give them a try. See Identifying Shaggy Mane Mushrooms for tips on harvesting them.

The trick is to get them before they self-digest. In the first picture you can see that two of the ones I picked are beginning to turn black at the lower edges. I simply cut that part off. Supposedly it won't hurt you, but will affect the flavor. I was happy enough to cut it off. You can also see the characteristic hollow stem.

shaggy mane mushrooms, halved shaggy mane mushrooms, halved (photo by jhy)
Next, I cut them in half. Here's what they looked like.

shaggy mane mushrooms, scraped shaggy mane mushrooms, scraped (photo by jhy)
Since I didn't really have any further instructions on what to do, I decided to scrape off the shaggy outer layer. This was easy to do, I rubbed it with the back of my knife and it peeled right off. I don't know if you really need to do this or not, but it was an easy way to remove the superficial dirt. The mushroom was fairly fragile, but not crumbly. I then cut it in small pieces and fried it in a little butter.

shaggy mane mushrooms, fried shaggy mane mushrooms, fried (photo by jhy)
The pieces cooked quickly but didn't really brown because they exuded this milky white juice. I wondered if I did something wrong. I had collected them on a very cold morning, and wondered if I should have let them come to room temperature before cooking. But some later research revealed that this is just what these mushrooms do. They are recommended for mushroom soup, and I can see why. If I have a chance to collect some more, I will probably try that.

shaggy mane mushrooms, fried with an egg shaggy mane mushrooms, fried with an egg (photo by jhy)
As it was, I simply cooked them with an egg for my breakfast. The flavor is mild and sweet, and the texture is silky. I can see why they have such a good reputation. I will definitely make it a point to collect these when I see them in the future.

They need to be cooked right after collecting. They will continue to self-digest even after picking. Cooked ones can supposedly be frozen. I simply put the extras in the refrigerator and had them for breakfast the next day.

With any wild food, it is a good idea to only eat a small amount the first time you try it, to be certain that you don't have some personal allergy, even if the food is considered to be edible. I had no adverse reaction to these mushrooms, and since they are quite easy to identify, I'll be watching for them.

Identifying Shaggy Mane Mushrooms

young shaggy mane mushroom young shaggy mane mushroom (photo by jhy)
Shaggy Mane mushrooms are one of the easy-to-identify species. Beginners can't really get in trouble with this if they are paying attention. The top picture is what the mushroom should look like when you collect them- a tall (about 3-4 inches tall) oval with shaggy, curled edges- sort of like old shingles- on the outer layer. This appearance also gives it the common name of Lawyer's Wig.

The scientific name is Coprinus comatus, and it is one of the strange self-digesting mushrooms. This will give you the means to positively identify it. This also means that if you find some, don't go back another day to collect it, because it will be unusable, if not gone. The black parts are not poisonous, but the good flavor is ruined.

mature shaggy mane mushroom mature shaggy mane mushroom (photo by jhy)
As the cap opens out you can see that it is already turning black, and there are stringy threads "flowing" down the outside. At this point it's way too late to eat. However, this appearance, coupled with the tall oval shape of the young mushrooms, will guarantee that you've found the correct species.

It grows in lawns and waste places, and you may see fruiting bodies from spring through fall. I've usually seen them from August onwards, but they can appear earlier. Avoid eating mushrooms that are growing in soil that is polluted- for example, a brownfield. The only real lookalike is Coprinopsis veriegata (also known as Coprinus variegatus and Coprinus quadrifidus and Coprinus ebulbosus. Taxonomy is in real flux with DNA testing.) The lookalike tends to grow on logs, not from the ground, and is not as white. It is also edible, so this is not a deadly mistake, but some references say to not consume alcohol with the lookalike.

self-digested shaggy mane mushroom self-digested shaggy mane mushroom (photo by jhy)
These Shaggy Manes are almost completely gone. The self-digestion process has continued until there is only a tiny cap left, and strings of the black "ooze."

Collect the white, shaggy ovals, and use right away. They will self-digest even after picking, sometimes within a few hours.

If you find a place where they grow, visit it each year because the underground mycelium will keep sending up the fruiting bodies (the part you see) annually.

Found a Yellow Crabapple Tree

yellow crabapple tree yellow crabapple tree (photo by jhy)
This tree was literally in the ditch. I was driving down a country road and saw yellow fruits, about an inch in diameter flash by. I resolved to stop there on my way home. I did just that, and found a yellow crabapple tree. Until a couple of weeks ago I didn't know they exist. Now I know that there are several varieties, although I'm not sure which one this is. I suspect it may be the cultivar "Golden Hornet."

yellow crabapple fruits yellow crabapple fruits (photo by jhy)
That is described as having huge crops of conspicuous yellow fruit with branches bending under the weight. These obviously ripen much later than the red crabapples, as they are just now turning golden. They are often planted simply to be ornamental, since the fruits stay on the branches through the winter. Apparently, they are also a good tree to plant with other apples to aid with cross-pollination.

I sampled one and brought a few home. The fruit is much sweeter than red crabapples. It's almost like a golden delicious apple. Of course, what I love about the red ones is their tart taste, so I don't think these will make my list of favorites.

yellow crabapple fruits yellow crabapple fruits (photo by jhy)
The ones I brought home turned completely yellow in two days and are beginning to get spots already. I cut them up in pieces to eat on my yogurt this morning.

No Mess Grape Juice

homemade grape juice jars of juice just after processing (photo by jhy)
You will need:
Wild (or domestic) grapes
sugar (and optionally, substitute)
quart canning jars
lids, rings
measuring cup
pans, utensils, etc

This method of making juice does not result in a beverage you can drink immediately, but it's incredibly easy. You have to wait a few months to drink the juice. I can hardly describe how wonderful wild grape juice is... it's like stepping into the autumn woods in mid-winter every time you take a sip.

A friend told me about this method. I've tried it with several different kinds of fruit, but this post will focus on grape. The great advantage is that you don't have to squeeze and strain grape juice which can stain things very badly.

Wash and sterilize as many quart jars as you think you will need. You can cover with a clean towel and let them rest until you have the grapes ready.

The part of this job that takes a lot of time is taking the small, wild grapes off the stems. Wash the grapes- it's easiest to do this while they are still in bunches. The main things to watch for on wild grapes are mold or spider webs. You'll need one cup of clean grapes for each quart. OK, your fingers will get purple doing this, but it's nothing like the mess of boiling grapes and squeezing the liquid through a jelly bag.

grapes and sugar in canning jar grapes, sugar and sugar substitute in a quart jar (photo by jhy)
Set water to boil- enough to fill all the jars you plan to use. Then, in each quart jar put 1 c of grapes and 1/2 c of sweetener. This can be all sugar, or half sugar and half substitute. I have not tried it with all sugar substitute, but it would probably work since there is no texture issue in this recipe as there is with baking.

Fill jars with boiling water, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Clean rim, put on lids and rings. Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath. See basic instructions for hot water bath canning.

homemade grape juice after storing juice that's been in the pantry for a year (photo by jhy)
The just-processed juice will be very pale. The picture doesn't show it very well, but if you look at the left-most jar in the front row (top picture), you can pretty much see how translucent it is. When the jars have cooled, remove rings and place the juice in a pantry or somewhere to store for at least three months before opening. Over this time, the juice will develop. When you do open the jars, strain and remove the fruit. The juice is then ready to drink.

Autumn Cobbler

dish of autumn cobbler dish of autumn cobbler with whipped topping
(photo by jhy)
You will need:
For the Filling:
  • 3 c sliced apples
  • 3 c sliced pears
  • 3 c halved and seeded grapes (any will do, but Concord is divine)
  • 1/4 c flour
  • 1 c brown sugar
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1 T orange juice
For the Topping:
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 1/2 c butter or margarine (melted)
  • 2 t fresh grated orange rind
9x13 baking pan bowls measuring cups, spoons, scraper etc. We love this dessert. However, it's not a low-calorie treat. The part we love most is the filling, so I'm going to work on a different topping. You could even fix the fruit alone as a compote, and use half sugar substitute. You can easily cut this in half for an 8x8 pan. I have made it with several kinds of grapes. Our favorite, by far, is Concord. Although these do have seeds you have to remove, the flavor is amazing. It takes some prep time to cut the fruits, and baking time is a total of one hour. Sometimes I forget to buy the orange. You can leave it out without dire consequences.
autumn cobbler prepared fruits autumn cobbler prepared fruits (photo by jhy)
Prepare the fruit and mix together in a large bowl with the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and juice.
autumn cobbler filling autumn cobbler filling, before baking (photo by jhy)
Pour into greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 425 F for 30 minutes Meanwhile, mix the dry ingredients for the topping. In a separate bowl combine the liquid ingredients, mixing to combine. Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients and stir well. When the fruit is cooked, remove from oven and spoon the topping over the fruit. Bake an additional 20-30 minutes until golden.
autumn cobbler in the pan autumn cobbler in the pan (photo by jhy)
Serve hot or cold. Whipped topping or ice cream is great with this. You can cut into any serving size you want, but we find that 12 portions is about right for adults.

Gathering Wild Grapes

Wild grapes are good for a number of food products. There are several varieties, and they are all fine for use. In the video, I'm collecting summer grape, Vitis aestivalis, but fox grape, frost grape, riverbank grape (and others) are all fine too. Experts recognize between 19 and 35 species of native North American grape, and the taxonomy is probably changing as we speak. They are all fine to use.

Wild grape fruits grow in clusters, just like domestic grapes, but the fruits will be smaller. They are also much more acid (sour). Some years they are sweeter than others. In any case, wait until after the first frost before collecting them, because they will be sweeter then.

In the video I suggest using scissors to cut off the clusters, which works well, but they can just be broken off by hand. I found a vine that was covered when I was out and about yesterday, and collected a pail full in just a few minutes, by hand.

In any event, the fruits are small, and unless it's an exceptionally good year there will be more waste than with commercial grapes, so be sure you collect lots!

Fresh Apple Cider- No Press Needed

glass of apple cider fresh apple cider (photo by jhy)
You will need:
food grinder or processor
cheesecloth or jelly bag
large bowl, pans, etc
jar or jug for storage

You can easily make small batches of fresh apple cider with no expensive press, and no special equipment.

We aren't big cider drinkers, but I do like a glass or two in the fall, and I hate paying grocery store prices when we have lots of scabby, less-than-perfect apples in the aged orchard we own. But, I thought you had to have a press to make cider, and those cost hundreds of dollars. Was I ever wrong!

This is exceptionally easy, and for families that aren't trying to produce a 55-gallon drum full of cider, it's not even very time consuming.

grinding apples to make cider grinding apples to make cider (photo by jhy)
Use the grinder or processor to make a mash of the apples. The great thing about cider is that you can use bruised apples, drops, damaged or insect bitten apples. Don't peel or remove the stems or anything. I did cut them into quarters just to make it easier to get them started in my Universal grinder. I used the smallest cutting wheel that is not the nut butter wheel.

There is no reason you need to measure anything at all for this process, but I did, just to get an idea of how much cider I was getting in relation to the ground up apples. From a quart of ground apples I got 2 cups of cider. This would vary a lot depending on the juiciness of the fruits, but at least it's a ball park figure.

squeezing apple cider in a jelly bag squeeze the cider through a jelly bag (photo by jhy)
Take a pile of the ground apples and stuff it into a jelly bag or wrap in several layers of cheescloth. Do this over a large bowl, because the juice will begin to flow immediately. With clean hands squeeze the bag until you can't get any more juice out of the apple mash.

Dump the now-dry apple leavings into the compost.

strain the apple cider strain the apple cider (photo by jhy)
Because my jelly bag has some holes, I took a couple of extra seconds to run the fresh cider through a sieve, just to strain out any lumps that might have escaped while I was squeezing.

Put the cider in a clean jar or jug and store in the refrigerator. This won't keep as well as the pasteurized cider they sell at the store, so be sure to either freeze or use it soon.

I wish I had known this 30 years ago because this is a great project to do with kids, especially with a hand food grinder. I would recommend doing it outside with young helpers, though, because it was pretty messy, even with just me doing it. I would certainly have done this with my Cub Scout den. In an hour, working alone, I made more than 2 quarts of cider. A group of kids grinding and squeezing could get completely sticky and satisfied at a job that would produce food they could consume right away and even take some home.

I'm pretty sure this discovery is going to make my top 10 list of new finds for 2011!

Pear Almond Bread- Good for Dessert

pear almond bread pear almond bread (photo by jhy)
You will need:
    1 1/2 c. chopped pears (about 1/2 inch cubes)
  • 1 c. sugar OR 1/2 c sugar and 1/2 c sugar substitute
  • 1/4 c. vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs OR 1/2 c Egg Beaters™
  • 1/2 c. plain lowfat yogurt
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 1 t. almond extract
  • 1 1/2 c. white flour
  • 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. nutmeg
  • 1/2 c. sliced or slivered almonds
  • 1/2 t. grated lemon peel
a medium bowl measuring cups & spoons spoons, fork, whisk, scraper 9 x 5 inch (or equivalent) loaf pan wax paper shortening to grease pan This is one of our very favorite quick breads and it uses quite a few pears. The pears remain in chunks throughout the bread after baking, so it is very moist. In fact, it will begin to mold in about an instant, so it's good to either eat it right away or freeze. More on that at the end. Combine the sugar (and substitute), oil and yogurt in a bowl and beat or whisk. Add eggs (or substitute) one at a time and beat well after each. Mix in the extracts. Add dry ingredients (sift if you want, but I never do) and mix. Add pears, almonds, and lemon peel (you can leave this out) and mix thoroughly. Prepare loaf pan by greasing the inside, line long sides and bottom with a length of wax paper, and grease the paper. This bread really likes to stick to the pan, so it's worth it to take time to do this.
pear almond bread batter pear almond bread batter in lined loaf pan (photo by jhy)
Spoon into loaf pan, and level somewhat. Bake 1 hour at 350 F. Cool slightly, then remove from pan to complete cooling. I slice this into 16 slices, and with the healthier substitutes, each slice is about 185 calories. It's a fairly sweet bread, because pears are just very sweet, so we like to eat it as a dessert. Because it molds so fast, I slice it, accordion fold a strip of wax paper between the slices, and freeze it in double bags or a bag and container. Then it's easy to pull out one slice at a time. I actually like to eat it when it's still partially frozen. Yummy! Excellent with coffee or tea which balances the sweetness somewhat.

How to Cut Perfect Pear Halves

You will need:
pears with no deep blemishes or odd shapes
sharp knife

It's not too difficult to prepare perfect pear halves for salads, canning or freezing. It's really just a matter of practice and getting a feel for how deep to cut into the pear. Watch the video for a demonstration.

Dehydrated Pear Pieces

dehydrated pear bits in a bag dehydrated pear bits ready for storage (photo by jhy)
You will need:

Dehydrating bits of pear for use over the coming winter is really my favorite thing to do with too many pears. Since these keep very well, at least two years with no changes in color or texture (I think I've always used any that I had made within that time- they may keep longer), it's a perfect way to preserve the goodness.

I use these in the same way you might use raisins. I throw them on cereal, in salads, eat them plain, whatever. The texture is slightly chewy.

pear bits ready for dehydrating pear bits on the dehydrator tray (photo by jhy)
This works especially well for using pears that are less than perfect. If you are canning or freezing pear halves or quarters, you can always fill up a dehydrator tray with the sections that aren't good enough to give you those desired shapes. No waste!

Cut the peeled pears into bits, no more than 3/8 inch on a side. Preferably, if one side is a full 3/8 inch, the other dimensions might be 1/4 inch, but this isn't an engineering test. You just want to be sure that the pieces are thin enough that the centers will become leathery before the outside gets too dry. Do make sure that when you place them on the dehydrator trays that the pieces don't touch. This is important no matter what you are drying.

dehydrated pear bits in the dehydrator tray pear bits after dehydrating (photo by jhy)
Dry at 135 F for about 6-8 hours. The time is less important than how the bits look and feel. They should be shriveled and leathery all the way through. You don't want any soft, moist centers that still feel like raw pear. Those are what can cause mold and spoilage later on. You can see how much the pears shrunk.

The pieces tend to stick to the trays, but with these flexible nylon trays it's pretty easy to peel them off. For storage, I just put them in ziplock bags. If I'm going to put them in the pantry, I often double bag them to keep insects from boring in. When we were having some bad years with grain moths, I even vacuum bagged them.

Do label them, since they look exactly like apple bits later on!