This redhead can say she has award-winning apple butter

All of that apple and canning work actually paid off this year! I won a grand total of $1.25 and a third-place ribbon, but hey, I won!

I entered a pint of apple butter, a pint of bread and butter pickles, and a quart of green beans into our county fair this year. The fair opened last Friday and will close Thursday. This is the first time I’ve entered anything I’ve canned in our fair (Roberta, my hen, made her debut in the photography category three years ago), so I was a little nervous. I was so excited when I saw that my apple butter took third place!

My apple butter is on the bottom shelf with the white ribbon.

My apple butter is on the bottom shelf with the white ribbon.

Unfortunately, my beans and pickles didn’t place in the top three. However, I did get a chuckle when I realized my bread and butter pickle recipe was the only one with onions in it. (Sorry, not sorry judge!)

My pickles are in the jar on the top shelf on the left. At least my  jar was placed next to the first-place winner, right?

My pickles are in the jar on the top shelf on the left. At least my jar was placed next to the first-place winner, right?

The apple butter recipe is from my maternal grandmother and the pickles are a recipe that’s a family favorite from my paternal grandmother. We like our bread and butter pickles with a ton of onions in them, so I pack them in the jar. Makes for better pickle sandwiches that way!

I canned more apple products than anything this year thanks to Ohio’s bumper apple crops. About 30 pint jars went to apple butter, which I plan to give as Christmas gifts this year. Now I can joke that the recipients are getting award-winning apple butter!

Comparing apples to apples

So my friendly neighborhood apple guy sent this beast of fruit home with my husband last night:


That’s a normal, lunchbox-size gala on top and the monster apple on the bottom.

That monster apple in the bottom of the photo that’s dwarfing the gala is a Wolf River apple. This is a new apple variety to me, but according to Orange Pippin, it’s a baking variety that was named after the Wolf River in Wisconsin. It’s been cultivated since the 1870s.

Just to give you another visual comparison, here’s how the apple stands up to a pint jar:


Whoa, right?

I’ve been told that Wolf River apples make darn good dumplings. Are any of you familiar with this apple variety, and how have you used them?

Making mayo

I did a glorious thing for the first time in my life today. I made mayonnaise. It was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.

And you know what? It was so freaking easy!

I deliberately don’t keep mayo in the house because I would slather it on everything possible and gain a million pounds. But today I wanted a tuna salad sandwich on toast, and you can’t have a good tuna salad in my opinion without mayo. And since I don’t keep the fattening stuff in the house, I busted out the KitchenAid and made my own.

I used the recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around my French Table” cookbook. She advised that the whole process would take about 10 minutes, and she’s right. It’s very quick if you have a stand mixer, but a hand mixer would work well if you’ve got a kitchen buddy to man it. Easy peesy.

Here’s the her recipe, with my instructions and tweaks, for you to try on your own. It doesn’t make much mayo, maybe a 1/2 cup, which is good because Greenspan says it will only keep for a day or two. Toss a few tablespoons of it with some tuna and sweet pickle relish and you’ve got yourself some awesome tuna salad.

Warning: Homemade mayo uses a raw egg. Since I have my own chickens and know my hens are healthy, eating a raw egg doesn’t bother me. Also, this mayo is not white, but a smooth butter yellow.

Homemade mayo:

  • One large egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice or wine vinegar (I used the lemon juice)
  • 1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard (I used spicy brown mustard)
  • dash of salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup oil, room temperature (I used a 1/2 cup of olive oil because I like the flavor of olive oil mayo, but any kind will do)

Put everything but the oil in a stand mixer bowl and mix on a slow speed until combined. Add the olive oil in slowly by teaspoon, adding the next only when the previous oil was blended in with the yolk mixture. Greenspan advises to take your time with this and add the oil as slowly as possible. She wrote “drop by drop” in her instructions for the pace. When about a 1/4 cup of the oil is used, you can add it a little faster.

Greenspan said to use up to 1 cup of oil until the mayo reaches your desired state, but use at least a 1/2 cup. The 1/2 cup of oil made a nice thick mayo for me, so I stopped there.

When all of your oil has been mixed with the yolk and has the consistency of mayo, take a taste. I prefer my mayo a little tangy, so I added between a 1/2 and 1 tsp. of white vinegar. I also added just a pinch more salt and a pinch of pepper. Delish!

Do you make any of your own condiments at home? Have you tried homemade mayo?

Baking with lard (aka my latest crazy idea)

In my quest to cook what I call “real” food, or food that has ingredients that I can actually pronounce, I’ve decided to try baking with lard instead of vegetable shortening for recipes that call for such.

“Wait, what?!” You may be thinking. “That’s disgusting!”

Hear me out. I used to share those sentiments too until I made biscuits with lard and did research on lard’s history. (Those biscuits were freakin’ fantastic!)  Although if you’re a vegan/vegetarian I can understand your disgust.

Let’s start with the background first. It all started for me I found an article on NPR’s Planet Money titled “Who Killed Lard?” According to the article, Crisco, a brand of vegetable shortening sold here in the States, was invented by a chemist for Procter & Gamble in the early 1900s. The company had extra cottonseed oil on its hands because it was used to make candles, which were becoming less popular due to light bulbs. They needed a way to use the extra oil, so Crisco was born with a good marketing campaign. Basically, in my opinion, this brand of shortening was born as a business move, not for healthy food.

That was the bomb drop for me.

I picked up Grit magazine’s cookbook “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” from my library to do some additional research. If you’re a Mother Earth News/Living subscriber like I am, you may have seen it advertised in those publications.

Here’s something I didn’t know that I learned from the book: Compared to butter, lard has less saturated fat. NPR also published another article comparing lard, vegetable oils and vegetable shortening titled “Lard is Back in the Larder, but Hold the Health Claims” that I found informative as well.

The biggest issue for me is that vegetable shortening is made with partially hydrogenated oils, while lard is just lard (if purchased from a butcher/farmer, not the typically hydrogenated lard found on store shelves). I am not a nutrionist and I will never claim to be one, but I believe partially hydrogenated oils are bad for health.

That is just a brief overview of what I’ve found, but it was enough to convince me purchase a small bucket of lard at an Amish bulk food store that was processed by a local butcher. I’ve also been in contact with my local farmer’s market co-op to get lard from pasture-raised local hogs to render myself. Buying local is important to me too, so this is a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone project for me.

Now, on to the baking results. I’ve made biscuits and brownies with my lard so far. The difference in the texture and taste of these products were immediately noticeable before I even started baking! The brownie batter was a smooth as velvet when I mixed it, and they were chewy and moist with a crisp outer edge when done. They did not taste greasy or like pork. My parents and sister, who I gave a brownie to before spilling the beans on their ingredients, did not notice a porky taste and loved them. As for the biscuits, good gravy, were they delicious. They were flaky, savory and so soft!

I also would like to clarify that I will not be using lard on a daily basis. I only used shortening when baking pie, biscuits, and cookies, so maybe once or twice a month if it’s not a holiday month. I rarely fry things, and if I do I tend to use olive or canola oils. Olive oil is my oil of choice for greasing a skillet or pan.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this subject. Do you, or would you, use lard? Why or why not?

The vanilla extract experiment, part three

photoBack in September, I married vanilla beans and bourbon and waited for them to become my homemade vanilla extract.

Now that the minimum of two months has passed, I can finally share an update on how it all turned out. One word – fantastic.

The best way to describe the difference between my homemade extract and store-bought is that the store-bought version now tastes old and stale to me. The homemade version is so much more fragrant and sweet, in my opinion. This is totally worth making!

I started to use it around Thanksgiving to make Bakerella’s pumpkin pie bites. I deemed that it wasn’t quite strong enough yet, so I left it sit until it was time for the Christmas baking-palooza.

I tested it first in pancakes, discovered the extract was amazing, and used it for my Christmas pièce de résistance – pecan cups. They were a hit.

Let me give you a little bit of background on my mother’s recipe for pecan cups (you may call them pecan tassies). My mother has to make these every year for Christmas or the relatives won’t let her in the door. My husband dropped at Thanksgiving to his dad that I have a wicked pecan cup recipe, so I was conned into making them for Christmas and had enough for both families.

When my family gathered all together for the holiday, there were two versions of the same pecan cup recipe. The only differences between mine and my mother’s were my homemade vanilla and my homemade brown sugar. I don’t know which ingredient switch did the trick, but they tasted completely different in a totally delicious way. My husband and father-in-law loved them.

Moral of the post – you have to make this stuff!