Fruit trees are an excellent addition to any homestead, even a small urban lot. We have several: a 'Macintosh' apple, an early summer plum, a huge and ancient fig, a new persimmon, and a yellow plum that is too big to harvest. There are also two hazelnut trees on the back lot line. They provide shade in summer, leaf mulch in winter, bee forage in spring — and fruit in the fall.
Dealing with the fruit, especially the apple, which is the largest tree, can be a challenge. We eat it fresh, give it away to friends — who also have fruit trees! — make pies and cakes, and then work to preserve the harvest for the winter.
I slice and dry five or six rounds of 'Macintosh' apples in early August. We really like the dried fruit because of its flexibility. We can take it to work, on the trail, and in the car. We can plump it up with boiling water for a compote with yogurt or add it to oatmeal. It is better than winter’s supply “fresh” fruit that has been shipped across the equator or stored for months.
I am experimenting with a bit of “pre-drying” to reduce electricity consumption. I’ve laid it on the roof of my van and parked on a sunny street, but there was not enough air flow. I laid the fruit on trays, wrapped them in cheese cloth, and set them on a ladder in the sun, which worked better. We are looking at plans for a home made solar dryer for next year. Dried apples reduce the pile by a bucket or so.
Once we have enough dried fruit, I make applesauce and apple butter. Using a food mill, I am able to quarter apples, toss them into a big pot, and quickly cook them until soft before pushing the pulp through the mill, catching all of the seeds and skins. Once the pulp is cleaned, I add sugar and seasonings for applesauce, heat it up, and can it in pint jars.
For apple butter, I’ll take another round of pulp, add spices and a little sugar, and slowly reduce it by over half in an uncovered crockpot. Apple butter is canned in half pint jars — it does not last long once opened.
This work helps reduce the racks of fruit stored in the cool basement, but there are still apples waiting to be processed. In late August, I turn to a friend to borrow his apple press. I sort the apples into eaters and pressers, toss the pressers into a large laundry basket, and then look around the neighborhood. There are several old trees in the alleys nearby, so I gather that fruit as well and do one large press of all of the iffy fruit.
We cut out the bruises and buggy spots, mash them, and toss them into the press. Cranking down on the handle, juice flows out into a large bowl. I take the juice inside, heat it to almost boiling, then can it in quart jars.
At the end of the month, dried apples, apple sauce and apple butter, and apple juice line the shelves. We are, once again, set for the winter. We celebrate with an apple pie with ice cream after dinner.
Charlyn Ellis has been growing vegetables since she was five years old, when her mother bought her her first rake and pitchfork. She and her family are urban homesteaders and have a large organic vegetable garden, fruit trees, a beehive, four chickens, one rabbit, and two cats on a small urban lot in the center of town, surrounded by college students. Charlyn considers permaculture principles when she makes changes in her designs, especially the idea that the problem is the solution. Find her online at 21st Street Urban Homestead, and read all of Charlyn's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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