Apples, Pullets, Plants & Beans

Hey folks!
Welcome back to Wildwood Acres! Lots of exciting things are in progress around here lately. Where to begin…
Last week we enjoyed a lovely visit from the Mauer Grandparents who came all the way from Michigan to hang with us for several days. Grandma helped the girls with their homework & Mr. Jabba man is still chatting me up about playing Twister with her. Gramps must have willingly watched 100 or so amateur Spiderman videos on YouTube with our little guy throughout the week. Thank God he’s a patient man 😉 One day, Grandpa walked Jasper down the driveway to watch a massive tractor plowing the field in front of our property. Apparently it was his lucky day because the farmer pulled over & picked up our wee man! Jasper actually hitched a ride on the John Deere beast! I guess good things happen to adorable 2-year-olds. Grandparents are absolutely the cat’s meow & our children are blessed with best.
On Wednesday we snuck out of the house for a couple hours (KIDLESS even) & hit the weekly produce auction at the Virginia Beach Farmer’s Market. We landed gobs of locally grown apples, okra, red peppers & even some Concord grapes. Can you guess what that means? Yep, lots of CANNING! Over the weekend, I tried my hand at applesauce for the very first time. It turned out so incredibly phenomenal that I’ve decided to share the recipe with all of YOU on the blog today. I’ve included a complete step-by-step photo tutorial for this simple, deliciously HEALTHY concoction of yumminess! I chose apples for this week’s canning project because my little hometown nestled in the foothills of southeastern Ohio just celebrated their 75th annual Jackson County Apple Festival! For those of us who grew up in Jtown the Apple Festival holds a special place in our hearts & occupies lots of our fondest childhood memories. I may live roughly 500 miles away these days, but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating “apple week” in my own little way each year. Traditionally, I’ve always baked a couple apple pies during festival week. But this year, I decided to mix it up a bit & try something new. What better way to honor my roots than to dish up some deliciously sweet applesauce for the fam! It’s a pretty basic recipe for all of you out there who might be aspiring to create a home-canned kitchen. Although it’s time consuming, it’s completely beginner friendly. Give it a go & enjoy this sweet taste treat throughout the upcoming winter months. (See recipe & photos at end of this post.)
So, we have big news…. IT’S A GIRL! 6 girls to be exact! That’s right, we added 2 female Australorps & 4 barred rock pullets to our little flock this past week. They are darling & our Teagan is doing our best to keep them fed, comfy & happy. She’s a natural at chicken keeping. It’s not quite time to let them mingle with the big dudes (AKA: our roosters, Mr. Darcy & Vince) as they’re still rather small. But it won’t be long before they are free ranging around our Wildwood Acres. That means we’ll soon be blessed with even more fresh eggs & of course, that’s always a wonderful thing!
We still have 6 turkeys & 20+ meat birds headed our way within a week or so. We’ve been planning this MEGA COOP construction project for quite some time. The coop we’re envisioning needs to be big enough to house all of the newbies. Like B-I-G, BIG. Since the meat birds won’t be brushing wings with my personal laying flock, their scratch yard needs to be luxuriously large & comfortable as well. That means investing in a significant amount of fencing, in addition to the coop costs. If you know me, then you’re well aware of the fact that I’m all about keeping our project costs at a minimum around here. I like to believe that my personal mission at our little hobby farm is to identify ways to cut costs & get the most bang for our buck on every project we tackle. Quite frankly, I’ve been stressing out about this new coop undertaking for a while now & I’ve been racking my brain in an effort to come with budget-friendly alternatives. Fortunately, Josh is incredibly gifted when it comes to identifying ways to reuse any type of building materials he can get his hands on. One evening, it dawned on me that our neighbor down the way has a child who has long outgrown the large wooden play structure sitting neglected in their backyard. On a whim, I shared our need with them & explained how easily the structure could be modified into a lavish coop for our incoming feathered friends. I asked if they’d be willing to let it go for a reasonable price. Much to my surprise, they practically begged me to take it off their property! Apparently someone had passed it on to them free of charge several years back & they would love for us to take it off their hands… FOR FREE… As in F-R-E-E, FREE. I’m forever amazed & humbled by the generosity of others & the endless ways our needs are somehow always met in this life, even when we least expect it. We are beyond grateful. Needless to say, I will be hooking my kind neighbors up with a lifetime supply of fresh eggs. Whether you are interested in ‘coop construction’ or not, all of you readers out there will have some fun “before” & “after” chicken coop pictures to look forward to in the very near future. It’s bittersweet, but our incoming birds will be treated like royalty & living the high life – penthouse style – before they enter into roo stew.
I got my hands a little dirty last week & put in about 30 (or so) pachysandras in one of our back beds & quite a few grasses in the adjacent bed. I put in a couple rows of carrots in the garden & they’re already popping. With all the rain we’ve been blessed with recently, I’ve not had to water them once so far. Our first carrots were put in earlier in the year & should be ready to harvest by the end of October. Josh has been busy planting Laurels & a few other beauties in the beds around our house. A couple of days ago, he found some Spanish moss hanging in our pine trees. He transferred a couple pieces to our magnolia trees out front. Coastal Virginia is the furthest point north where Spanish moss can actually grow & survive. We are thrilled to have found some on our property. Such a gift!
Last night we feasted on yet another round of our garden fresh green beans for dinner. What a treat! I planted the heirloom seeds at the end of July. Never having grown this type of bush bean, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Especially after spending most of the summer disappointed by the lack of harvest from our climbing string beans. Even though the yield was a pittance, they were fun to watch grow. We constructed a few teepee(ish) trellises out of several stalks from a thriving little bamboo forest we have growing out back. The hearty leaves & lovely blooms on the vines wrapped up & twisted around the bamboo structures, which I had painted early in the spring with all sorts of funky designs & lively colors. They served as rather unique features in the garden, while attracting a plethora of busy bees, butterflies & insects of every variety.  As artistic & teaming with life as the living structures were, we only managed a couple of modest harvests from them. Aesthetically, they rocked. But in regard to offering actual sustenance, they really weren’t worth the space they occupied. However, the harvest we’ve been yielding from the bush beans thus far has been well worth the wait & they’ve been feeding us ever since Labor Day. They will surely be an annual staple in our gardening endeavors from this point forward. I have noticed some teensy black buggers trying to beat me to the harvest each week. I might have to consider some pest control options next year.
I guess I’m a little windy this week. Whew! That was a lot of happenings to cram into one blog post! As always, thanks for reading y’all. Enjoy the pictures & applesauce recipe below. Give me a shout out if you make some yourself. I’d love to know know what ya think! Blessed be to YOU from ME.
APPLESAUCE RECIPE
– 8 16oz. Pint Jars w/ lids & bands
– 12 lbs apples, peeled, cored, quartered & drained (about 30-40 apples)
– Water
– 3 cups granulated sugar (optional)
– Cinnamon (optional)
– 4 Tbsp. lemon juice
ABOVE: Look at this beauties! Choose any type of apples you wish & even combine a couple different types for a unique blend of flavors. We bought golden delicous at the auction & then added several gala’s we had here at the house.
STEP 1. Prepare your boiling water canner. Heat jars in simmering water until ready for use. Wash lids in warm, soapy water & set aside bands.
STEP 2. Prepare your apples. Peel, core & slice into pieces. (See below)
 ABOVE: This little contraption is called an apple corer. It’s probably one of the coolest inventions ever! I borrowed this one from my friend Chanda. It’s certainly not a necessity, but I’d venture to assume that peeling & coring 30+ apples by hand is enough to send even the most patient chef in the world running to the local Food Lion to stock up on jarred applesauce in lieu of making it from scratch. Plus, this thing is SO FUN TO USE!
 ABOVE: Crank, crank, crank!
 ABOVE: Look at that beautiful, long apple ribbon! How cool is that?
ABOVE: A big pile of chicken snacks & compost scraps! Teagan & I peeled & cored 40 apples in about 20 minutes or so. Well worth the investment.

ABOVE: STEP 3. Combine apples with just enough water to prevent sticking in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat & boil gently, stirring frequently until apples are tender – about 20 minutes. Time will vary depending on ripeness of your produce. Ours were reaaaaally ripe, so they didn’t take long.

 

ABOVE: STEP 4. Drain water from apples in sink.
ABOVE: STEP 5. Return apples to a large bowl.

ABOVE: STEP 6. Time to puree your apples. This can be done with a food mill or food processor fitted with a metal blade.  I used this hand crank processor. It was fun & efficient. When you’re finished, return smoooooshy apples to the saucepan. If you are adding sugar or cinnamon, now is the time to do it. The traditional Ball recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar. That seemed like a lot to me. We decided to go with 1/2 cup of sugar & our sauce seems plenty sweet enough for us. I guess it depends on the natural sweetness of the apples as well. We added about a Tbsp of cinnamon. Next time we’ll likely add more, but you can omit completely.

 

ABOVE: STEP 7. Squeeze your lemons! Be sure to squeeze enough juice for 4 Tablespoons full.
ABOVE: Stir in your lemon juice & allow all of the sugar & cinnamon flavors to meld together over medium heat.
ABOVE: STEP 8. Remove your simmering jars from your canning pot & begin ladeling your sauce into the jars, leaving a 1/2 inch of headspace in each jar. Center each lid on jar, gently apply band (metal rings do not need to be tightly twisted)  Process jars of sauce in boiling water canner for 20 minutes.
ABOVE: STEP 9. Remove jars from canner after 20 minutes & allow to cool completely. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up & down when center is pressed. Now arrange your beautiful jars in a creative little way & admire your accomplishment! YAY!
 ABOVE: STEP 10. Enjoy the fruits (literally) of your labor with the ones you love most!

 


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