Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Apple Pie Filling

I hope everyone had a great Halloween and Samhain holiday. This year I made my first attempt at a more detailed jack o'lantern. I am pretty pleased, but I know for next year to simplify the design quite a bit. Too many fine lines results in me having to break out the toothpicks to hold all the pieces together. Luckily I have a super crafty husband who was great at hiding the toothpicks, so they are not super obvious in holding things together. I am sure glad that we made an attempt. Posting pictures of the Halloween pumpkin always start to set some fear into my soul though, and not for the usual reasons. My mind immediately turns to... yes Christmas. I start to think about all the things that I need to start work on to make sure that the holidays are homemade and happy.

But this is about apple pie filling.... so all those panic filled thoughts of crafting are out of sight and out of mind until I stop writing up this posting. Pie filling! It is a wonderful thing. There is nothing that I find more versatile than having this in my canning arsenal. I can use pie fillings for homemade danishes, pies, turnovers, crisps, cake fillings, pancakes, and cobblers to name a few. Canning pie filling can be a pretty easy and instantly rewarding activity. For doing apples the set up is a bit more complicated. I have a station setup with the washed apples on one side, cutting board in the middle. Once I peel the apples and take out the blossom ends, they get a quick dunk in the lemon juice and water bowl at the top of the cutting board. This helps keep the apples from turning brown and is mostly cosmetic. Once I have the apples cored and sliced, they go into the lemon juice mix again for a little while as I peel the next apple. From there the slices go into the big four cup measuring cup. After I fill the measuring cup generously, I dump any accumulated lemon water back into the first bowl and transfer the slices into the final big bowl. I know that it sounds overly complicated, but it works well for me and ensures that my pie filling looks great.

When I can my pie filling, I like a consistency of store bought. I know that many people do not like the extra thick goop that is in canned pie filling, but I quite enjoy that texture. In order to make sure that you safely can a goop filled pie filling, you need to use Clear Jel. Clear Jel is a specially manufactured corn starch that is safe for canning at high temperatures. If you use flower or arrow root, it will not hold up and from what I understand will separate out and create weird chunks in the filling. I follow the recipe from The Complete Book of Home Preserving from Ball. The recipe from the book has you use a base of apple juice for the filling around the apples. I find that cider gives the best flavor rather than straight up filtered juice. This year I used a combination of a gravenstein cider I found at Trader Joe's as well as the cider we bought on our apple picking trip. The cider is cooked with sugar, spices, and the Clear Jel. A quick tip on working with the Clear Jel is that it works best when mixed with the sugar before adding in the liquid. It makes it less clumpy and easier to stir with less clumps to break up. As the base liquid starts to reach boiling, the Clear Jel will activate, and small clumps of what appear to be burned filling will dot the pan. Don't panic! This is totally normal. Keep stirring constantly, and suddenly, the entire pan will be jelled up pretty solid. Add the lemon juice and then the poached apple slices. Bring it all up to heat and then can following proper procedures.

Now there is one thing I will say about doing this kind of filling... it is super thick! This viscous texture creates all kinds of interesting canning issues. It is virtually impossible to get out all the air bubbles. Try your absolute best. It is also more difficult to get all the filling up to a hot enough temperature to can with out siphoning issues. If the filling gets too hot it will scorch and not taste as great. Make sure you provide a generous inch of head space. Any less and it will be a complete mess. Every time I have done these recipes, for both apple and cherry,  I have horrible siphoning issues. It is imperative that you have towels down when they come out of the water bath. There is typically some of the filling that runs out of each jar and all over the place. I don't seem to have the problem as much with peach, and apple is by far the worst for some reason. Once the jars have sealed and cooled, I take the rings off and scrub down the jars and rings with lots of water and elbow grease. I also make sure to not use hot water as I do not want the seals compromised. Yeah it all sounds like a pain, but it is great to be able to crack open a jar when there is short notice and whip up something that seems rather impressive to last minute guests. The only other suggestion I have for the recipe is halving the amount of nutmeg. I am not sure if it is because we grind our own or if we just do not like a super nutmeg filled pie, but I feel the Ball recipe has too much. This year I halved the amount and am much more happy with the results. Happy canning! Hopefully you can give pie filling a whirl!

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