If you garden, you know there’s a drought this year. It’s a big one, stretching from Ohio west to California. Wisconsin isn’t in quite as bad of shape as some other states, but the southeast corner where G. lives is in a severe drought. All summer, we’ve been watching thunderstorms slide just south and hit Chicago or just north and hit Milwaukee, while not a drop falls at his place.
You’ve heard me lament the effect on our garden. Our carrots never came up. We had to plant beets three times. The pumpkins and melons perished in the middle of the summer. Our cauliflower is at least a month late, and just this week, heads began to form on it.
And every night, G. waters.
But, there is as silver lining: I just made my best applesauce yet.
G., Biggie B. and I were coming back from the vet last week, and we saw a sign for apples by the road. We never noticed an orchard there before, but we turned into what looked liked a driveway, drove back a bit, and sure enough, tucked behind some houses was an apple orchard.
It’s a small business with picking by appointment, but you also can buy “off the truck.” We got a half-bushel, which is just over 20 pounds, for $15.
Most of the apples were small, and G. noted that they were probably ones that people would pass over at a farmers market. But their size was an indicator of their taste. Fruit is almost always smaller in drought because trees receive less water. Much of a fruit’s weight is essentially water weight. Without the extra water, the sugar and flavors in the fruit become concentrated. So, it’s a great year to make applesauce, wine or other foods that depend heavily on fruit flavor.
Our apples were so good that I only used half of my usual amount of cinnamon and nutmeg in making applesauce. It didn’t need more spice, and I figured I should let the apples’ natural flavor shine.
If you’re now thinking that you want to make applesauce and experience the drought effect yourself, a word of caution: Most apples in grocery stores come from Washington state, which has not had a major drought this year. If you live in a drought area in the Midwest, go to a farmers market or orchard to buy apples that are locally grown.
You should go soon too. We had a warm spring that made the trees bud early, followed by a cold snap that killed the buds. Some orchards in Michigan reported losing as much as 90 percent of their fruit. The Wisconsin orchard we went to last year lost half of its apples. Also, the apples are coming on two to three weeks earlier than usual because of the warm spring. In a lot of places, picking started about two weeks ago, and if you delay until what we normally think of as apple season in late September or October, there may be few apples left.
Back 40 Applesauce
5 pounds apples
1 cup water (or apple juice)
6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons nutmeg
Wash and core the apples and place them in a big pot with the water or juice. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, and cook the apples until they are soft. Don’t worry if they start to fall apart.
Run the apples through a food mill with a fine grate (most come with fine, medium and corse grates that can be switched out.).
Stir the sugar and spices into applesauce. Eat!
Or, if you want to can the applesauce, add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid to each pint. Pack pints with 1/2-inch head space and process in a rolling boil water bath for 20 minutes.