Tasty, Well-Done Charcoal Broiled Burgers

Impossible! you may say, to have a well-done and tasty hamburger.  I thought so, too, but was determined to try as my husband likes well-done hamburgers.  If there’s even a hint of pink he will spit out the bite like it’s poisoned, scowl and call it “Raw!”  Unfortunately, he also likes burgers with flavor, and in a well done burger all of the muscle has contracted as much as it can, squeezing juice and fat out of the burger right into the coals.  Then there is fire, and the predominant flavor at that point — very strong — is char.  At the Labor Day cookout using charcoal I was condemned both ways:  first “Raw!”, and later “no flavor.”  To overcome the no flavor criticism, I use a variety of techniques; to overcome charring the burgers I used the “reverse sear” technique, as explained by a friend.  The result was a definite success, but they are still well-done burgers:  well-done beef is never the time to skimp on salt, and melt cheese melted on top if at all possible to help lubricate the old taste-buds.

Of course I know an experiment shouldn’t try to investigate several variables at once, but I did it anyway, and it worked!!

First the burgers.  I bought about four pounds of beef chunks at Sam’s.  The meat contained a reasonable amount of fat (necessary for burgers to have flavor) and most of the meat was a nice deep red.  Unfortunately, even though I used it within 24 hours by that time a few of the chunks were starting to grey at the edges.  I pulled the meat out of the package, drained it for a few minutes and put in a bowl.  Then I mixed in the following:

  • Four slices thin bacon, cut into 1-inch sections.  (added fat and flavor in the background)
  • Umami Bomb, cooked in a small skillet until the anchovies have dissolved.
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 anchovy fillets (strong umami flavor)
    • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite (strong umami flavor)
    • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (to combat the grey color of well-done beef)
    • 2 teaspoons soy sauce (strong umami flavor)
  • 1 slice toast turned to crumbs (1/2 cup) (to hold in some of the flavor, juices and fat when the muscle fibers all contract like a squished sponge)

There was a slight anchovy smell to the raw mixture, but this does not continue to the cooked meat.

dscn1033     dscn1035     dscn1036

(My bowl is not dirty; I used it once with melted beeswax and it’s permanently discolored.)

Put all of the meat grinder workings, and the mixed meat, into the freezer at least 30 minutes before grinding.  Grind using the larger holes so the meat is in visible chunks to enhance the flavor.  Sharp cuts rather than smearing the meat requires cold, and this is critical to keep the fat in discrete chunks.  If the fat smears when grinding, it is then in very small particles and will all melt out of the burger when cooked — especially a problem for the well-done burger.  Think crispy bacon — the tastiest part of that fat stays with the meat.

Fill the charcoal chimney with charcoal and light it off before grinding the meat, so the charcoal will be ready when the meat is. Open the holes at the bottom of the grill first.

dscn1037     dscn1038

I was not entirely successful in keeping everything cold!  I started to run cold meat through the icy meat grinder, but there was odd wobbling since I forgot to screw the housing down tight.  Disassembled, cleaned and reassembled the now somewhat cool meat grinder, but the meat came out smeary!  Disassembled, cleaned the slightly cool meat grinder and put the cutter in the right way.  The cold meat grinder was not to be; the perfection ship had sailed.  I got myself a beer.  Ground the cold meat, and  it looked pretty good.

Make the patties loose so there will be more surface area for browning and tasting when you bite into it, and also so the contracting of the muscles will be less coordinated resulting in a less tough burger.  (I made the middle of the burger about 1/4″ thinner than the rest, the idea being that as the burger contracts it will tend to hump up in the middle so starting with a thinner middle should result in a flat burger.  However, this was not needed for the loose burgers.)

The “reverse sear” technique calls for half of the grill to be covered in aluminum foul and half not.  Then put all the hot coals on the side with no foil.  The benefits of this technique are that the hamburger cooks slowly and uniformly, does not fall through the cracks in the grill, and does no leak fat on the hot charcoal causing fire and charring, and great clouds of smoke.  It is a very civilized and controlled way to grill with charcoal.

  • Put the burgers on the aluminum foil (three pounds of meat would have been right for my Webbler grill), put the lid on — holes open and over the burgers — and then leave them for eight minutes.
  • Flip them and move them around so the less done ones go in the hotter places and more done ones in the cooler places.  Sprinkle with salt or seasoned salt.  Put the lid on and leave them for another eight minutes.  Checking with a thermometer should be done for medium or medium-rare burgers as the times will be less.
  • When close to the target temperature, move the burgers over to the hot side of the grill and sear both sides.  This will only take minutes.  Since the charcoal is cooler, and a lot of the fat has already exited the burger there should be no fire and char-taste.  Pull off the burgers when seared and at the target temperature:  160 degrees F for well done burgers.  Flip the burgers as you take them off and add a slice of cheese to the hot side immediately so it melts.  (Some say to pull them off five degrees below the target, but I wasn’t going to risk being “Raw!” burgers, and I was putting them on a substantial cold ceramic plate.)

dscn1039     dscn1040

This is the instant thermometer I used, and I’m very happy with it.  Temperature readings are almost instantaneous.

The burgers turned an attractive reddish color when they were seared, and the meat wasn’t totally grey.  The taste was “worlds away” from my last effort, according to my main critic.

What I liked best about this method is that the charcoal behaved as it should.  No torching up and charring the meat.  During those eight minute breaks you can read a book, or if there are people over actually talk to them, as opposed to waving at them periodically from inside a hot grey cloud, all sweaty and distressed.

Conclusions:

  • A huge contribution to improved flavor was (I believe) the home grinding.  This was also the most work (it would have been less had I been more familiar with my equipment).  I used the larger holes and there were bigger pieces of meat in the burger than store bought.  This also led to lighter burgers with more browned surface area, and I think the bigger pieces of meat also improved the texture and flavor.  Unfortunately, it can’t be done ahead of time or the meat will flatten and blood may pool.
  • The umami bomb and bacon significantly improved the flavor and color, and there was No fishy taste or smell in the final product.  The bacon was only noticeable in mild whiffs, if you knew it was there.
  • The depression in the middle of the raw hamburger was still in the finished product.  I would not do that again, with home-ground meat.

Next time I try this I’ll cook some burgers to different temperatures: 155, 150 and 145 degrees F.  Why didn’t I do this, this time?  Because someone came to buy a dirt-bike and the dogs were barking and howling and jumping about like they were on Pogo sticks, I turned to look and there was a woman and small child smiling and waving — evidently (in the dogs’ minds) planning to attack me and take the meat.  A bit of yelling at the dogs to shut up ensued which reduced them to growling for about two seconds before the barking returned.  And then the moment was lost and all the meat was well done.

 

Summer Tomatoes Competition: FINAL

This competition was between eight tomato types, three ways of starting them.

Eight tomato types (all from Burpee), winners and losers, are:

  • WINNER:  4th of July – small fruit but started 1st (early July) and continued to produce through mid-SeptemberDSCN0600
  • WINNER:  Orange Slice – nice compromise between production and excellent taste
  • WINNER:  Brandywine Pink – Best flavor and produced more fruit than the other heirlooms
  • LOSERS:  Tangerine Hybrid and Purple Cherokee – both Burpee seeds.  Tangerine Hybrid had reasonable production for a short period of time and mediocre flavor.  The Purple Cherokee had mishappen cracked fruit with flavor far short of either Orange Slice or Brandywine Pink.
  • LOSERS:  Beef Steak Hybrid, Black Krim Heirloom and Big Rainbow Heirloom – practically no fruit, and what they had was not as tasty as the Brandywine Pink.  All were plants ordered from Burpee.

I saved seeds of all of the winners, and will add plum tomatoes next year.

Starting method winners and loser:

  • 160728 wall-o-water-tomato1-300x296WINNER:  Starting plants by seed indoors and putting the plants out early surrounded by Wall O’ Waters resulted in fruit production 2 weeks (and more) earlier than other methods.  Wall O’ Water’s aren’t cheap, but saved seeds are less expensive than buying plants, the Wall O’ Water tomatoes start producing earlier, and the Wall o’ Waters will last for several seasons.  Amazon sells them, of course.
  • WINNER:  Starting plants by seed indoors and using cold frame.  These did not fruit as early as those started with Wall o’ Water, but was easier, and a few weeks won’t matter for tomatoes to be used for sauces, etc.  A few early plants is all that is needed for tomato sandwiches 🙂
  • LOSER:  Plants ordered from Burpee — too expensive and fruit production starts at least 2 weeks later than wall o’ water method.  However, ordering plants from Burpee may be a winner for others as: (1) it was the easiest method and the shipping container was ingenious with no plant damage or stress, and (2) more tomato varieties are available from Burpee than from the local Walmart or Lowe’s.

2016 Cyser Melomel

Melomel is the fermented result of combining honey, fruit and yeast; Cyser is when that fruit is apple.  I already had apple pomace (the pulp  left over from making cider) and an active cider fermentation using an expensive yeast:  VR 21.  It says it’s $3.95 per packet, but the the time it gets to your door it’s closer to $10, and $10 saved is $10 earned.  Furthermore, I had some old honey that looked a little dark and funky, an extra carboy, the press was still dirty with apple leavings, and the pomace handy.  The recipe is in italics.

dscn0984Poured water on the pomace (there was about 30 pounds of it) until it seemed appropriately wet and sloppy, added a rounded tablespoon of pectic enzyme — in the hopes it would help break down the cell walls and release more juice — and left it to work for an hour.  (I would have preferred two, but it was getting dark outside.)  Put the apple slop back into the press and extracted the liquid.

I put added 12 quarts of water to the pomace, and obtained 8.5 quarts of diluted sweet apple cider out, likely because:

  • I was impatient.  It had been a long day with the apples (if the apple trees produce next year I will certainly buy a fruit grinder!), and it was getting dark.  To extract the sweet cider from the apples I had filled the press halfway, squished out what I could, and the finished filling it for the second pressing.  This time I just chucked it all in there.
  • I put in too much water; a lot of liquid was coming out of the top of the press.

The resulting solution tasted more strongly of apples than I expected, almost like regular apple juice.

Put apple solution into a carboy, and added 2 cups of the cider ferment with the very actively growing yeast.  In this way this second batch was made with free yeast.  Within a few hours the water-lock was showing increasing pressure inside the carboy, and so the yeasts were happy in their new home.

So, a couple of things about mead and honey.  All mead recipes call for using pristine honey, but I don’t do that and I don’t think Medieval mead makers did, either.  The Langstroth Hive was patented in 1852, with the familiar boxes filled with frames.  Prior to this skeps (woven baskets) and gums (hollow logs) were used to keep bees.

langstrath-hive   bee-skep-image-full-size   skep-2   Page, T. C. 1972. Voices of Moccasin Creek. School of the Ozarks Press, Point Lookout, Missouri. 446 pages.   gum-2

As you can see, one huge difference is the orderliness of the honey comb.  In the Langstroth hive the vast majority of bee keepers use queen excluders to keep the egg laying operations distinctly separate from honey storage.  I don’t, because I like to let the bees be free to manage their own affairs as much as possible, as I think this lead to healthier hives.  The result is that sometimes these two activities — rearing young and honey production — have a bit of overlap.  Meaning that small, microscopic bits of insect can be in the honey.  This honey will have an off smell, and look dark.  (Dark honey, such as buckwheat honey, created with a queen excluder in place is perfectly fine, so don’t worry about buying dark honey.)

“Throw it out!” you may say.  Well, but, this is where Medieval mead makers and Irish moss come into play.  Skeps and bee gums don’t have queen excluders, now do they?

Before the Langstroth hive, bees were encouraged to swarm and catching the swarms was a very big deal because the way value was obtained from bees was to totally kill off some of the hives.  The wax, typically sold to churches, was where most of the profit was obtained.  That left dead bees, brood, pollen, clear honey and funky honey.  I suspect the first two were used to feed chickens or hogs.  It’s my theory that the funky honey went into mead, and here’s why.  Irish moss sounds cool, doesn’t it?  Well, it’s seaweed, and it makes a fairly stable foam as it reacts with protein, and that would be those microscopic bee bits.  When someone selling mead brags about the use of Irish moss, they are either using honey that needs to have proteins removed, or they are simply using the words because they sound cool.  Irish moss used on clean honey, or on fruit juices, doesn’t do anything.

Once, when driving with the kids to Ocean City, eager for beach and water, we pulled off along the shore in Delaware, just south from the Delaware bay, which is evidently the dumping ground for nastiness from Philadelphia and New Jersey.  The tide was going out.  Foam was in solid lines, parallel to the waves, starting higher on the beach and extending all the way down to the water.  The foam higher up was brown, shrunken and quite firm, while that closer to the receding waves was tan and about 4 inches tall.  Plus, it smelled rotten.  We did not go into that disgusting water.  Luckily the gulf stream took that mess northward before it hit Ocean City, where the foam sparkled briefly and vanished as all good sea-foam should.  The seaweed in the Delaware ocean waters is probably showing the same properties as Irish moss, but Delaware seaweed doesn’t have the same cachet.

Mixed a quart of dark suspect honey and 4 quarts of water with one rounded teaspoon of Irish moss and brought it to a boil.  There was some foam, but nothing like the Delaware beach foam.  I strained this out and let the mixture cool over night.  Added 1 quart of water.

You may think that honey made from funky honey will naturally taste bad.  The unfortunate fact is, mead tastes weird, and not in a good way, no matter what honey is used.  Mixing it with fruit helps, and letting it age at least two years is critical, but I have not noticed any difference between using clean honey or funky honey treated with Irish moss.  The Irish moss works; that’s why it’s kind of famous.

Mead is made from honey mixed with water, typically in a 1:7 or 1:8 ratio.  Because the apple juice was diluted with water, I used a 1:6 ratio.  I will use my calibrated taste buds 😉 to see if adjustments are needed near the end of the fermentation.  If it’s too dry, I can add honey (or if I’m feeling lazy, sugar).  If it’s too heavy and sweet, this means the yeast is likely dying-off from alcohol poisoning — if caught in time, adding water will reduce the alcohol content and reinvigorate the yeast.

Mixed in one tablespoon of Penzeys apple pie seasoning, and two cups of lemonade into the honey solution, and then strained it and poured it into the apple solution with the happy yeast. 

Now the yeast is ecstatic, and the carboy is bubbling along in a cheery state.  The carboy in back is the cider; the one in front is the cyser.  The one in the far back is a malt-dark cherry wine that is pretty darned good and ready to bottle.

dscn0990

1st Attempt to Make Hard Cider from Apples

I’ve tried to extract apple juice from apples with a blender and some water, but it was watery.  To get quality, raw apple juice from apples requires a fruit press.  I broke down and bought a small one from Amazon last week:  Weston Fruit and Wine Press

dscn0971-2This press holds two five gallon buckets of apples that have been ground up.  To process the apples I put them in the freezer until frozen solid, and then brought them out to thaw in the hopes the freezing action would reduce the apples to mush — the concept being that the expansion of the water as it turned to ice would rupture the apple’s cell walls.  This did work to a certain extent, as shown by the picture to the left where the juice is puddling on top of the frozen and then thawed apple.

20 Gallons of Apples
20 Gallons of Apples

Unfortunately, the disruption caused by freezing was not sufficient:  the apples were still very structurally sound.  As in when I tried to smash them using a canoe paddle mostly the paddle was deflected and the apples remained intact.  Weston also sells a fruit grinder, but since I’m only going to process 20 gallons of fruit, the added expense didn’t seem worth it.  Instead I cut each apple into quarters, and five apples at a time, ran them through the food processor.

Then the apple mash went into the fruit press.  It was easy to figure out how to work it, and the juice pressed out fairly easily.  Several times I rotated the screw until it was hard to push down, and let the juice flow and waited until the pressure was off of the screw — until the last time there was almost no juice produced.  Netting over the whole apparatus between turning-the-screw episodes kept flies and yellow jackets out of the juice.  (That’s the Golden Grimes apple tree in the background.)

dscn0976 dscn0979

I have used Champagne yeast to make mead, melomel, apple wine from store-bought juice, etc. and it is indeed a robust yeast.  But this time I researched on what kind of yeast would be best to make cider and settled on the VR21 strain.  It’s supposed to preserve more of the fruit flavor than Champagne yeast, and is also supposed to be vigorous:  we shall see.  The choice of yeast strain is a science unto itself, and I am new to it, but the Google Machine is a wonderful resource.

Making fermented beverages is very easy.

  1. Put a sugar containing liquid into a carboy.
  2. Add yeast.
  3. Plug with a water-lock.
  4. Wait a few weeks, until the bubbling stops.

All of the needed equipment can be found at Amazon, Midwest Supplies or E. C. Kraus.  I bought the yeast from E. C. Kraus as it cost less than Amazon, including postage.  Yeast will keep for months in the refrigerator, and I held about a quarter of it back in case I need to add some more later.

The process can, of course, be more complex.  It’s a good idea to whisk some air into the mixture when the yeast is first added (the initial yeast growth needs oxygen), but I didn’t bother this time since the carboy, shown below, had a lot of airspace.  Some types of yeast need precise temperatures.  There are some beers that must be fermented at very cool temperatures — well below room temperature — probably because they were first pressed into beer-making service in cool German cellars.    Serious vintners will measure various liquid and gaseous chemicals over time, add ingredients or stir according to precise recipes, etc.

I pretty much used 1., 2. and 3., except that the carboy below shows the results of pressing and fermenting 10 gallons of apples.  Tomorrow I will press the next 10 gallon batch of apples and add to the bubbling brew.  Note that the mixture is cloudy:  that’s mostly from the yeast.  The yeast will die off in one of two ways:  starvation from a lack of sugar, or alcohol poisoning.  Since the VR21 yeast can tolerate up to 15 percent alcohol, and the sugar in apples usually produces hard cider at about six percent alcohol, starvation is what will kill the yeast.  The cider will clear and the dead yeast will fall to the bottom.

dscn0983

The front carboy shows the yeast action after 24 hours.  It’s about 2.5 gallons of juice from 10 gallons of apples, which may not seem like much, but the sack in front is the leftover pulp.  Foreshortening makes the pulp look larger than the juice, but actually it’s smaller.  There’s a lot of air space between the apples in the 10 gallon measurement!

Yeast prefers a low oxygen environment, and this is the purpose of the water-lock:  as long as the pressure is higher inside than outside, no oxygen gets in.  As yeast converts sugar into alcohol, carbon dioxide is given off.  This increases the pressure inside the carboy.  The link below shows the action of the water-lock as it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while keeping oxygen out.

dscn0982

When the cider clears, open it up and taste it.  If you like it, that’s fine, but it may be very dry with no hint of sweetness.  Once the process gets this far, if I don’t like it, there are two avenues available:

  1. Add sugar, which should lead to vigorous yeast growth, and keep adding sugar until alcohol kills the yeast, then add more sugar to give the fermented product a touch of sweetness.  This is the approach I’ve used in the past, but I want to do this batch only with the apples.
  2. Kill the yeast off with crushed Campden Tablets (potassium metabisulfite), then add a little sugar.  I don’t like using Campden Tables so will probably not do that.

A third alternative would be to add a little honey or sugar to each glass when it is poured.

To get a sparkling cider, add a little sugar to each bottle before corking, but I will definitely not do that as I’m fearful of explosions and cider all over.


What to do with the apple pulp?  At first I was going to freeze it and feed it to the chickens in the winter, but I think it has one more job to do first.  That experiment will be the next post.

Charcoal Grilling

Yesterday I learned that charcoal grilling is a whole lot more tricky than using a gas grill.  I had charcoal puttering out and not finishing the job; I had charcoal blazing hot that turned into a flamethrower when hit with fat from the meat, burning up everything in it’s path; I learned that, No, you cannot go do something even very quickly quickly even if everything looks OK, because then there will be a WOOSH of fire and perfectly fine meat will, upon your return, be black and powdery.  Dad made it look so easy!  But I’m determined because I like the flavor and because the gas never got hot enough to properly sear a steak.

The most important thing I learned was cook less damned meat, do a better job of those fewer items, and enjoy your guests!!

Umami Bombs and a Savory Squash Casserole

Umami is a Japanese word for one of the five tastes we can detect, the word meaning “pleasant savory taste”.  The umami taste receptors sense the presence of glutimate, an amino acid used by our bodies to synthesize proteins.  The other four tastes are sweetness, sourness, saltiness and bitterness (typically indicative of poisons).

The Food LabI first heard of the term Umami Bomb while reading The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I highly recommend this book:  he runs experiments on cooking!  And is an entertaining author, and of course there are numerous excellent recipes, based on the principles he has proven through analysis and testing.  The book is 916 pages and with steady progress I’m up to 785 — which is amazing for me for a non-fiction book.  In this book he describes the Umami Bomb as being a triumvirate of foods with very high glutimate concentrations that will also fade into the background of your dish and not overpower it:  anchovies, soy sauce and Marmite.

For years I’ve heard about the wonders of anchovies in dishes.  Periodically I’d buy some.  Then years later I’d decide they were too old and probably deadly and throw them out.  Having tasted everything-on-it-including-anchovies pizza once (a hideous experience), really, how could one tell if they’ve gone bad or not?  An Italian woman at work gave me a firm look while expounding on the virtues of adding anchovies to spaghetti sauce.  Kenji was talking up the non-anchovy tasting result of his Umami Bomb, so finally I tried it in a Savory Squash Casserole that I made up due to having Kabocha squashes on hand and no recipe that inspired me.  None of the three ingredients in the Umami Bomb could be tasted, and the resulting casserole had did have a savory meatiness beyond the amount of sausage present.

SAVORY SQUASH CASSEROLE

Toast slice of toast — I like whole grain

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Coarsely chop:

  • 2 cups roasted winter squash.  I used Kabocha, but acorn squash or pumpkin would be fine.
  • 1 mild, cooked Italian sausage (2 might be even better)

In a skillet soften one small chopped onion in a dash of olive oil on low heat.  Then add and cook until mixed and anchovy dissolved:

  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon Marmite
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • one anchovy fillet (next time I may try two)

Soften 2 cloves chopped garlic in a little olive oil — I used the microwave

Mix everything plus 4 oz. of shredded Gruyere cheese, and salt (or seasoned salt) to taste.

Put in a meatloaf pan and pat down.

Tear the toast into small chunks and food process with:

  •  A drizzle of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of seasoned salt
  • Rounded teaspoon grated Parmesan cheese

Add in an even layer to the top of the squash mixture in the meatloaf pan and pat down.

Cook until breading is browned:  20-30  minutes.

There’s no escaping the slight sweetness of the squash, but in an effort to create a purely savory dish, I count this a success.

—————————–

Below is a audio interview with Kenji going over some of his culinary experiments and describing his Umami Bomb.

Inside the Food Lab with Kenji López-Alt

KenjiThe first thing he goes into is the bread experiment, which caused me to do my own experiment and I think his experiment was set up incorrectly!

In the audio he describes that pizza crust from New York is thought to be superior.  In the book, it’s Rome.  The idea being that the location’s (New York or Rome) high mineral content water used to make bread makes superior bread.  In both experiments he uses mineral water versus low mineral water.  The mineral content of these waters were high in magnesium as well as calcium; whereas the mineral content of the water in Rome is very high only in calcium because acidic water percolates through limestone saturating the previously acidic water.  I suspected there was insufficient calcium in the Kenji experiment, and the added variable of high magnesium levels.  So, I crushed up a calcium carbonate supplement — the identical chemical found in limestone — and used vinegar to dissolve it.  Added some to one loaf of Italian bread and none to the other; each otherwise prepared and baked identically side-by-side.  The one with the added dissolved calcium did not brown as well, but was noticeably more chewy and wonderful.  I now have a pint jar of vinegar saturated with calcium carbonate for future Italian bread baking.

However, other than this one issue, Kenji was brilliant.  The audio also goes into the best way to grill hamburgers, and with Labor Day tomorrow, knowing that may be timely!

 

Kabocha Winter Squash (Japanese Pumpkin) Experiment

The kabocha squash is a pumpkin-like, grey-skinned squash from Japan.  I have no room in my little 24 foot by 24 foot raised bed garden for winter squash or melons, but we have piles of partially rotted tree trimmings so I planted the squash in one of those.  A few inches down, the pile was still very warm as micro-organisms were actively converting the wood into humus (no, not the luscious chickpea dip), so I wasn’t at all sure it would work, but my only loss was the cost of a packet of seeds.

DSCN0757

As you can see, the vines started off very strong, and did produce seven full-sized squash.  Then over the past two weeks the vines died off with several of the squashes never having made mature size. Perhaps this is normal, or perhaps not — the cucumbers in my garden all died at the same time leaving many baby cucumbers shriveled.  In any case, the return on that packet of seeds was well worth the minimal cost and effort involved.

Thinking the smaller squashes may not be worth keeping, I cut them all open.  They did have some places that were starting to rot, but otherwise looked and smelled promising.  Roasted (slathered in coconut oil and Tsardust Memories seasoning), they turned out quite tasty, even with the skin on.  I ate a few and then skinned the rest and later converted most of them into a Savory Squash Casserole.  Dogs love cooked pumpkin and mine loved the leftovers from these as well.

DSCN0943     DSCN0957

Below are the full-sized squash:  not a huge harvest, but ridiculously easy, and next year the mulch pile will have rotted more and be less hot, so hopefully there will be more squashes.

DSCN0965

These were Winter Sweet hybrid kabocha seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds.  Since they’re hybrids, saved seeds won’t breed true.  Next year I’ll look for a variety I can plant and save seeds on my own, or failing that, I’ll save seeds from several of these squashes and work my way towards a reproducible, non-hybrid, kabocha squash.

 

Final Apple Harvest and Experimental Processing

DSCN0958     DSCN0960     20160827_191507     DSCN0940

My single semi-dwarf Golden Grimes apple tree provided me with six 5-gallon buckets of apples, after 18 previous years of almost none — all due to brutal pruning as per the advice of a friend.  So, what to do with all of these apples!  One can make only so many apple crisps.

EXPERIMENT 1:  Partially cooked two buckets of apples and put them in the freezer.  The reason apples are crisp is that each cell in the apple has a rigid cell wall, as is also true for crisp fresh vegetables.  If these crisp fruits or vegetables were frozen raw, the cell walls would all burst due to the expanding water inside them — as if a glass jug full of milk were to be put in the freezer.  By cooking the apples, I hoped to weaken the cell walls so that they could flex as the water in the each cell in the apple is frozen and expands.  This is why frozen vegetables are partially cooked, so there’s precedent for this approach.

DSCN0938     DSCN0939

How to most easily cook two buckets of apples?  It turns out 10 gallons of apples fit into my dishwasher:  five on the top and five on the bottom.  I dish-washed them, but while the skin was darker, the insides were still crisp.  So I washed them again on high heat.  Bingo!  Slightly cooked and all clean of bugs & etc.  None of the skins broke; no exploded apples.  The amount of cooking felt perfect to me, but time will tell.  I expect they will be browned a bit when I make apple crisp or applesauce in the future, but if the taste is the same (and I think it will be), I don’t care.  I put them in plastic grocery store bags — each bag holds 2.5 gallons of apples — and put them in the freezer.

EXPERIMENT 2:  Put four buckets of raw apples into the freezer.  Enamored with the previous dishwasher success, I used it to rinse the raw apples, but am not sure it saved any time over just rinsing them in the sink.  So, won’t freezing raw apple result in mushy apples when thawed?  I certainly hope so!  Not needing any more apples for apple crisp or applesauce, I was going to leave the apples on the tree, but I couldn’t stand it.  So, I bought a small apple press to make cider.

Weston Fruit and Wine Press

Yes, I have done the math and realize this will be the most expensive apple cider in the history of the world, but I have high hopes this tree will continue to produce, and that another tree (that did much better this year but not stellar) will also start producing in serious quantities.  Another reason to buy the press:  the cider in grocery stores has preservatives in it so it can’t be fermented, and hard cider is what I plan to make from these apples.

An apple and fruit crusher, costing an additional $165, is supposed to be part of the process.  I hope the freezing process mashes them to pulp on the microscopic level instead.  We shall see in the next week or so because the press is in it’s box on the back stoop right now 🙂

APPLE TREES:

In an earlier post I mentioned two types of apple trees, but I actually have four.  I don’t honestly remember why I picked the apple varieties that I did, but evidently I was going for older versions.

Golden Grimes:  Great historical interest as the probable parent of Golden Delicious, with similar sweet flavour and good keeping qualities, and widely planted during early 20th century.  Introduced 1830s. Produced like crazy this year, I thought better for cooking than eating but that’s probably because I’ve become accustomed to the sweetness of Gala apples.  The sad truth is, I don’t eat many raw apples anyway.  With hard pruning this tree produced a lot of apples.

Cox’s Orange Pippin: This is the benchmark for flavor in apples – from a good tree in a good year it can achieve exceptional flavor.  Introduced 1825.  Not many apples; great flavor.  Hard pruning improved number of apples.  Will continue with the pruning, and need to take measures to keep the deer away from them.

Empire: One of the best McIntosh-style apples, with a good sweet vinous flavor, and easy to grow.  Introduced 1945.  This tree had a lot more apples than years past, but I didn’t get to them soon enough.  Not nearly as many, though, as the Golden Grimes, but this may improve with continued hard pruning.

Lady:  Lady, or Api, is an old French apple variety with a good aromatic flavor, and many decorative uses.  Introduced 1628.  This tree always produces a lot of apples that start out extremely sour and then turn flavorless.   I wish I had not planted this tree.  Maybe I’ll try to make vinegar out of them.