Food / Cooking

Hands On The Earth • Apple Cider

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Romance is in the air.  A brisk windy autumn day, the Schuylkill River brown and full from upstream storms.  Clouds break up long enough for a sunny stroll to my favorite produce stand.  To my true autumnal love, fresh apple cider.

Dave tells me he can sometimes get four gallons of cider per bushel of apples.  The latest press, just a day ago, is giving him a respectable 3.7 gallons.  The pint of cider I enjoy was made with nearly four apples.  And why, Dave, is cider brown?  That’s because it oxidizes as soon as it is pressed.  The flavor is not affected a bit.  The fresh cider tastes like healthy goodness.

If you hear crunch-crunch through the leaves behind you, it may not be a prospective paramour trying to catch your glance.  They may just want to know where you got your cider.  🙂

Breakstone’s Butter

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ADVISORY:  Some images and text may be disturbing to our  celiac  readers.

Americans eat lots of butter. A hundred years ago, EIGHTEEN pounds per person per year.  Thankfully, we’re down to about six pounds per capita  *burp*  Personally, ATB staff have reduced their consumption to sub-Japanese levels, under 0.6 kg per year.  There may be easier ways to live forever, but restricted fats is not a particularly difficult path to a healthy diet.

When we do fall off the wagon, or more appropriately, jump upon the dairy wagon for a healthy dose of converted cream and salt, we reach for the best.  Breakstone’s.

  • 1882: Isaac and Joseph Breakstone (Breakstone Bros) opened a small dairy store on New York City’s Lower East Side.

The best butter?  Attractive marketing?  Hard to say.  Delicious, yes!  And the only brand to display a two-pack, a pair of quarter-pound sticks in a single carton.  Perfect for our dietary pacing.

Owned by Kraft,  manufactured by Keller’s Creamery, under license by Kraft.  Keller’s butters go back over a hundred years, so it is all a creamy mystery as to who is running the shop.  Keller’s Creamery appears to manufacture butter for many labels at its plant in Winnsboro, Texas.  Our spies report townsfolk friendly but protective of their slippery secrets.  Me, I stay away.  Lest I return to a dozen pounds a year  🙂

Harvest Festivals

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Under cover of darkness, a quarterly division of Earth’s orbit passed the dotted line.  We officially cross into the season of crunchy leaves and spiced cider.  Sleeping late on weekend mornings under cozy blankets.  Comfortable evenings with darkness falling appropriately early, without the Federal Government fiddling with our clocks.

The Autumnal Equinox has again arrived, more quickly this year then last.  My niece at seven laid out her hypothesis on this.  It involves percentage of time lived.  A year is longer when you are seven – 1/7th of your life.  A year is shorter, say, 1/50th of your life, a few decades later.

Never one to pass up a marketing opportunity, this first day of autumn brings the season of the harvest festival.  No matter that the Harvest Moon is weeks away.  A time of ripe apples, perfect root vegetables, and late season corn.  Steamy days of sterilizing jars, vats of vinegar, pickling everything edible.

Support the local economy.  Spend money at your local harvest festival.  Continue traditions thousands of years old.  Exercise your Neolithic Revolution DNA.  Consume extra calories for a good cause.  Heck, even eat like a panda if you want.  It only comes once a year.  🙂

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

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With inflamed shoulders and wrists, hobbling upon bug-bitten ankles, we  conclude an excellent late-summer pickin’ session under the old oak tree.  The creamery crowds seem more appreciative in the evenings;  we played for them far past sundown.  A time of crickets, moonglow, and private ice cream consumption.

With a return drive through miles of farmland, missing dinner (and lunch!) is no joke.  As usual, a sack meal awaits in the truck.  One Honeycrisp (Malus pumila) apple, some multi-grain sourdough bread, and a nice wedge of cheese, sliced off our chunk of Beecher’s.

My tailgate sack dinner in the dark becomes a top hat affair.  With the complexity and punch of Beecher’s, every mouthful is the pleasure of a banquet.  

Cheese is one of the better discoveries in history.  Big business makes it by the ten-ton.  But real cheese?  A whole new ball game.  Like the first time I tasted carrots fresh from the soil or spring water from the hill.  Hearing true silence of a New Mexico desert.  Artisan-made cheese opens the senses to another reality.

Trader Joe’s giant open-air merchandiser is a great way to explore cheeses.  That’s where the Beecher’s Flagship was discovered – great job on the labeling and logo!

We’d been thinking of a cheese article for some time.  Peter Sallis, voice of Wallace and Gromit, passed in June.  This famous claymation series opened our eyes to varieties and passions associated with cheeses.  We wanted to note his contributions to society.  The English take their cheese seriously!  When we come up with an angle, we’ll have more about  Peter.

For now, a message from Kurt Beecher Dammeier:  By starting with fresh, pure milk from local farms and applying the traditional methods used by cheese makers for thousands of years, our cheeses are free of artificial ingredients making them just as delicious as the milk they are made from. – Beecher’s

Sweet Springs, Missouri

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Smiles   Horses thudding along the old Pony Express from Socorro.  Northward I roll to happy honking horns and wide Kansas smiles.  Inching my velocity up to the speed limit, a Man Of Purpose, intent on beating dusk.  To the joy of traffic backed up behind me.  But there was so much to see!  Miles and miles of prairie, cattle, wheat, everything!

Monarch Highway   Motoring southward, I recall grasslands preserved for butterflies and the generous Kansas rest stop welcome, “Camping Permitted”.  This would be a rare planned stop amid our freewheeling northward meander in search of “what was”.  Road & wind are our only influences.  Stretching out for sleep fits in there as well.

The horizon has yanked itself up above the sun but the birds don’t know it yet. With plenty of light, we roll to a far spot, change into night duds (jeans, fleece top, bandana), and off to a soft spot under the trees.  Only a couple of rough blankets and a cushion, but it is heaven!  Dozing off to darkening skies, birds chirping … fading … fading … And wake up at first light, a solid unbroken eight hours of sleep!  Far better than any motel room, and 100% cheaper!  Where’s the tip jar?  We owe nature a fat one for lulling us with her perfect Kansas breezes!

The sun rises faster   Barely an hour into our morning I notice the Missouri sun seems awfully high in the sky.  Time zones aside, surrounded by farmland, I can see why a farmer gets up so early.  It is work from sun-up until sun-down; gotta leverage every minute.

The sun also reminds me of another issue:  hunger and thirst.  Sweet Springs is the first exit after I think of caffeine, so we take it.  Eschewing service station coffee, we delve southward and find Downtown.  Wow!  Jackpot!  Sweet Springs, platted in 1838.  We park by the Old City Hall c.1891 and smell food.  Right up the block, a business for all occasions.  The de facto City Hall, maybe?  🙂

Sausage, milk, flour, butter   Sausage gravy on biscuits made from scratch every day is a favorite, Parrish tells me.  A perfect start.  Last Chance Saloon is regular stop from here on out!

Individual Time   Grudgingly we re-enter the Interstate.  Missouri rolls by.  Windows down, crops and soil smell familiar.  Long walks amid barns and fields as a kid.  Driving Down The Highway.  Without radio, plenty of time to think.  New ideas.  Hmmmmm  Individual time:  I decide when I want it to be 5am, Noon, 9pm, whatever.  My clock is my own and computers figure out how to mesh my life with the world.  New songs.  New plans for new trips.  Missouri farmland smells like childhood.  Innocence.  Imagination.

 

Lancaster County Produce

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In the steel town of my parents’ childhood, life moved at a different pace.  Many people lacked a telephone.  Television was a new and rather worthless invention.  Texting?  The closest was telegraph and maybe a stock market ticker.  No “code words”?  LOL   🙂  Code words and phrases abounded, as old as the hills.  Maybe written by Moses herself.

Newlyweds jokingly said they ate a lot of apples,  referring to the Garden of Eden, Eve & Adam, and their newfound lust for apples.  But my dentist also promotes this perfect fruit, and he’s atheist.  Something about working the teeth, exercising the gum line?

Turning to his simple health advice decades ago, I’ve too decided the apple is a perfect fruit.  Portable, properly packaged, pennies a pound.  Maybe a bit more silver these days, but still a value.

Honeycrisps, newly picked, waft their scent from my fridge.  Pink Lady, Gala, Jonagold, all delectable.  Pick your favorite farmers market, find a grower, and select a few beauties of smooth unbruised skin.  Prepare for deliciousness.  Bonus:  Your sweetheart will find your close presence even tastier.  Maybe the serpent was on to something.  I’ll bet a good theologian can find reference to morning groping in the Bible, right after breakfast kisses.

Lancaster County has been shipping produce to Philadelphia since the mid-1700s.  Hands On The Earth Orchard from Lititz PA continues this tradition, weekly attending a Saturday farmers market along Walnut Street at Rittenhouse Square.

Native Americans, in what would become Pennsylvania, practiced agriculture for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. By the eleventh century, they had developed a high-yield system of slash and burn farming. Creating fields by clearing brush, and girdling and burning trees to let the sun reach the soil, they then planted beans, corn, and squash together – a method of planting that was advantageous to the crops and the people. Beans climbed up the cornstalks and fixed nitrogen in the soil that fertilized the corn and squash. The resulting network of roots and tendrils inhibited weed growth and helped to retain moisture in the soil. Beans, corn, and squash – better known to the Indians as the Three Sisters – provided a very nutritious diet that was high in amino acids, fiber, protein, and vitamins. http://explorepahistory.com

McCormick Extracts

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Just a teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down ~ ~ Sometimes it is just a pinch of this or a dash of that which makes all the difference.  My world-famous griddlecakes?  A single drop of almond extract per batter batch.  A pot of hot chocolate?  A drop of vanilla.

That is nearly the limit and extent of my extracts knowledge.  There was a third box of Schilling extract up in the cabinet corner, saved from great-grandmothers’ kitchen.  Never opened, never used.  The box dated 1976, our Bicentennial.

Of no use?  Hardly.  When a friend developed a bit of seasonal lip infection, she reminded me of the extract and asked to use it.  What for?  Sippin’?  There’s plenty of snake-bite juice in the cupboard.

I learn extract of peppermint is preferred by many professionals to resolve topical skin issues, especially near and in the mouth!  Even better, it is not a homeopathic cure, but real world medicine.  A quick web search reveals an exhausting list of ailments and issues helped by mint oils.  I find mint tea the perfect digestif after gastronomic overindulgence.  Especially following a triple helping of my galaxy-famous gluten-and-egg-free griddlecakes!

A. Schilling & Company was an American foodstuffs company founded in San Francisco, California, in 1881 by August Schilling and George F. Volkmann, a pair 27 year-old Bremen, Germany emigres.  It dealt in coffee, tea, baking powder, extracts, and spices and was acquired by McCormick & Company in 1946 and merged into its business as its Western Division.  McCormick continued to use the Schilling name until the 1990s, with the last product containers marked as Schilling produced in 2002.wiki