Before the season’s first frost, many islanders look to preserve a taste of summer by canning, drying, pickling, and smoking a bounty of local produce, seafood, and wild edibles. Their refrigerators and cupboard shelves get stacked high with canned tomatoes, dried peppermint and lemon verbena, frozen sweet corn, smoked bluefish and many other jams, sauces, and stocks. The practice is a Nantucket pastime, connected to the days when preserving food was more than just a fun activity—it was a means of survival.
Caleb Cressman, co-founder of Faraway Farms, turns into a hobby homesteader come fall. Armed with the unofficial preserving bible, Putting Food By, and a dash of local wisdom, Cressman and his wife, Lindsay, extend the life of their crops by way of the jar. “It’s one of the most basic things in the world, providing for your family,” Cressman says, removing a jar of applesauce from the pantry and handing me a spoon. “There’s a lot of pride that goes into growing something and sharing it.” I dip the spoon into the jar. The contents are sweet, velvety and deceivingly fresh, like it was jarred yesterday, not nine months ago. Put short and sweet: the food tastes alive.
Another passionate preserver, Justine Paradis routinely forages for beach plums laden with red and purple fruit in the fall, identifying the shrub amongst scrub oak and honeysuckle. She places the plums in a jar and eats them thoughtfully, savoring the sweet-tart, somewhat grainy flesh, and spitting out the pit. With the alchemy of heat, sugar, and pectin, the berries will turn into jelly, which Paradis plans to use for popovers on Christmas morning.
“It’s about taking personal responsibility for what you eat,” she says. “You touch every single berry as they go into your jar and then you touch them again when you wash them. How often can wwith certainty and confidence how our food comes to us?”
Every batch of her jam or canned tomatoes delivers a unique flavor that reflects the particular time and place it was grown and harvested. French oenophiles term this nuanced, one-of-a-kind flavor: terroir. And just as with wine, every artisanal fruit and vegetable crop carries with it that power of place, the taste of the earth. Here on Nantucket the notes tend to be of glacial moraine with a hint of salt.
Food produced through large scale, industrialized agriculture, with its monocultures and GMO’s, cannot offer the same depth and diversity in flavor as locally grown or wild foods. And although we have more options labeled organic or sustainable than ever before, the eater looking to augment his or her diet with artisanal, seasonal, local or regional foods won’t find many commercial options. Thus, many people turn to preserving foods. So when the Stop & Shop produce section turns to jetlagged apples from New Zealand and waxy, unripe tomatoes from Florida, there is still a way to eat local and fresh on Nantucket.
Canned Applesauce Recipe
By Lindsey & Orla Cressman
You will need:
• 6 lbs. apples (use local or regional apples for best flavor)
• A heavy bottomed pot for the apples
• Canning jars (about 4 sixteen-ounce pint jars for every 6 pounds of apples)
• A large pot for the hot water bath (like a lobster pot)
• Some sort of food mill or food processor
• A cookie sheet
• Clean kitchen towels
• A chop stick
What you do:
1. Wash the apples, core them, and cut away any bruised or damaged parts leaving the skin on. Cut apples into large chunks.
2. Place the cut-up apples into the heavy bottomed pot along with one cup of water and cook on medium heat until your apples turn to mush, around ten to twenty minutes. Stir occasionally and add more water as needed to keep it the consistency of applesauce.
3. While the apples are cooking, start your hot water bath to sterilize the jars. Fill your large pot with about 5 inches of water and bring to a boil. Add your jars, rings and lids in the pot and boil for 10 minutes.
4. Once boiled, carefully remove the jars and rings using tongs. Place jars on a cookie tray lined with a clean dishcloth. If you are using metal canning lids, leave the lids in the hot water until you are ready to seal your jars to keep the rubber seal active.
5. Once the apples are all cooked down to mush, run them through the food mill or food processor to create an even pureed texture.
6. Return your applesauce to the pot and sweeten and season to taste, over low heat. Often, the applesauce tastes so great alone we don’t need to add anything, but if your apples are on the sour side, a little sugar and cinnamon will help.
7. Now fill your jars with applesauce, leaving half an inch of space at the top of the jar. Using a sterilized chopstick, stir the applesauce to remove any air pockets and gently tap the jar on a counter to settle. With a clean towel wipe the rim clean and secure the lids.
8. Now using tongs or a jar lifter if you have one, place the jars of applesauce into your boiling hot water bath, making sure the jars are covered by at least one inch of water. Use a canning rack or some improvised barrier between the bottom of the pot and the glass lids to keep them from cracking. Boil for 20 minutes.
9. Remove the jars and place back on the towel lined cookie sheet, and drape another towel over the jars so they cool slowly. Let sit undisturbed for 24 hours.
10. Check your jars to make sure they are all nicely sealed. Any lids that may have popped are not sealed properly and can be stored in the fridge and eaten within a few days. All other jars will keep on a shelf for a year.