Popcorn, you say? She’s going to write a post on popcorn? She is indeed.
You see, popcorn has been an integral part of my life as long as I can remember. We fed lunch to a crowd of visitors after church every other Sunday. There could be anywhere from twenty to thirty people seated around the table on those days. Yup. You can read more about those early Sundays here. Then, around 3:30 or 4:00 pm, we would bring out the popcorn kettle and make popcorn for the good folks before they started making movements toward departure. Very often the popcorn would be served with apples, and in maple syrup season, homemade taffy. Let it never be said that they would leave our home hungry! Later we learned that popcorn could be served for supper instead, which made more sense to me.
Making good popcorn is an art. It needs to be perfectly popped, with six kernels or less being the maximum left unpopped, at least that was the criteria in our home. There needs to be the perfect balance of saltiness, crispiness, and butteryness. I am absolutely of the persuasion that there needs to be a little butter on the popcorn. I see no point in masticating endlessly on a flat, saltless, butterless piece of rubber. Why eat popcorn at all? AND, I don’t insist on it being a point of membership or anything, but I use a sturdy popcorn kettle, used only for popcorn. I use my grandma’s well-seasoned kettle that I bought when she auctioned off her estate. It was the one thing I was going to get at any price. Let my cousin have the ugly stiff rubber doll that we used to play with; I was going to get that kettle!
Six years ago we went with my sister and her husband on a memorable trip to Portugal, Spain, Southern France, and Andorra. In the last week of our trip we were planning to stay at a very remote Portuguese village at the top of a mountain in a house owned by one of our employees. We knew it was rustic, and figured it was probably not well-stocked, so we stopped at the foot of the mountain and proceeded to shop for groceries. We were overjoyed when we found popcorn kernels on the shelves of the store. After all, we had not had popcorn for over two weeks! We bought some olive oil and butter, figuring there would be some kind of kettle there.
Upon arrival, after exploring a bit, we noticed that there was no salt there. This would not do. Popcorn with no salt??? It was too far to go back down for just salt. A few of us were nearly in tears, our expectations dashed. Popcorn withdrawal will do that to you. After all, my sister and I had both been raised in the same popcorny environment.
A dear little lady in need of a hip replacement seemed to have been put in charge of us and kept hobbling over between our house and hers, wanting to help us. The trouble was, she only spoke Portuguese and we spoke about two words in Portuguese, with neither of them being “salt”. We communicated with sign language and us trying to pronounce “salt” in different cadences for a while, when my eyes spied an empty spice jar on the counter. Aha! I grabbed it, and shook it as though I was salting something. Bingo! Her eyes lit up and we could tell that she had got it. She hastened uphill to her home with surprising alacrity considering her lopsided gait, and returned with TWO containers of salt. One was a shaker of table salt; the other one a jar of very moist, fishy-smelling sea salt. We took the little shaker of salt, profusely saying “Obrigado” over and over. We had learned the Portuguese “Thank You” by then.
We made our popcorn in olive oil and butter, seasoned with salt we were very thankful for. Then we ate it with gusto on our front porch, waving at the neighbours trotting by, checking out the new kids in town. We surmised that they didn’t get a lot of visitors up there.
That was our initiation into a world of new experiences in the next few days; many hilarious, some touching, but all enthralling. You may hear more of them as life goes on.
I served the popcorn this time with Ambrosia apples. If you like a crunchy apple that STAYS crunchy in the dead of winter, this is the apple for you! If you like a pretty apple, this is also the apple for you. If you only like sour apples, this is NOT the apple for you. It is very sweet, as its name implies. It also happens to be my husband’s favourite. He’s sweet that way; liking the apple I’m featuring.
There are a few apples that are especially good for eating with popcorn. Some of my personal older favourites would include the Cortland and Snow apples in season, and the Empire. One of the newer ones would be the Ambrosia, a sweet apple that is similar to the Gala, but is firmer and even sweeter. It gets picked in mid-October, about a month after the Gala, so as a result it stores much better and retains its firmness longer.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. Memories and stories are my own.
DirectionsGet out a very large bowl. Heat the oil in a heavy pot or popcorn maker on high heat until shimmering hot. I often toss in a few kernels first; if they start “swimming” and sizzling, the oil is ready. Add the rest of the kernels and the butter and swirl the pot well, holding it above the burner. Do this a few times until it begins to pop, returning it to the burner in between. Keep the lid slightly ajar to keep popcorn crisp. Once it starts popping, remove pot and shake the kettle mid-air several times to shake the unpopped kernels to the bottom before returning it to the stove. When the lid begins to rise, shake about a third of the popcorn into the bowl. Return the kettle to the burner, shaking it again; repeat these steps until the popping slows down significantly. Shake salt over the popcorn, taste, and adjust. Serve with apples for an old-fashioned economical snack.
I was waffling a bit in trying to decide the theme I wanted to use for April this year, because Easter was so early and is already past and gone. We have been hovering on the cusp of spring for ever so long, but it flirts with us, teasing us with a glimpse of sun and daffodils, then slips away behind a dark snow cloud again. Soon we shall have rhubarb, asparagus, wild leeks, and fiddleheads, but for now, we still have apples!
Every now and then I get a craving for this solid, moist pound-style cake. It needs no frosting, just a light dusting of icing sugar, and is ideal for breakfast or dessert. It has been in my recipe file for many years, and is perfect to serve on heirloom dishes, like the plate I have pictured above. That plate is part of a setting from my grandmother’s Royal Winton Sunday set and I treasure it. I use it occasionally and think of her tuneless under-her-breath whistle while she ironed; the way she always had time to read to us and take us for walks through the woods behind us; sitting at the table in her green visor bent over the newspaper while she ticked off the crossword puzzle in that day’s issue.
I wasn’t in photo mode when I was preparing the cake, so I don’t have pictures of the prep steps, but they are quite basic: prepare batter, peel and thinly slice apples; toss apples in cinnamon-sugar, and layer the batter and apples in a large bundt or tube pan. Because I’m obsessive about foods looking pretty, I saved a dozen apple slices and laid them in a circle on top of the cake. Then you bake it for a long time, over an hour.
I served it to our Bible study group that night, but my daughter and grandson came earlier that day and we had to test it to see if it was like it should be. Yup, it was.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. They have a beautiful new website now and my blog is a part of it! Yay! Check it out in the News section. As always, the stories and views on this site are my own.
I used a Honeycrisp apple for this recipe. I love its full flavour and juiciness in baking, while holding its shape nicely.
Old-Fashioned Apple Cake
FILLING: Toss the peeled and sliced apples with second amount of sugar and cinnamon. Set aside 12 slices for the top.
ASSEMBLY: Spread one third of the batter thinly in the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with half of the apples and spread them as evenly as you can. Repeat layers, ending with batter. Lay set-aside slices in a spoke fashion around the top of the cake.
BAKE in centre of the oven for 70 -75 minutes, or until your toothpick comes out clean. Cool upright in pan for 20 minutes, then remove by running a knife around the outside edge, placing a plate over the top of the pan and tipping it upside down. Place rack on the turned up bottom and tip it again right side up. It will make sense when you do it, trust me. Let cool another 10 minutes before dusting with icing sugar and serving. To dust evenly with icing sugar, place a little of the sugar in a small fine-mesh sieve and shake it gently over the cake. Eat it and think of your grandma with fondness.
With Family Day upon us, I asked Steve’s oldest sister Laurel what she remembers doing together as a family in those very early days when Martin’s Apples was just a fledgling business. This is what she remembers, “I have memories of picking apples every day in the fall, after school (it seemed like every day, at least!). I remember it was quite amazing when we made that old shed into a cooler and we had a cold place to store our apples. Before that, I remember storing apples (russet; Dad’s favourite back then) in our basement under the old kitchen/study, because it was cooler there. I also have memories of polishing apples in the driving shed before we went to market the next day. One Friday evening in particular stands out in my memory. It was a cozy fall evening and we were all out there together sorting and individually shining each apple for a very large order* that was being picked up. Janet (another sister) and I ate an incredible amount of apples that night.” *This order was for about 20 bushels of apples, which would be the equivalent of around 2200 apples!
It’s hard to imagine polishing each apple by hand, but there you have it! The Martin’s took pleasure in having an attractive product from the very beginning. I have a personal attachment to that cement pad that housed that first apple cooler, because some years later it became the foundation for our mobile home; our first abode when we married. It was tucked in the orchard, partway down the “bush lane”. It was a very romantic location for a young couple’s first home, I thought. I have many good memories of living in our orchard bower.
The Martin family has also reminisced about picking up the Melba apples that had fallen from the tree in the back yard before they could mow the lawn. These apples were then turned into applesauce for their large family. Incidentally, that old Melba tree is still standing and is the only apple tree left from those days. It was in the back yard before the orchard was planted. In an earlier post, I mentioned that creamed potatoes and sausage were two of the quintessential foods of our Mennonite culture. There is another one that should be added to that list, and that is applesauce. There are many families that eat it two, or even three times a day. It is on their table morning, noon, and night, usually as dessert.
Traditionally, applesauce is made by washing (don’t peel) apples, cutting them in quarters, and cooking them in a bit of water. Then the hot apples are put through a strainer, and sugar or honey is added. The sauce is funneled into jars, covered and steamed for 20 minutes. Sometimes I like to make a chunky sauce that I don’t preserve, in which I peel the apples, core and cut them, and cook them in about an inch or so of water until soft. I mash them with a potato “stomper” as we used to call it, add desired amount of sugar (or not), and let it cool. You could also use an immersion blender, or a pastry cutter. Be aware that if you choose not to add sugar to your canned sauce, your applesauce will turn brown in the jars after it’s been sitting for awhile, since sugar is a preservative.
A lot of people use the first apples to make applesauce. You can do that if you wish, but if you wait until the apples are riper, the sauce will be much sweeter and full of flavour naturally. Most apples can be turned into sauce. I think a blend of apples makes the best sauce, just as it does in fresh cider.
There are several types of strainers; the old-fashioned cone ricer that my mom used, the basket-style that is pictured here, and a high-falutin’ Victorio strainer. Take your pick!
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The recipes, views, and stories are my own.
*Most hardware stores have canning supplies. The basics are a canning kettle with a rack, jar lifters, jars, snaplids, rings, and a funnel. There are kits that include a magnetized lid lifter that I have found useful. One half bushel of apples yields approximately 11 litres or quarts of sauce
DirectionsPut about two inches of water into a very large kettle. Wash and quarter the apples, placing them in the kettle until the kettle is about 2/3 full. Cover the remaining apple quarters with water in a large bowl until kettle is free again. Cook the apples until soft and puffy, starting them at a boil, then turning them down to a low boil. Stir to keep from scorching on the bottom of the kettle, especially at the beginning. Meanwhile heat empty clean quart jars in the oven on 250° for at least 10 minutes to sterilize. Put snaplids into a little pot, cover with water, and boil for 5 minutes to soften the rubber. Turn down to simmer. Prepare another kettle or crock with the strainer over it, and ladle the hot apples into the strainer in batches. Rotate through strainer until the pulp is dry. Scrape out the junk and repeat process until all the apples are used. Add desired amount of sweetener to the sauce (I usually add 1 – 2 cups per kettle); stir and taste. Funnel the sauce into the sterilized jars, filling to middle of the neck (about 1/2″ from the top), then wipe the rim of the jar, carefully fit the snaplid on the top, and screw on the ring just until tight. Fill a canner half full of warm water, set jars in the water, and top up the water if needed. It should come to the base of the jars’ necks. Cover the canner and turn the burner to high. Once the water is boiling, turn heat to medium-low, and continue steaming for 20 minutes. When timer goes off, turn off burner, set lid ajar, and let the jars sit in the water for about 10 minutes to settle. This keeps them from spitting juice after they are removed. Remove carefully and set on a towel to cool. Listen for the pings and pops as the lids seal; such a sweet sound of success! Let sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Remove rings, being careful not to disturb the seals, wash up and store in a cool place until ready to eat. Enjoy plain with pork chops or with a sprinkle of cinnamon, a slice of cheese or chocolate cake!
*Most hardware stores have canning supplies. The basics are a canning kettle with a rack, jar lifters, jars, snaplids, rings, and a funnel. There are kits that include a magnetized lid lifter that I have found useful.
One half bushel of apples yields approximately 11 litres or quarts of sauce
After trekking to the foothills of the Great Pyrenees Mountains with my last soup recipe, I thought we’d stay close to home for this one. A simple form of it originates in my childhood and has great memories attached.
If you were to ask anybody in this area what the quintessential Waterloo County Mennonite foods are, you would hear a resounding “Schnippelde Grumbarra und Vascht” (sliced (and creamed) potatoes and sausage). The vascht may be served in various forms; farmer’s sausage, summer sausage or bag sausage. The Schnippelde Grumbarra may be sliced or shredded, with fried onions or without, but always, always imbued with heavy cream. On cold winter mornings, my mom would fry up a few onions, then add sliced potatoes and hot water, add some salt and cook them until they were tender. Meanwhile, she brought some Schneider’s Red Hots (wieners, for those who aren’t famiiar with this iconic tube steak) out of the freezer and heated them in boiling water. When the potatoes were soft, she added cream until the mixture had the consistency of a cream soup, and ladled it into our thermoses. She stuck the wiener into the middle of the potatoes and off we trotted to school, anticipating our homemade hot lunch. It was brilliant; the potatoes took on the distinctive taste of the wiener and we thought it was delicious. At noon the only question was whether to eat the wiener whole, or chop it with our spoons. Such a weighty decision for youngsters!
I have made this chowder many times over the years, remembering my childhood lunch delight with nostalgia. I would take a big crockpot of it to market on cold winter days and plug it into the back of our truck to heat for the morning. There was nothing that quite took the chill away for a little while at least, like a cup of hot soup and coffee. I have made it with ham, bacon, and chicken, but my all-time favourite meat addition is sausage. I always have home-canned sausage on hand, so it’s also very convenient. Plus, it uses lots of winter vegetables, including the lesser-known leeks. You can use less of one vegetable and more of another with no problem, as long as you have at least nine cups of chopped vegetables in total.
Leeks are a member of the onion family and look like a green onion on steroids. They have a mild sweet onion/leek flavour and the pale green rings add pretty colour to whatever dish they’re in. You want to wash them thoroughly, since they are grown under the soil like onions or carrots. Most often they are grown in raised beds, so that the plant can grow downwards further, thus producing a longer white stem. I use the white and pale green part, slicing until I start seeing dirt between the rings.
This post is sponsored by Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. The recipes, views, and stories are my own.
*GF denotes gluten-free
Spud, Leek and Sausage Chowder
DirectionsMelt the butter, then put all the vegetables in the kettle. Saute for about five minutes. Add the chicken broth and basil. Cover, bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer on low boil until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally. If you wish to brown your sausage slices, this is a good time to do that. It takes more time, but adds flavour. Add the sausage, then the milk. If you plan to thicken the soup, whisk the flour/potato starch into the sour cream, yogurt or buttermilk, and add to the soup once it’s hot, stirring gently. Taste and add desired amount of salt and pepper. Heat and stir gently until thickened. Do not boil it hard at this point or it will separate.
*GF denotes gluten-free
This is the time of year that you first begin to see action in this orchard of ours. It begins in a state of ugliness that leads to an abundance of beauty in another month or so. The action happening these days is that of pruning the trees of their surplus branches so that the warm sun can hit every single bud and turn it first into a blossom, then into an apple. Here’s an interesting tidbit: the fruit buds actually form in June of the previous year. The pruning typically begins while there is still snow on the ground, as there was a few weeks ago when I took this picture. The snow is gone now; honestly, it is!
People are often surprised at how heavily the trees are pruned, but it is critical to have each part of the branch exposed to the sun for optimum ripening and healthy growth of the apple. You see here our team of pruners, two experienced ones and two new apprentices. They come from Trinidad and Jamaica to help us from March to October, and we are very grateful for their help! It delights my heart to hear their happy chatter in the orchard as they work.
After harvest in the fall, the apples are stored all year in special controlled atmosphere storage that you will learn about as we go along. I will give you snippets of information because A) it’s easier for you to digest, and B) I plan to write for quite a while, so I can’t tell you everything at once, can I?
My recipe today is a simple one to go with that egg cheese that I’m sure you’ve all made by now. Right? Of course; right. It is one I watched my Grandma make, who lived beside us all the years I lived at home. She was a tiny little lady who loved children and we loved her. She was an adventurous gardener and cook who liked to try new dishes. She knew every bird, tree, and flower in the woods behind us, and I learned from her which mushrooms were edible, and which ones were poisonous.
You simply cut a firm yellow or green apple like Golden Delicious or Crispin (also know as Mutsu) into thick wedges. This is what is known as “schnitz” in Pennsylvania Deutsch. I use one of those handy-dandy apple slicers that cores the apple and cuts it into wedges in one fell swoop. We carry nice sturdy ones at our store at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. You melt butter in a pan, add brown sugar, the apple wedges, a generous dash or two of cinnamon and fry on medium low heat until the apples are all gooey and carmelly and starting to soften. They taste wonderful on egg cheese, pancakes, ice cream, or just on their own. Do try them!
Always, ALWAYS store apples in the fridge or somewhere equally cold. They will keep six to ten times longer than at room temperature.
Grandma's Fried Apple Schnitz
DirectionsMelt butter in a large electric or stovetop frying pan on medium heat. Wash apples, but do not peel them. Add brown sugar to the pan and stir into the melted butter. Remove the core and cut apples into thick wedges (about 6 per apple). I like to use my apple corer and wedger for this. Toss them into the pan with the butter/brown sugar mixture, sprinkle them with cinnamon, and stir them gently so that they are coated with the mixture. Fry on medium heat, turning them periodically until they are gooey and golden; soft but not mushy. This takes 5-10 minutes, depending on the firmness of the apples. Serve over egg cheese, ice cream, pancakes, or all on their own.
Today I’m donning the ruffled bonnet of Little Miss Muffet. Because the Easter season is just around the corner, I must introduce you to the delicacy that every Waterloo County Mennonite worthy of the name eagerly looks forward to. In actual fact, it’s one of those foods that people either love or hate; but I, and most of my household, are in the love camp. Notice I said MOST. This delicacy that I present to you most reverently is an offering from our German heritage; Egg Cheese, aka Easter Cheese, or in Pennsylvania Deutsch, Oya Kase.
This humble cheese is made largely with milk and; you guessed it; eggs. The texture is like a firm, curdy cottage cheese. It is made only for the month surrounding Easter. It’s not that it couldn’t be made any other time, but there’s something really cool about eating something only once a year. I mean, how special would it be if you could eat chocolate bunnies all year long? Right. Exactly. Now get this; you eat it with maple syrup, REAL maple syrup, poured over it. That’s the clincher, right there, folks. For some people it’s simply an excuse to eat maple syrup by the spoonful. You can eat it any time. I’ve had it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and at break time too. It is beautifully versatile! As a matter of fact, it’s so versatile that I’m never sure how to categorize it. Maybe I should slot a Heritage Recipes Category and stick it in there. What a great idea. Thank you for mentioning it.
There is a lot of maple syrup produced in our area. If you drive around these Waterloo County roads on a clear, sunny, just-above-freezing day, you will see clouds of smoke billowing through the trees in woodlots. That, my friends, is someone cooking sap in their sugar shanty. Don’t you just love that term? Sugar shanty. It rolls off the tongue so wonderfully. Much more elegant than sugar shack.
Anyhow, in cold climates, maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before and during winter. In early spring, as temperatures begin rising during the day, the starch converts to sugar, which rises in the sap. The sap is collected from the trees as it starts rising through taps that have been drilled in to the trunk. A question often asked is, does this hurt the trees? Nope; it doesn’t. Our neighbours have a slab they cut from a tree that was several centuries old, and in the rings you could see the vertical lines through the rings where it had been tapped at many different points in its lifetime. The wood grew back together completely each time. It’s pretty neat to see. Oh, what stories that tree could tell! Then this sap is boiled until the liquid condenses to a thick, delicious amber syrup. Our son-in-law has a sideline maple syrup business, and I kid you not, he produces some of the area’s finest stuff. We sell a pile of it at Martin’s Family Fruit Farm. He says it has to do with the soil components in the New Hamburg region. I think he’s being modest.
By the way, locals, would you like a pretty little drive? Ian and his partner, James, are hosting an open house today and next Saturday, March 25, so check them out at Ian Roth’s Maple Syrup. He can tell you a whole lot more about the process.
Maple syrup should be stored in a cool place, and refrigerated once opened.
FUN FACT: When Ian and our daughter Tamara became engaged four years ago, the New Hamburg Independent announced that the “Maple Syrup Man is marrying the Produce Princess”. I love small towns.
Now let’s make the egg cheese. It’s easy to do; there are just three main things to watch for.
- Don’t let the milk burn! This is kind of critical.
- Let the curds separate until they look like big globs of scrambled eggs
- Let the cheese drain thoroughly, or you will have a floating island on your plate (not the good kind, like the fancy dessert by that name).
*You can use 2% milk, but whole milk produces a smoother, creamier egg cheese.
WATERLOO COUNTY EGG CHEESE
DirectionsHeat milk on medium-high in a very large stockpot, stirring frequently to avoid scorching, until it begins steaming and swelling. Try not to let it come to a full boil, although it’s not the end of the world if you do. While it heats, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and salt. Pour the egg mixture slowly into the hot milk, stirring all the while. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cover with a lid, stirring every so often. When the milk separates and curds rise to the top, remove the lid and stir frequently until the curds look like large chunky scrambled eggs, and the liquid (whey) is a nearly clear pale gold. Remove from heat. Place a large piece of cheesecloth into a sturdy colander over another large pot and carefully pour or scoop the entire mixture into it, allowing the whey to drain through. Smooth the top with a spatula. Let it sit and drain for about an hour, pressing the top periodically to squeeze out excess whey. When it stops dripping from the bottom, tip the cheese onto a large plate. Cover and chill. Slice and serve with maple syrup. In recent years, we’ve discovered that adding fresh berries or fried apples to our servings elevates this traditional treat to new dimensions of delight!
*You can use 2% milk, but whole milk produces a smoother, creamier egg cheese.