Friday, October 30, 2009

How to Home-can Apples for Pie and Apple Crisp

Years ago (we're measuring in decades, here), I did a lot of gleaning around the countryside. At that time there were lots of old, abandoned farmsteads that still had producing apple trees. Oh, the apples may have been kind of scabby, but that didn't matter. They were free and they suited my purpose, which was putting them up for the winter. The kids and I would gather half a pickup bed full and head home to start production.

We dried a lot and made gallons of apple juice and applesauce, but I was constantly stymied when I tried to can apples like the canned, pie-sliced apples I bought at the store. Invariably, when I put them in a water bath, the apples would swell and the jars would never seal.

A master canner told me the secret of how to can apples for apple pie. I've never seen this in any book about canning, but it has never failed me. Here's how you do it:

Peel and slice your apples. You can use the peeler-corer-slicer machine or do it by hand. I like chunkier pieces, but that's my own preference. As you fill a bowl, sprinkle sugar over the prepared apples--probably at about the rate of 1/2 cup of sugar to every 5 apples.
Cover the bowl with saran, foil, or a dishtowel, and let it sit overnight. The sugar will draw juice out of the apple.

The next day, sterilize the jars you're going to use. I used pints here, but that's because that's what I had on hand. When I had a family at home, I always put them up in quarts. One quart will do one apple pie.

When I'm ready to can, I stick my clean jars in the oven at 250 degrees while I'm getting everything else ready. I also put my lids in a pot of simmering water on the stove. I don't know if this is scientific or not. It's the way my mom did it, and so it's the way I do it. I never have a problem with a seal.
I fill the jars to within an inch of the brim with apples and spoon in some of the juice in the bottom. I use hot water for the rest of the liquid, put on one of the lids from the pot on the stove, and screw on the ring, making it finger tight. When I have a load for the water bath, I run them through and continue filling jars. The rest can wait on the counter for their turn in the water bath.

For pints, I process them for 20 minutes at a gentle boil; quarts go 25 minutes.
When I take the jars out, I invert them, leaving them upside down until they're cool. Like I said, it's the way my mother did it, and they always seal.

Use the apples as you would fresh apples in apple pie and apple crisp. Just decrease the sugar in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

I don't know if you know it, but for more than a decade I had a wholesale bakery supplying pies (made from scratch) to restaurants in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. Next week I'll share my world famous apple pie recipe--and no, it's not the one I used when I blogged about the apple pie service project. This one is way better--unless you're trying to involve a bunch of teenagers. In that case, the simpler one works.

So, if you want to make sure you get that apple pie recipe, follow this blog! Click on the 'follow' button on the left hand sidebar.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I Love the TV Show "Castle"

I have a couple children who live more than a thousand miles away, and I really, really miss them. Both are good friends and I love to visit with them, even when they call during Dancing With the Stars. Luckily for the mother/son tie, both live in later time zones, and I've never had to choose between chatting with them and the newest segment of Castle.

Castle is an hourlong program that is billed as a drama, but it's witty and fun, and a 'can't-miss' for me. I don't watch much TV, but I never miss Castle.

The program is about Rick Castle, a successful mystery writer, who wangles his way into shadowing good-looking homicide detective Kate Beckett as she tries to solve her cases. She keeps telling him to stand back and keep his mout shut, but he's irrepressible and exasperatingly acute, even though the things he comes up with are pretty off-the-wall and quite possibly straight out of his latest plot line.

Nathan Fillion plays Rick Castle and Stana Katic plays Detective Kate Beckett. Both are believable and endearing, he in a sweet, roguish way and she in a strong-but-vulnerable way.

One of my favorite bits was when they went looking for an armed, dangerous susupect. The detectives put on bulletproof vests with POLICE written in large white letters on front and back, and Castle put his on, too. It had WRITER written on it, and when Beckett told him to take it off, he quoted, "If you shoot me, do I not bleed?" Naturally, when she got busy doing police stuff, he put the vest back on, followed them in, fouled everything up, but ended up saving the day after all.

Rick Castle is divorced and single-parents his teenage daughter, Alexis. She's well grounded and very mature for having a flaky actress mother and a will-o-the-wisp, writer father. Oh, and a flaky actress grandmother that lives with them, too. However, where his daughter is concerned, Rick Castle is conservative, protective, and willing to take the heat for an unpopular decision, as when he called Alexis's friend's parents after he had to rescue the two girls from a party where there had been teenage drinking and the friend got very drunk.

Maybe I like this program because I write mysteries, but I think it's more than that. Castle has engaging characters, witty dialogue, great puzzles, and understated sexual tension instead of torrid bedroom scenes showing a lot more than I would care to see.

Try Castle, and let me know what you think. It's on Monday nights on ABC, right after Dancing With the Stars, which turns out to be 10 p.m. here in the Pacific Time Zone. Or, you can watch it on your computer at (complete with commercials).

Click here to read ABC's blurb about the show.


Follow this blog! Coming soon--how to can apples to be used in pies and apple crisp. I learned this from a master canner after I had had umpteen failures. The apples kept swelling and breaking the seal. So, gather your apples and be ready, and I promise it by Sunday.

Friday, October 16, 2009

How to Make Sopapillas

Today I'm making good on my threat to teach you how to make sopapillas, a type of Mexican frybread.

As usual, you don't get the recipe without wading through some of my family history: My father ran a dragline when I was little, and his oiler was a Mexican American fellow named Joe Gray (but with a Spanish pronunciation: roll the r and pronounce the ay as aye). His wife's name was Romelia, and if you've read Counting the Cost, you've read the description of this lovely lady.

One summer we were on a highway project in northern New Mexico, and we camped out all summer in the woods near Ojo Caliente. Every morning, Romelia would make tortillas, and mother would let me go watch her. I always came away with a warm tortilla, and ever since that time, tortillas have been comfort food.

But, back to sopapillas. Romelia made those, too. I called them sofa pillows and thought they were the most lovely thing I had ever eaten. I was disappointed to find, when we left New Mexico, that Mexican restaurants in Arizona and California didn't serve them.

They're simple to make. Here's how:

This recipe will make about 16 2" x 3" sopapillas.

2 cups white flour
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons shortening
2/3 cup warm water

Cut the shortening into the flour. I used a food processor, but you can use the whip or beaters on a mixer. Add salt and baking powder and mix. Then add the water and continue to mix. Your dough should be soft but will make a ball that will hold its shape. Knead for a minute and then separate into four balls and let it rest for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, take a small pot or skillet and put 2 to 2 1/2 inches of oil in the bottom and heat to about 375 degrees. I don't have a thermometer, so I just put it on high and when the oil gets hot enough, I start turning it down. I usually end up with it between medium and medium high. The oil should bubble up instantly when the dough is put in. If the sopapilla doesn't fill with air, your oil isn't hot enough.

Roll one of the balls of dough out to about 1/8 inch thick. You should not have to flour your rolling surface or the rolling pin.

Cut your flattened dough into four diamond-shaped pieces and drop them into the hot grease. They should swell up into little pillows. If they don't immediately, hold them under the hot grease for a few seconds, and they should pop up and start swelling.

When golden brown on one side, turn the sopapilla over to brown on the other. When it's done, lift it out onto a paper towel to drain.

Sopapillas are best eaten warm with honey, jam or powdered sugar on them.

The two sopapillas pictured at the bottom left are ones that were cooked before the oil was hot enough. They are flat rather than puffed up.


I've taught sopapillas, but I've got to teach you how to make flour tortillas. You'll need a rolling pin made out of a 1 1/2 dowel or a piece of conduit like the one pictured above. Make friends with an electrician and see if you can get one. It needs to be 6" long. sure you don't miss out on the next recipe, review, scrap of wisdom or pithy thought. Become a follower on this blog by clicking on the Join this Site button on the sidebar. Check out my books behind the Liz's Books tab at the top, or read reviews of my latest book under the Reviews tab.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Eternal Corporation

I’ve been married forty-six years. I think that qualifies me to philosophize about marriage, and I’m going to do that today.

I have come to the conclusion that there are two things that contribute to a happy and successful marriage:

1. The first is the makeup of the people who enter into the marriage. I think the most successful marriages are made up of two people who each have the capacity to be happy alone. A person who can be happy alone is not dependent upon another for contentment or fulfillment and so doesn’t look to her partner to provide that in her life. This also makes it so the union is a free-will offering on the part of each.

2. I feel that a good marriage results when two people realize that, when they marry, the two of them ally to form an entity that is made up of the two parts, but is different from either. It’s better, stronger, more than the sum of its parts. I call it The Corporation. Each is an equal shareholder, and each must be steadfastly loyal to The Corporation, because disloyalty to The Corporation means disloyalty to oneself. I would not lie to my spouse, because in doing so, I would be lying to The Corporation, and, by extension, lying to myself. If I cheat on my spouse, I’m cheating on myself, since both I and my spouse share equally in The Corporation. When I serve my spouse, I’m serving myself, because I’m serving The Corporation. It’s a kind of enlightened self-interest and does away with any 50%-50% or 60%-40% or 90%-10% propositions about who should give more to the marriage or who is the dominant personality.

Of course there are lots of other things that contribute to a good marriage: being equally yoked as far as intelligence, education and religion; having a sense of humor and being able to laugh at yourself—which are not necessarily the same things; being fiscally responsible. All these are important, but I think the two things I’ve listed above are basic to a lasting marriage.


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Monday, October 5, 2009

Book Trailer for Counting the Cost by Liz Adair

Well, I just gotta brag.

My daughter, Terry Gifford, has always had a flare for the dramatic, and she has used it to good purpose as she put together a traveling audio-visual program called Letters from Afghanistan that she uses to raise money for her humanitarian outreach organization SWAN (Serving Women Across Nations).

I asked her to use these skills to do a book trailer for me. That's the newest promotional wrinkle authors use. It's like a movie trailer, only it's for a book, and it's posted on Youtube.

Here's a link to the trailer Terry did for my latest book, Counting the Cost. I hope you'll check it out. I think you'll agree with me that she did an amazing job.


Follow this blog. You never know when I'll remember that sopapilla recipe. Did I tell you that when the Pepper Sisters Restaurant in Bellingham WA opened, I was the one that told them how to make sopapillas. I remember that. I'll bet I can remember how to make them, too. That's what comes from never writing recipes down.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Charcoal Kilns on Panaca Summit and Mill in Condor Canyon

We just returned from a trip to Nevada. If you’ve read the Spider Latham mystery series, you’re acquainted with my husband’s home town, Panaca. The Lincoln County High School was turning 100 on September 27 and we went down for the celebration.

We took our 4-wheelers with us and planned on doing some riding before the birthday party. I had never seen the charcoal kilns up on the summit, and Derrill wanted to take me through Connor’s Canyon—which we found out wasn’t Connor’s Canyon at all. He’d been calling it that all his life, but the name is actually Condor Canyon.

Well, we did both, and what splendid rides they were.

The charcoal kilns were built in the mid-1870’s. They were situated where they were because of two reasons: a nearby outcrop of rhyolitic tuff and a source of wood, for there is a lot of scrub cedar and pine on the Panaca Summit.

Skilled stone masons took rocks from the outcroppings, dressed them, and joined them with mud and lime mortar to form the beehive-shaped ovens. I was particularly interested in the keystone arch that formed the door.

Swiss and Italian woodcutters who knew the charcoal making process brought these skills from Europe. They cut five-foot lengths of wood and stacked them in two vertical tiers (totaling 50 cords) in the ovens. Then they were lit, the door was closed, the vent at the top was plugged, and air flow was regulated through holes around the base of the kiln.

It took 30 days to complete the combustion of the stack. The resultant charcoal was allowed to cool, and on a calm day, the kiln was opened. If it wasn’t done correctly, the charcoal could catch fire and burn up, destroying all the work of chopping, loading and burning.

Each cord of wood would produce about 30 bushels of charcoal which was enough to smelt one ton of silver ore.

The kilns are in pretty good repair. Inside they smell strongly of smoke, even after all these years.

The next day we went to Condor Canyon.

I had been swimming in the spring above Panaca lots of times, but I never knew that half a mile farther up the road was this wonderful canyon. In earlier days, a railroad ran through it. It’s gone now, but you can drive on the railroad bed as far as the first bridge that someone burned—farther if you’re on an off-road vehicle.

We found a wonderful, shady cave to have lunch in, for though it was late September, it was pretty hot.

We also found the site of an old mill. I don’t know what kind of ore they were processing here, but they had a ramp built for the oar wagons to come up to dump their loads, and there were remnants of what looked like boiler flues lying around. There was another, tumbled-down charcoal kiln located nearby, too.

When we got back to town, I went on line at the only place I could find internet access and found a wonderful picture of the mill that used to be in Condor Canyon.

This is the mill as it was in 1870.

I’ll blog about the birthday celebration next and probably do some philosophizing, but I couldn’t wait to share this bit of history with you.

~~~~~~~~~~~ sure you don't miss out on the next recipe, review, scrap of wisdom or pithy thought. Become a follower on this blog by clicking on the Join this Site button on the sidebar. Check out my books behind the Liz's Books tab at the top, or read reviews of my latest book under the Reviews tab.