...if you have a backyard and a kitchen, this blog might be for you!

a chronicle of tips and recipes on everything from gardening to canning and baking your produce, even if you're planted in suburbia...in fact, especially if you are planted in suburbia.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Repurposing in the Kitchen: Corncob Molasses and Crockpot Applesauce

I don't remember hearing the word recycle used much when I was a kid. It may seem a relatively modern idea, but our ancestors did a lot more of it than we realize. They just called it life.

Take those left-over ears from the corn I froze yesterday. A Midwestern farmer in the 1800's would turn right around and use those cobs for corncob molasses. Now it's not really molasses, but those old farmers were happy to re-purpose words, too, so any sweet syrup might get labeled molasses, whether it was made with corncobs or pumpkins or apples.

I got this particular recipe from a book called By the Seasons, by Kathryn M. Fraser. It was put out in 1983 by the TVA as a survey of homestead recipes used in Kentucky's Land Between the Lakes, recipes as they were popular in the 1850's. It's a unique little cookbook, offering a nice progression of recipes to follow the growing season, and all interspersed with sepia-tone photos and descriptive articles detailing 1850's farm life. Thirty minutes preliminary work sipping coffee and perusing that cookbook makes it all the easier for the suburban chef to at least pretend she's washing her produce at a well pump instead of with her vegetable sprayer, or that she's standing at a tall, wide cooking hearth rather than at her electric stove with microwave above.

The ingredients for this particular recipe are quite simple: 8 corncobs, 4 C water, and 3 C brown sugar. The recipe reads as follows:

"In a kettle, cover the corncobs with the water, and bring the water to a boil over moderate heat. Simmer for about 45 minutes. Remove the corncobs and strain the liquid into a 3 quart saucepan. Add the sugar, and bring the liquid to a boil over moderate heat, and simmer, stirring and washing down the sugar crystals that cling to the side of the pan with a brush dipped in cold water until the sugar is dissolved. Cook the syrup over moderately high heat for 10-15 minutes, or until a candy thermometer registers 220 degrees. Pour the molasses into a sterilized one-pint Mason-type canning jar and seal the jar with the lid. The molasses will keep indefinitely in a cool, dry, dark place. Makes about one pint."

The syrup does have a distinct corn flavor to it, so bear that in mind as you decide how to use it. Also, it is rather thin compared to our modern concept of syrups. I'd warm it. A tablespoon of butter might be a good addition if you want it to be a little richer, maybe use a little cornstarch for a thickener. On the other hand, you might just choose to go with the authentic consistency. Drench those hotcakes;float that cornbread!

This recipe calls for sterilized jars. I chose to do it the easy way today: by running a load of them through the dishwasher's sanitizing cycle. I also sterilized a few for the applesauce, which we should probably inspect now. Making applesauce can be as hard or as easy as you want it to be. I decided to go with easy, using a crock pot recipe I found online. http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,crock_pot_applesauce,FF.html

I'd like to include two gadget tips at this point. You'll save yourself a lot of time if you invest in this handy little tool to use whenever "peel, core and chunk" shows up in your recipe. Peeler/corer/slicers run about $25, but the simple corer/divider is only $10-15 and quite sufficient unless you're working apples by the bushel.

After you peel the apple, one quick thrust and you have it cored and sliced. Or you can do what I did: forget to peel the apple until after you've cored and sliced it, but it's quicker to peel it first. This gadget also works nicely for serving a simple dessert of sliced apples with caramel dipping sauce. Just be careful to center it well over the core, or you could end up"dividing" the core, too. And for goodness sake, don't get your finger underneath it!

This recipe didn't call for ascorbic and citric acid to be used, but if you'd like to use some, add 1/4 of a teaspoon for every quart of apples you cut. Then with the water, sugar and cinnamon coating them, the apples are ready for the crock pot.

Another utensil I'd mention for the sake of re-purposing is the humble potato masher. (It can mash more than just potatoes, you know.) After four hours with the crock pot set on high, the apples are easily mashed into a delicious spicy sauce. I used enough apples to half-fill my crock pot and ended with two pints of applesauce. One went in the freezer; the other is to enjoy now. The family thought it was tasty enough they want me to make more. "It's as good as your zucchini bread, Mom," said one son, which is saying a lot since they really like the zucchini bread! One hint, flavorful applesauce starts with flavorful apples. Tell the vendors at the farmer's market what you intend to do with the apples you buy. They'll direct you to the best of "what's in season" for your purposes.

Once mashed, I left the applesauce to cool while dinner was served. Bread on the sideboard tonight: classic cornbread naturally, to go with the corncob molasses. I used the traditional recipe on the bag of cornmeal but added two teaspoons of PureVia. I like to make ours a sweet cornbread, but try to save on a few calories where I can.

I'll mention one last necessary utensil for canning and freezing. If you're planning to can salsa with me in a few days, you'll want to have one of these. In fact, if you're going to do much at all with this canning hobby, you'll want to have this: a funnel. Funnels help you get your carefully prepared jams, relishes and sauces directly into the jars rather than splattering them all over the counter, not to mention on your feet. If nothing is pressing over-ripe tomorrow, I'll take a break from the cooking and freezing talk and prepare you a list of other supplies you'll need if you plan to come alongside me and make Salsa Day your first canning project.

By the way, as I type this, my sealed jars of corncob molasses are sitting nearby. They remind me I should mention the ping, and I don't mean the one you hear after a good golf swing. It's the canner's ping. Your goal in canning foods that would spoil is to seal your jars until ready for use. As each jar lid seals after canning, you'll hear a distinctive ping. Grandma says you should say, "Thank you," when the ping happens--a folksy habit I've taught my own family so well they're downright Pavlovian with it. The syrup I made today didn't go in the canner, but I got it from stove top to jars so quickly that the syrup's own heat sealed the jars. Ping! Just be certain that you put hot syrup into hot jars (rinsed in hot water or pulled from the heat dry setting on the dishwasher) so the jars don't break when you fill them!

Last but not least, tonight's blue plate special: a light serving of boiled ham, one meal's worth of green beans and potatoes (see today's gardening blog for why so few), the rest of the yesterday's sauteed veggies, a few slices of Amish garlic and tomato cheese, fresh hot applesauce, and hot buttered cornbread with corncob syrup! Eat up!


  1. Wow, that looks delicious! I've never tried canning anything, but you have me curious now.

  2. YUM! My mom used to make applesauce and it was dee-lightful. I love it fresh and still warm personally... and very good drizzled fresh over vanilla ice cream in the summer.