I would harbor a guess that very few people are aware of the origin of the Labor Day holiday (in 1882) and some might find irony in the fact that we celebrate it by taking a day off of work (those that are lucky) and squeezing in a last camping trip or backyard BBQ before the kids head back to school. But if you are a farmer or anyone who gardens with any seriousness, this is hardly the time of year in which one can think about leisure activities. Vegetable plants are bending over heavy with fruit. The trees are heavy with apples, pears, peaches. This is the time when canning and preserving fill the kitchen with billowy clouds of steam.
Even though I've been a slacker with my cooking this summer, I've still carried a torch for anything that can fit in a Mason jar. The knowledge that the window of opportunity is only so wide has compelled me to buy whole boxes of fruit to turn into jams and applesauce. This past weekend I picked up 25 lbs of Gravenstein apples that are good for pie-making and saucing. And I couldn't pass up the 20 lb box of Red Haven freestone peaches for peach jam and more pie.
Applesauce is one of those things that is so simple and quick to make that I can't really bring myself to buy it at the grocery store. I use a apple slicer to core and section the apples, leaving the skin on, throw 6 lbs in a big soup pot with a cup of water, let it simmer for 25 minutes and run the soft, mushy result through a food mill and that's it - done. So easy it doesn't even need a recipe. Maybe I'll add a little sugar or cinnamon or nutmeg. The jars that I process to store in the basement I leave plain so it can be used for applesauce cake or as a replacement for oil in low-fat muffins.
So as you pull that last beer out of the cooler, offer a toast to the farmers that were hard at work today, harvesting the bounty that will keep our pantries stocked this winter. Prost!