The Best Apple Pie Ever

In our region apples had a very good year and the trees were loaded! While we don’t have apple trees on our property we have a few people we call “apple angels” that let us come pick their trees when there is an over abundance. I processed about 4 bushels of apples this season into apple sauce, apple peel jelly, apple pie filling, and I made my personal best record of fresh apple pies. My apple corer peeler had seen a lot of action, so much in fact that I’ve actually began to enjoy the monotonous task to the point that its almost become a zen thing for me. I just fill the sink with apples, give them a nice swishing around in fresh water with a splash of vinegar and start cranking away, often forgetting to count out the apples as I go. To make sure I’ve got enough apples prepared for the empty pie shells waiting to be filled on the counter I find that going through my apple scraps and counting cores works perfectly for when I’ve zoned out and forgotten to count. Or you could just count them out ahead of time…I just like to live on the edge apparently.

Coring and peeling, peeling and coring

I’ve even roped my kids into helping! Little O enjoys it just as much as I do, and Jake likes to crank in the wrong direction. The other night O helped me peel and core a whole bushel of apples! We made 7 apple pies and the rest of the apples were loaded onto the trays of my dehydrator and dried into what is probably one of our favorite snacks.

I’d like to share my apple pie recipe with you, its got to be my favorite apple pie I have ever eaten…maybe it simply tastes so good because I made it myself, or maybe it really is The Best Apple Pie Ever. I do know this: So long as you bake it, it will always be the best.

The Best Apple Pie Ever

For the crust:

• 1-1/2 cup flour
• 2 tablespoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoon + teaspoon cold lard or Crisco
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/4 cup cold water

1. Add all ingredients to a large bowl, using a pastry blender or fingertips work the lard into the flour, then slowly add water continuing to blend until dough begins to stick together.

2. Roll into a ball and turn out onto plastic wrap and chill up to 3 hours.

3. Before baking, remove from plastic wrap, roll dough out, and place in pie pan.

For the Filling:

6 Apples (a variety of tart and sweet)

1 ¼ tsp Cinnamon

¾ cup Sugar + more for top

Sprinkle of Nutmeg

½ tsp Vanilla

1 Tbs Lemon Juice

3 Tbs Minute Tapioca

1 whole egg beaten for top

1. Fold all ingredients together.

  1. Pour into prepared crust, apply top crust in your preferred method.
  2. Brush top with beaten egg & sprinkle with sugar.
  3. Place pie on a cookie sheet, cover top in foil. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, remove foil. Reduce temperature to 375 and bake for 25 minutes.

A Winter Solstice Celebration

The winter solstice, also known as “Midwinter” and “The Longest Night” marks the astronomical beginning of winter as well as the shortest day and longest night of the year. After this date (occurring between the 20th-22nd   of December each year) our daylight hours will begin to get longer, but we still have three more months of winter until spring. We decided to begin a new tradition to celebrate not only the winter season, but our neighborhood wildlife that we get so much joy from observing throughout the year.

Suet cake in a re-purposed mug!

Winter marks the beginning of a time of hardship for our wild friends, even though they are perfectly equipped to cope with the harsh outdoor environment, food is not as plentiful as it is in the summer months. So to give them a little boost this is when we hang our suet feeders, peanut cages, and keep our seed feeders full. To make it a little more special we chose a tree in our yard to decorate with some festive treats too!

A string of popcorn and cranberries!
Cranberry & Orange Ornament

Popcorn Strings!: Since these are for wild birds that could be harmed by ingesting string or thread, I chose to string our popcorn on a length of wire.  Birds wont be able to take any with them when they grab a kernel and it eliminates the needle from the equation making this a kid friendly project! We popped plain popcorn in a pot on the stove with a bit of melted tallow instead of our usual bacon fat (yes we really do that and it is amazing). For a splash of color and a little vitamin C and moisture for our feathery friends I added fresh cranberries to the strings, as well as orange slices.

A Polar Bear Bird ‘Cookie”

Bird Friendly “Cookies” are also on the menu Preheat your oven to 350 and combine in the bowl of a food processor until very sticky:

1 cup dried dates & dehydrated apples

½ cup oatmeal

½ cup raisins

¼ unsalted sunflower seeds

¼ cup meal worms (optional)

Transfer mixture to a large bowl and add two Tablespoons natural peanut butter, and one Tablespoon raw honey, stir until thoroughly incorporated, mixture will become hard to stir.  Press into cookie cutter shapes and bake for 20 minutes. Cool, string on wire and hang.

Don’t Forget Good Ole Rabbit: For our very plentiful population of wild rabbits, carrots and apples will be roughly chopped and placed in areas they are known to frequent. Corn cobs will be added to our squirrel feeder…maybe now they’ll stay out of our garage.

What about water? A lot of people express concern about where birds get water in the winter when all fresh water sources are frozen. Rest assured that their water requirements are met by eating snow and wild berries and fruit. But an open water source is always appreciated. You can find various heated bird baths available on the market and you may find that your yard becomes a hot bed of wild bird activity. Purchase a low to the ground bath if you wish to give your rabbit visitors a drink as well.

But where do they sleep?  I have often found myself wondering this same question on blustery cold nights.  Much like our chickens in the coop, wild birds roost together in large groups to conserve heat. They choose tree cavities, the root balls of upturned trees, and the eves and rafters of old barns.  Some species of wild birds will over-winter as a family in the birdhouse they claimed in the spring, so you may want to think twice before you clean it out at the end of the year. – I’d even use it as an excuse to leave that brush pile until spring.  Bird watchers can catch wild birds roosting just after sunset.

A note regarding the special treats mentioned in this article: The popcorn strings, and bird cookies will only be presented on this day until they are gone and they will not be available to wildlife the entire season to prevent dependence on them. If you live in an area that prohibits the feeding of wildlife, please observe these rules as they are there to protect not only the wildlife, but you and your family as well.

Extra Cinnamony Cinnamon Rolls

I am always looking for ways to improve my cinnamon roll game, and I think I have finally created cinnamon roll perfection. Go figure there is a secret ingredient that’s a smidge unusual…TEA! Yep! Instead of using plain water or milk I went the extra mile and infused rich cinnamon flavor into the dough. I used Cinnamon Hearts Pu’erh from Steeped Tea, it’s a warm black tea with cinnamon and cassia and is probably the most cinnamony tea I have ever had the pleasure to drink, I love a warm cup of tea on a cool day with a splash of milk and a spoonful of honey so it seemed ideal for this recipe. It smells like a cinnamon roll even before it becomes a cinnamon roll and I think I’m in love…not only with these rolls but with the endless possibilities of tea flavors that could be used! Here is the recipe and I hope you give it a try, you will not be disappointed.

EXTRA CINNAMONY CINNAMON ROLLS:

1 package active dry yeast, dissolved in warm water according to product directions

3 cups flour, plus more for kneading

¼ cup maple syrup

¼ cup melted butter

1 tsp salt

1 egg lightly beaten

1/2 cup warm not hot cinnamon tea (I got mine here)

a splash of milk

 

For Filling:

1 stick softened butter

½ cup or more cinnamon sugar

½ cup brown sugar

 

For Frosting:

1 stick softened butter

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla

4 cups powdered sugar

1-2 Tbs milk

Combine all ingredients with mixer and set aside.

Start by dissolving yeast packet in water according to the directions on the packet. While the yeast is doing its thing, in a medium sized bowl, add 3 cups flour, & salt. To this add the maple syrup, melted butter, egg, warm tea, and milk *Note: Do NOT use hot tea, hot liquids will scorch the yeast and render it useless, allow the tea to cool until warm before adding it to the recipe.

Add dissolved yeast and stir until a nice dough is formed. Depending on the day you may find that you need to add more flour or more tea/milk. I find that humidity plays a huge roll in bread making.

Grease the bowl the dough was mixed in with oil and place the dough in the bowl to rise in a warm place.

When dough has doubled in size turn out onto floured surface sprinkle with flour and knead once more adding flour until no longer tacky. With a rolling pin, roll dough flat.

Spread softened butter onto flattened dough with the back of a spoon, sprinkle liberally with cinnamon sugar, then sprinkle with brown sugar.

Starting at one end, begin rolling the dough into a log. From here you can cut the roll into a log the length of a loaf pan to make a cinnamon loaf, or cut into1 ½ inch disks and arrange in your favorite pan.

Bake in oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 25-35 min depending on the pan you choose, watch them closely.

Allow cinnamon rolls to cool, then frost and serve!

Roll out the dough
Spread surface with butter and sprinkle cinnamon sugar liberally over the top
Sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar
Roll it up and cut into loaves for cinnamon swirl bread, Allow to rise a second time.
Or cut into 1 1/2 inch disks for cinnamon rolls, and allow to rise again.
Cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven