Posts Tagged ‘Michael Dinner’

Saturday Single No. 260

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

The jars line up neatly on the shelves along one side of the chilly room: They’re filled with green beans (some with potatoes), apple butter, applesauce, pickles and relishes of various sorts, carrots, zucchini and yellow squash, corn, and various forms of tomato-based victuals, including spaghetti sauce, chili base, stewed tomatoes with Mexican seasonings and just plain tomatoes.

One evening this week, the Texas Gal and I stood in the doorway and looked at those shelves, the evidence of long hours spent in the garden this summer and of long hours spent in the kitchen in the past two months. Most of those hours thus invested were, I readily acknowledge, her hours. I probably spent more time in the garden this past summer than I have in previous years, but she still is the gardener and I the boy with the black thumb.

Even when the tasty results of our (imbalanced) gardening efforts were brought up to the house, she did most of the work in canning those results although I think I’ve been more involved in the canning than I was in the growing. I do tend to prefer my pastimes indoors.

This was our first real experience with home canning. Oh, during my childhood, I’d watched my mother, my aunt and my grandmother spend at least a week canning fruits, vegetables and meat at my grandparents’ farm just outside the small Minnesota town of Lamberton. As I got older, I’d help haul crates of fruit inside and then haul jars of canned goods either down to the fruit cellar in the basement or – when my family was packing for the return trip to St. Cloud – out to our car. I never really did the canning, but watching the process take place did give me some ideas as to what we could do.

And we did some of those things, especially with the apples. Our landlord – who knows someone who owns an orchard – asked us about a month ago if we could use any apples. Sure, we said, and two days later, I came home from a trip to the store to find a huge tub of apples on the walk near the back door. We’ve made, as I noted above, apple butter and applesauce. Last weekend – with the apple bounty seemingly undiminished by our efforts – we put our new peeler and corer to work, and using a recipe the Texas Gal found in one of her canning cookbooks, we put together a batch of apple/onion/ale relish.

(With the tang of cider vinegar balancing the sweetness of the apples, the relish is delicious, perhaps in a Germanic or central European manner; I had some with a couple of bratwursts for lunch the other day, and we’re looking forward to trying it on pork chops or with a roasted pork loin.)

As we canned more and more, the shelves in the kitchen began to fill. We really didn’t want to put the filled glass jars on the open shelves in the basement; feline curiosity and clumsiness could easily see jars broken on the concrete floor. So we reluctantly opened the door to the fruit cellar. We’d looked inside the latched door only two or three times since we moved here three years ago: The doorway was laced with cobwebs, and the light coming through the window on the far side of the room showed a lattice of more cobwebs across most of the room. Every time we looked in the fruit cellar – and it was no more than three times, I’d guess – we’d shudder at the thought of the crawly things that made their homes there.

But we needed the storage for our canned bounty. So, taking a deep breath and armed with a push broom, I opened the door the other day and swept aside the cobwebs across the doorway. Having done that, I could see a pull-chain for a light in the middle of the room, and I swept the air clear as I made my way toward the chain and then lighted the room. After that, well, it didn’t look nearly as bad as I expected. Yes, there was some shelf cleaning and cobweb removal required – and my skin did ripple unpleasantly when I met three spiders of the daddy longlegs clan as I swept – but in half an hour, with some newspaper laid down to line the shelves, the room was ready for our work.

Even with all the food we brought into the room from the kitchen that evening (and even after placing our surprisingly large stock of store-bought canned goods on the opposite wall), we still have plenty of shelf space left for more projects and experiments. And we still have plenty of apples.

So today, after the Texas Gal has finished some work and I’ve gotten a few chores done, we’re dipping into her one-hundredth anniversary edition of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (first published in 1909 by the Ball Company, one of the major makers of home canning supplies) for a recipe that will help us use more apples. Today’s project: Curried apple chutney.

So where’s the musical connection? Well, I found it on a nearly forgotten album that showed up a few years ago at the now dormant blog TC’s Old & New Music Review. In the years since 1976, Michael Dinner has become a successful television producer and director, but back then, he released a country-rock album titled Tom Thumb the Dreamer. Among the tracks on that album is the well-crafted and sweet “Apple Annie,” and it’s today’s Saturday Single.