Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Homemade Applesauce, Anyone?

There’s no better comfort food in the world than warm, homemade applesauce. And once you’ve made your own, you’ll never be able to stomach another bottle of store-bought applesauce again. I promise. The bonus is that making your own is just about the easiest thing to do. And the other bonus is that making your own will impress your friends and families. They will be in awe. And they’ll want a bowl. Wait, and there’s one more bonus – it will save you lots of money because store-bought applesauce is ridiculously overpriced!

We are in the throes of apple season right now. Apples are fresh, cheap, and plentiful. There are so many varieties available it’s overwhelming. I think the best applesauce comes from mixing lots of varieties together, but making applesauce from fresh apples you just picked yourself is pretty stellar too. I try to get my kids out to a pick-your-own farm each year. There is nothing in the world like a fresh apple eaten moments after it is picked. Nothing. Don’t take my word for it – go find out.

Most fruit markets sell apple seconds. If it isn’t immediately apparent, ask someone about it. When you’re making applesauce, quantity is important and looks aren’t. I like to go to the seconds room and ask for a few bushels of mixed apples. I ask them to throw in every kind of apple they have except Red Delicious. Red Delicious may be yummy eating apples, but they make only mediocre sauce. A mix of varieties makes the taste much richer and more complex.

Making applesauce is not a precise science, so don’t get hung up on following a recipe. Personalize your own. All I do is core, peel, and slice enough apples to fill a big pot. Periodically, I splash a few squirts of lemon juice on the apples to keep them from turning brown. When my pot is full, I fill the bottom quarter of the pot with water and put it on the stove. Working on a medium-high setting, I bring the apples to a boil, mashing them with a spoon and stirring often. Once the apples are boiling, I turn down the heat a little and continue to mash them with a spoon or a potato masher.

Next I add sugar. Now, how much sugar you add is a completely personal decision. I add about ½ cup for a big pot, but you can add much more or none at all. A fresh mix of apples creates such an amazingly complex and sweet flavor that you probably don’t need anywhere near the amount of sugar most recipes call for. So if you’re following a recipe, cut the sugar in half and then taste. You might not need the rest.

I continue cooking and mashing occasionally until the mixture looks like applesauce. I’m not sure how long this takes. I promised myself I would pay attention last night when I made applesauce so I could be more precise in my instructions but then I got distracted preparing dinner and dealing with homework issues. It might have taken 15 minutes, but then again it might have been longer. All I know is there is a point where the apples become really easy to mash and the whole mixture suddenly looks like applesauce.

This is where I stop and move on to canning, freezing, or eating, but if you don’t like chunky applesauce (which is one of the qualities I love about homemade applesauce), you can now put your concoction through a food processor and eliminate all those chunks that make your kids say, “Did you make this?” Although, once your kids have tried real homemade applesauce warm from the pan with a sprinkle of cinnamon they’ll change their tune.

A great way to increase your kids’ enthusiasm for homemade applesauce is to enlist their help in the process. If you own an apple peeler/corer/slicer get your kids in on the action. We have a peeler/corer/slicer that attaches to the kitchen counter and the kids love to use it. They love to eat the long, curly apple peels. Most peeler/corer/slicers only work on perfectly shaped apples, so if your seconds are particularly assymetrical and/or overly ripe, don’t get too frustrated when the handy contraption doesn’t work. Then you just have to revert to the old fashioned knife to do the job.

We can some of our applesauce and freeze the rest in abandoned yogurt containers. Slightly thawed, frozen applesauce is a wonderful dessert treat. But the best way to eat it is still warm from the pan. I make applesauce in large batches in the fall, but I make smaller ones anytime I end up with a bunch of apples that are getting long in the tooth or being ignored in the bottom of the fridge. So don’t think you can only make applesauce when you have time for the big production it can become. Grab a little sauce pan and peel, core, and slice 3 or 4 apples. You do the same thing your do for a big batch, just modify your amounts. Fresh, warm applesauce makes a yummy side dish anytime.

A jar of homemade applesauce and a basket of apples is a wonderful gift for a teacher, friend, or new neighbor. If you don’t remember how to can see my post from July 15 for directions. Now that you know how easy it is, try making some homemade applesauce, not only will it be comfort food for your body, it’s comfort food for the soul too.

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