The Basics Series – Homemade Applesauce
Applesauce is one of the first things I remember helping with when I was a kid. Both my Mom and and grandmother made it, sometimes together, and it was often the kids’ job to squish the apples through the old fashioned chinois/food press with the wooden pestle.
I don’t know what has become of the chinois, but I still have Grandma’s pestle – handy for all sorts of percussive tasks in the kitchen, though because of that, I admit it is a bit the worse for wear.
Now, I use a food mill to make my applesauce. Still people-powered, but it is quite a lot faster, and requires less effort than the method I remember. The process still smells exactly the same though – the whole house fills with the aroma of simmering apples and spices, with an undercurrent of brisk fall air and the drying leaves outdoors. It smelled like that for days, as a family of seven will go through quite a lot of applesauce in a year. We go through a good deal less these days, but I still like to have plenty on hand for breakfast, visits from the grandkids and baking.
There are lots of food mills – click here for an assortment of them on Amazon. I have the MUI, which after 6 years of pretty heavy use is holding up nicely. The chinois type is a pleasant bit of memory, but for getting the job done, I prefer the MUI.
On to the sauce, itself. There are tons of recipes for applesauce made in crockpots or the oven – usually for these, you peel and core the apples, and if you don’t think it’s worth investing a food mill, then that is the way you may prefer to go. I ‘d rather not to go to the bother of peeling and coring, and I prefer the flavor you get with peels left on. They get removed in the food mill, but they do impart some color and flavor, not to mention nutrients, before they go. As for what kind of apples work best, the answers is – the apples you have. If I buy a lot of apples, and I find them starting to get soft on me, before we get them eaten up, then I often turn the older ones into sauce. Other times, I buy an assortment of different kinds, specifically for sauce making, mixing together the tart and sweet, the crisp and the softer texture ones for more interesting flavor. But, even old-and-just-barely-edible Macintoshes will still make a tasty sauce. This batch was made with some closer to the latter sort – on sale at the local hardware store near the end of the season. They sell apples everywhere around here in the fall, but because a lot of places don’t have the ability to keep them cold, they get overripe in just a few weeks, so it’s not hard to find a bargain.
- 12 to 14 pounds of apples
- ¼ cup water or apple juice
- sweetener [optional]
- ground cinnamon, ginger, fresh nutmeg, ground cloves or allspice - whatever you like
- You need a large heavy stock pot type pan for cooking the apples - this amount of apples should fit in an 8 quart pot. If they don't all fit, cook them down a bit and then you can add more - the pan will be less full as the apples break down.
- Wash the apples well, and remove the stems.
- Cut each apple into quarters or eights - nice big chunks. if you are in a big hurry, smaller chunks will cook down more quickly, but it takes more time to cut them up, so you end up about the same.
- Put the cut apples - peels, cores and all into the big pot, along with the water or juice, cover the pot, and turn the heat on medium low.
- You will start to hear a little action in the bottom pot fairly soon. It's important to stay close and keep the apples stirred up so they don't stick as they are getting going. Once they cook a bit, they will begin to release some juice which will keep them from sticking so easily, but at first, you have to tend them more closely.
- Once the apples are getting juicy, you can remove the lid so that the sauce ends up thicker - this allows the excess moisture to evaporate.
- Continue to cook, stirring frequently,until the apples are completely broken down into something that is going to look very much like finished apple sauce, though with skins and stuff in it still. This can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 30 or 45 minutes. It depends on what kind of apples you used and how fresh and firm they were. The fresher and harder the apples, the longer it will take.
- This is important - if you should let stirring slip your mind and the apples burn - do NOT stir them! This will just impart the burned taste to all the apples. If you haven't burned the heck out of them, you may be able to salvage them, by emptying the unburned apples into another container and scrubbing out the burned stuff before returning the apples to the pot to continue cooking - assuming they still need more cooking time. You can tell if they will be okay by smelling or tasting them after separating the unburned ones - if they are okay they will smell and taste good.
- Once they are cooked down enough, I like to let them cool a few minutes, because getting hot apples on you is kind of like napalm, and this gets a little splashy if you aren't careful.
- Set the food mill over a bowl, and run the apple mush through it a few cups at a time. Turn the crank backwards every 10 cranks or so to clear the screen, and also scrape down the sides if needed.
- Add more apples to the food mill as needed, and keep cranking.
- Every so often, you need to empty the seeds and skins from the food mill. Lift the food mill away from the bowl and carefully scrape the applesauce on the bottom into your bowl. Then empty the mill into a compost pail or what have you.
- Continue processing until all of the apples are run through the mill.
- Now, you have applesauce! Taste it to see if you think it needs to be sweeter - you can sweeten it with sugar, maple syrup, honey etc., but do it very gradually to make sure you don't get it too sweet.
- You can add what ever spices you like now as well, again adding small amounts and tasting to get it where you want it.
- I usually don't don't sweeten mine, because we like it kind of tart, and if you are going to use for baking, it's probably best not to sweeten it. I usually wait until I'm using it to add spices too, because what I put in will depend on how I'm using it. If you know you are just going to eat it and you want it taste a certain way, then go ahead and sweeten and spice it to your taste.
- You can keep in the refrigerator for about a week, or freeze it in containers or ziplock bags.
- It can be canned as well. I talk about canning here and here, so I won't reiterate all of that.
- If canning, be sure to add either 1 teaspoon bottled lemon juice, or ½ teaspoon citric acid to each jar [just put it in the bottom - it will mix in]. Leave ½ inch headspace, and water bath process for 20 minutes for both quarts and pints.
Toast dipped in apple sauce is still a favorite breakfast for us – a childhood combo of which we will never get tire, I’m sure. It’s also really good mixed into yogurt or hot cereal.
Or just all on its own!
note: this post contains one or more Amazon affiliate links and I make a small commission on your purchase.