I am not a baby who doesn’t know where food comes from. I’ve found eggs at the homes of some of my friends, and I’ve picked strawberries and blueberries and raspberries, as well as peaches and apples. We grew peas and tomatoes last summer, too, but (as Mama will be quick to point out), I kept picking them off the vines before they were really ready to eat. And then there was the mint that grew so out-of-control that I could have played hide-and-seek in it.
In the fall, Mama took me to an organic apple orchard not too far from our house. I knew just what to do. And, aside from the branches still being wet from that morning’s rain, I was really good at getting to the inside branches and picking big beautiful apples…each of which I, naturally, tried to take bites out of.
Mama can’t remember how many apples we picked that day, but it was definitely two full grocery sacks. And Mama says you can never have enough fresh apples in the fall. Why, for 1 pie alone, you need about 5 of them. And then consider applesauce. All that peeling and chopping cooks down to hardly anything! Let me show you.
But first, Mama pointed out that it’s very important to choose a sweet apple: honeycrisp, gala, fuji, pink lady, winesap, Cortland, jonagold, rome…the list is nearly endless. If you go to an orchard like we did, just ask the owners. They’ll be able to tell you! You want to avoid tart little numbers like grannysmith, otherwise you’ll have to add a whole lot of sugar. And you know how Mama feels about sugar. (Something else you can ask is whether they have any seconds–these are the apples that they’ve picked off the ground. It’s not as bad as it sounds–a wind could’ve just blown it off and caused a bruise, making it “unsuitable” for selling…but ideal for applesauce!)
Some folks choose to not peel their apples when making sauce. Some even toss the whole, roughly chopped apple in, seeds and all, choosing to strain the finished sauce. Do whatever works for you. Mama peels them, and Papa and I eat the peels. It’s win-win. There’s no formula for chopping or slicing the apples. Large chunks will take longer to cook down, but you also don’t have to make them itty-bitty.
Add the apple chunks to a large pot with a splash of water in it. (Mama says this keeps the apples from sticking initially.) She added a few cinnamon sticks and cloves, but she cautioned that it’s better to use cheesecloth that you can easily fish out, or just remember how many of these you put in the pot, as nobody wants to bite into a whole clove. (Alternatively, you can skip the spices, or use dried.)
Turn the heat to medium to get everything going, and put a lid on the pot. Stir it occasionally. You don’t have to linger, but do keep an eye on things. Lower the heat a bit, and if the apples seem to be sticking or scorching, then turn it down some more, stir them, and maybe add another splash of water. (You shouldn’t have to at this point, but better to be safe than ruin a batch of applesauce.) Taste it, too, from time to time. Maybe you’ll want to add some brown sugar or other spices.
Once the apples are supersoft, anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, you have a couple options. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, then take a potato masher and go to work. That’s usually what Mama does, but this time she decided to use her immersion blender. You could also use a food processor, a blender, or a food mill to reach your desired consistency. Spoon the sauce into clean jars. If the jars are hot and the sauce is hot, Mama says you could get lucky and have them seal. But Mama just let the jars cool, then she stored them in the freezer. (Let them thaw in the fridge overnight.)
The applesauce was slightly spicy and very smooth. We ate it warm right from the pot, and it was the perfect snack on a crisp afternoon. Of course, it’s also good cold. Sometimes Mama mixes in raisins or adds it to oatmeal, but mostly I eat it straight. And what did we do with the couple dozen remaining apples we had? Stay tuned…