What do you know, Gentle Readers, I think I’m almost finished with my canning and freezing projects for the year. I still have enough eggplants and tomatoes for another batch or two of “So Long Summer Ratatouille,” and I’ve also got a bucket full of apples that have applesauce and dried apple rings written all over them. But this is what happens at our house:
It’s nearly suppertime. I have supper in the oven, and I lug a bucket of apples to the kitchen. (This happened just last night, by the way.) I glance at the clock and decide that I have just enough time to fill a big pot with sliced apples before supper is ready. I still have a box of empty jars, rings and lids sitting ready for sauce. So I start to peel and cut up apples. In just a few minutes I’ve got a nice pile in the pot, and I splash them with a bit of lemon juice and turn the heat on low. The kids filter in one by one, sneaking an apple slice here or there. The pile of apples grows more slowly now. The kitchen is beginning to smell lovely, all hot apples and so forth.
The pot does fill up eventually, despite the relentless pilfering by the freeloaders. The apple slices don’t take long to cook, and are soon soft enough to mash into a lovely hot sauce. I pull out my spices and some fresh ginger and a bit of brown sugar, and carefully add seasonings and sweetener. I taste. Yum. I season. I taste. Hello. Perfect. I pull the jars out.
I have a plan: I’ll serve a bit of the hot sauce with supper, and then can the rest after supper. I put a few jars into the dishwasher, to heat them up.
I pull out spoons and make my mistake, right then and there. I pass around spoons of the hot, glistening sauce to the kids. “Give me opinions,” I ask. “What do you think of the seasoning? Is there enough cinnamon? Too much ginger? What about the nutmeg?”
The kids slurp down the spoonfuls that I give them. “More ginger, maybe, Mom.” and “I think it could use more nutmeg, I can barely taste the nutmeg,” and “I wouldn’t change a thing. Can I have more?”
I serve little bowls of applesauce with dinner, and am distracted by the tales of the day. Malachi found another dead opossum next to the shed; could we dissect it after supper? Timothy’s “big boss” at work sought him out to fix a website problem that he had, proving that he is amazing (Timothy, not the big boss) as we have suspected all along. Amalia’s enthusiastic countdown to audition night continues unabated. I don’t notice that everybody returns to the applesauce pot for refills again and again. After supper, I go back to the pot to see how much is left to put into jars.
The pot is empty. “Great applesauce, Mum!” Sheepish smiles all around.
I’ll try again today, and this time the applesauce will go into jars, doggonit! As good as it tastes now in November, it’ll taste many times better in January, so ONWARD I go, to make one more potful.
I’ll share my recipe with you, with a caveat: seasoning applesauce is really an individual thing. I don’t think my mom even puts in cinnamon, preferring instead to let the apples shine. That’s fine. It’s a free country. I would never quibble with my talented-in-the-kitchen mom for anything, either. No sir.
I like to throw plenty of spices and some grated fresh ginger in my sauce, but you can do whatever you like. It kind of depends on what your apples are like, too. Are they tart or bland? Bland apples may need a bit more flavor added, and tart apples may need a bit more sweetener. This is your sauce, so take your time to season it just the way you like it best!
For ease and speed in the peeling and slicing department, I highly recommend an apple peeler/corer/slicer. These work great, especially if your apples don’t have many irregular shapes or flaws in them (i.e. worms). This handy device is probably available at your local hardware store, but if you live perilously far from a hardware store, you can order one online, too.
This is how I make my sauce: once I get my apple peeler attached to my countertop, I peel and slice up a bunch of apples and put them into a pot with a little water on the bottom, and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
I heat these to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the apples soften and fall apart. It doesn’t take long! Make sure to stir often so they don’t stick and burn. When they are soft, I mash them a bit with a potato masher. We like our sauce chunky, so I don’t go crazy with it.
(I like this one.)
Now comes the fun part. But don’t let’s invite the children to help do the taste-testing this time, lest they consume the entire pot of sauce. Again. It’s actually best to make this sauce in secret, if you want to can up some for the winter. I add a bit of brown sugar, some freshly grated nutmeg, a bit of cinnamon, and (ta-daa!) some fresh grated ginger, and maybe just another squirt or two of lemon juice if the apples are a bit bland. Cook a bit longer, and taste. Adjust seasonings. Don’t ask for advice. Be brave. Be secretive. Be smart.
At this point–depending on how many apples I have to process–I remove a portion of the sauce to process into apple butter. I blend it in the food processor to make a smooth purée and then add sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to taste. I pour the purée into a lasagna or other shallow baking pan and put it in the a 300° oven to thicken. Warning: don’t offer tastes on homemade bread. Just don’t do it.
Once the apple butter is thick and a little glossy, I transfer it and the hot applesauce into clean, hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2″ headspace, and process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes (adjusting for altitude, natch’).
For more detailed info on canning applesauce, check here.
Here’s another fun thing you can do with apples, if you have some that don’t have many blemishes or wormy areas: make dried apple rings! It’s easy and fun, fun, fun!
Here’s how to do it:
First, do your best Tom Sawyer white-washing-the-fence-is-so-much-fun-mien, and you’ll have plenty of volunteers to core and slice those apples. Fun, kids, so fun!
(It works, ya’all.)
String the rings on a clean stick (I learned this from Ben Hewitt’s blog, by the way, which is awesome) and put them to dry near the wood stove. Free dehydrating, ya’all! (Ben says ya’all gobs. Also, “gobs.”)
Ta-daa! It’s hard to keep the apple slices secret, but once they are strung on that stick, they are so picturesque and inaccessible that nobody has bothered them at our house. Yet. Hooray! You can make your apple slices in the open!
I’ll be sharing this post with The Prairie Homestead and Frugally Sustainable, by the way, so slip on over if you have a moment, and rub shoulders with plenty of helpful folks with great ideas!
- I’m not finished saying good-bye to October yet . . .
- Anise-and-ginger-scented short ribs over mashed potatoes: time for comfort food!