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Wednesday, November 6, 2013
'Tis the season... for applesauce! Actually, it's almost past, but in most places you can still get apples for a pretty good price right now. Depending on where you live, you may still be able to go and pick your own in a nearby orchard. (My favorite site for finding pick your own farms is this one here.)
I love homemade applesauce. However, I am an applesauce snob, for sure. While you can make decent applesauce out of almost any variety of apples, there are a few apples that excel in this department. While everyone has slightly different taste and texture preferences when it comes to applesauce, I am all about Cortland apple applesauce. I first came across this apple in 2006 when we lived outside Dayton, Ohio. Once I tasted Cortland applesauce, there was no going back. It has the perfect balance of tart and sweet. The finished texture is everything I want in an applesauce: it breaks down nicely but doesn't end up mealy. It makes life easy because I don't need to run it through a food mill (although you certainly can, if you prefer that texture). They are a beautiful apple. Red with green streaks and green at the stem end or on the shoulders (watch out, if the green is too extensive, then the apples are not fully ripe). The flesh inside is quite white and is slow to brown. While they are not a super crisp apple, they are still wonderful for eating out of hand. I love them. Unfortunately, until recently, it'd been a few years since I'd come across Cortland apples.
A couple of months ago, we went on a short vacation to Door County, Wisconsin. Low and behold, I came across a bag of Cortlands in one of the farm stands there. They were a little pricey, so I only bought a half-peck bag. Unfortunately, that batch of applesauce was small enough that I polished it off in only a few days. I started looking for more. I was so excited when I found a half bushel at the last farmers' market of the season... and for a decent price too! I polished off half of that batch of applesauce in a few days before I managed to finally put some in the freezer. I was a little despondent because I knew that wouldn't last me long (and my boy, who loves the stuff, has started to put away his fair share). Wouldn't you know that the very next time I went to the grocery store, they had Michigan apples, including Cortlands, on sale for 59 cents a pound? I now have fulfilled my applesauce destiny for the year!
In the last eight years, I have processed a LOT of apples. Bushels and bushels and bushels of apples. The method of preparing apples that I will share here is, in my opinion, by far the most efficient way out there. The other day I processed a peck and a half (about 15 pounds) of apples about 45 minutes. Here's how I do it. You need a paring knife, a vegetable peeler, and a melon baller.
Step One: Cut all of the apples in half. This method is an assembly line method. As the years went by, I found I used up a lot of time picking up and setting down my tools. I discovered it was much more efficient to do each step to every apple before moving on. You do not need to worry about excessive browning if you are doing a bushel or less, especially if you are using Cortlands.
Step 2: Core the apples with a melon baller.
Step 3: Notch out the stem and blossom end with a paring knife. It is important to do the coring before the notching in order to save time. Since the melon baller is only so large, you can easily cut out any core or stem bits you might have missed in step 2.
Step 4: Peel with a vegetable peeler. You can use a paring knife. but I find two problems with that. First, I end up with a lot more of the apple on the peel and I like to maximize my efforts. Second, I find my hand cramps a lot less using the vegetable peeler when I'm doing a large batch.
Step 5: Cut the halves into wedges and put them into a heavy duty pan. Obviously the size of the pan needed will depend on how many apples you are cooking.
Now that the hard part is done, you can while the afternoon away to applesauce nirvana! Add a small amount of water to your pot (I use about 1/4 cup water per peck of apples). Place the lid on the pot and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have broken down. They should break apart as you stir. When the apples are close to being completely broken down, add your sugar. There is no recipe here because every batch of apples have a different sugar content. For a peck, I usually start with a half cup of sugar. Stir it in and then taste. Add more as necessary until it is right for your tastes. I like to add cinnamon as well. Again, it's all personal preference, so simply add a small amount at a time and keep tasting. Continue cooking until the applesauce is the texture you want. I think I usually cook my applesauce for between one and two hours. Cool and refrigerate or freeze... or can!
If you want to can the applesauce, you can process it in a water bath canner. If you have never canned before, you can check out my Canning 101 post for instructions. Applesauce should have a half-inch head space and be processed 20 minutes for both pints and quarts. Please note that when canning applesauce, I strongly recommend leaving the jars in the canner for 5 minutes with the heat off after the processing time is done, as they can ooze horribly if you yank them right out of the hot water. Lastly, when canning applesauce, I always add extra water to the mixture before putting it in the jars. I find that the applesauce thickens during canning as moisture is lost during the pressurizing process and I find it unappealing.