I have a book in which I record, from time to time, the big and small adventures in our family’s life. I mean to write in it every day, just a sentence or two. More often, weeks or even months go by between entries. I try to catch the important stuff, though, when I do sit down to write–milestones and anecdotes from our daughters’ lives, travels we want to remember, loving moments with our extended family. And, of course, what’s happening in the kitchen.Our family’s book begins with applesauce. It was an October when I started the family journal (abandoning, in the process, my girls’ individual baby books) and we had just turned our three trees worth of apples into a year’s worth of applesauce. So in a way, I think of making applesauce as the beginning of each new year. At this time of year I often flip back through the years contained in my book and marvel at how fast life changes. And how each chapter is even better than the last.
Applesauce, though, is a constant in our lives. Every year we lighten the groaning branches of the apple trees in the fall, piling box after box of apples into the house. We sort the apples, setting aside the unblemished best for eating and sharing. We eat and bake and dry as many apples as we can. And the rest become applesauce for the year ahead.Do you have a kitchen ritual that marks the turning of the seasons for you at this time of year? And do you keep a journal of some sort, in the kitchen or otherwise?
How to Make Applesauce: Here’s the thing about an applesauce recipe: I’m not going give you one. It’s just one of those things that you have to make by feel and taste. Your apples might be juicier or drier than mine. They might be sweeter or more tart. You might like a chunky sauce or a smooth puree. Here’s how to get exactly what you want.
Step 1: Get Apples If you are choosing your apples for applesauce, ideally you want to select a few varieties of sweet apples. Using multiple varieties will give your applesauce a well-rounded flavor. If you don’t get to choose your apples (say, you’re using up the apples from your tree), no worries.
Step 2: Prepare Apples The big question is: to peel or not to peel? If the apples aren’t organic, I say peel them. If they are organic or unsprayed, think ahead to what you want the final texture to be. I don’t mind leaving peels in my applesauce; I think they give a nice chunky texture after a long cooking time. The rest of my family disagrees with me. If you have a food mill you can strain out the peels after cooking the sauce, which is easier but leaves you with a uniform (not chunky) sauce. If you want a chunky sauce with no peels, peel your apples before cooking them. If you leave the peels of red apples in during cooking (whether or not you strain the sauce later), the applesauce takes on a nice rosy hue. Whatever you decide about the peels, chop your apples into quarters and remove the cores.
Step 3: Cook the Applesauce Fill a pot with as many apples as you like. You can fill it right to the top. Put the pot on the stove over medium heat and watch it closely, stirring occasionally. Hopefully the apples will begin to release juice on their own, but if it seems like they’re in danger of sticking, add some water or juice to the pot. Once there’s an inch or so of liquid in the bottom of the pot, cover it and let the apples simmer until soft, stirring occasionally. When the fruit is soft and beginning to break down, remove the lid from the pot and continue simmering to allow the sauce to thicken. How thick you want it is up to you; I cook the sauce until it’s no longer watery but I don’t reduce it much farther than that. (You can’t go wrong with a longer cooking time, though; after a few hours you’ll end up with glorious apple butter.)
Step 4: Applesauce Texture If you peeled your apples, you can now decide between mashing them coarsely (with a potato masher or a wooden spoon) and creating a finer-textured sauce (with a food mill or immersion blender). If you haven’t peeled your apples, you can decide between leaving the peels in or straining them out with a food mill. Of course you can also just blend the peels right into the sauce, but that creates a bit of a coarse texture that I don’t personally love.
Step 5: Flavor the Applesauce Now it’s time to get out a bunch of spoons and start tasting. These days we often can at least some of our applesauce completely unsweetened and unflavored as baby food, but you can sweeten it to taste with sugar (and if it ends up too sweet you can balance the sweetness with lemon). My favorite flavorings to add to applesauce are cinnamon and vanilla, which you can use separately or together (I like both); you can also add any other spice that you’d be happy to find in an apple pie (think nutmeg, cloves, ginger). If I want to experiment with a flavor I often use a little bowl of applesauce to try it out so I don’t take the whole batch in a direction I don’t like. Season and taste until it’s perfect.
Step 6: Applesauce Storage If you eat it right away you won’t have to store it! Otherwise applesauce can be frozen (just use a straight-sided container and leave a bit of room for it to expand). If you are canning your applesauce in a water bath canner, process pints for 15 minutes or quarts for 20 (yes, it’s safe to can without added sugar).