Photograph by Marisa McClellan; Flickr Creative Commons
When I was growing up, my grandmother used to serve small glass bowls of freshly churned applesauce. Unlike the snack-size, shelf-stable containers I often found in my lunchbox, applesauce at my grandmother’s house was an ethereal experience. Her fragrant, aromatic and always-warm version was nothing like the supermarket staple I ate at school.
I’m on a quest to make what are often sold as processed foods from scratch for my family, so I took my grandmother’s lead and started making applesauce at home. No fancy ingredients, special equipment or secret methods needed. Here’s what you do:Slice a few apples into a pot and simmer for about 20 minutes. Once the softened apples burst out of their skins, let the kids take over and churn the cooked fruit through a food mill, or press through a sieve, or pulse in a food processor — they can use your gadget of choice.
While my grandmother was faithful to Macintosh or Gala apples, I prefer using a variety — Fiji, Jonagold, Braeburn, Granny Smith, Cortland… This blend (or any blend) creates a nuanced, complex flavor that’s simply divine.
For the basic recipe, all I add to the apples is a few tablespoons of liquid, to prevent the fruit from scorching, and a pinch of cinnamon to enhance its flavor.
When served warm with a sprinkle of cinnamon, it’s love in a bowl.
Make-Your-Own Applesauce, The Basic Recipe:
3-4 pounds apples (a mix of types)
¼ cup apple juice, cider or water
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, optional
2-3 tablespoons sugar, optional
1) Quarter apples and place them in a large pot. Don’t bother removing the cores or peels; they contribute flavor, nutrition, and color (If you are planning to use a food processor to puree the cooked fruit, peel and core the apples because this appliance will not separate the fruit from its skin).
2) Add the liquid.
3) Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a lively simmer. Cook until apples are soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes.
4) Process according to one of the following methods, depending on your gadget of choice. Once processed, mix in the cinnamon and sweetener, if using.
Food Mill – Place a food mill on top of a large bowl. Transfer the cooked apples and liquid to the food mill and churn until apples are processed into a smooth or chunky puree, depending on your preference. The texture will depend on the size of the holes on the food mill’s disk. Discard leftover peels and seeds that are too difficult to churn.
Strainer and Spatula – Transfer the cooked apples to a large, hand-held sieve and use a rubber spatula to press fruit through the sieve and into a bowl. Once the cooked fruit has been pressed through the sieve, discard leftover peels and seeds.
Food Processor – Since a food processor can’t separate the skins from the pulp in the same manner as a food mill, it’s preferable to peel and seed apples before cooking. After the apples are cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer apples to the bowl of the food processor. Pulse to create a puree, adding a tablespoon or two of the cooking liquid as needed.
Plum Applesauce Cook 2 pounds apples with 2 pounds halved and pitted plums and ¼-cup sugar.
Cranberry Applesauce Cook 4 pounds apples with 2 cups of frozen cranberries, 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice and 3/4 cup sugar (or more to taste, depending on the sweetness of the apples).
Chunky Apricot Applesauce Soak 1 cup dried apricots in hot water for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Remove from water and dice. Add diced apricots and about ¼-cup sugar to 3-4 pounds apples in the last few minutes of the cooking time, stirring until sugar dissolves.
Pomegranate-Walnut Applesauce Instead of adding apple juice, cider or water, add ¼ cup pomegranate molasses or ½ cup pomegranate juice to the apples as they cook. When finished, mix in pomegranate aerials and chopped walnuts, and sweeten with additional sugar, if desired.