Last weekend, we went berry picking at Pioneer Trail Orchard, which–for those of you who are local–is out in Hiram.
The plan was to pick three pints of raspberries and a few apples. Somehow, that turned into five pints of raspberries and twenty pounds of apples. I’m not the only person who has this happen, right? We set out with very modest expectations, but by the time we’re done, we have way more than planned.
It turned out that the apples were 20 pounds for $10, which is obviously too good of a price to pass up. It was fairly early in the season, so the only apples available for picking were McIntoshes–fine by me. I’m a big fan of tart apples, and McIntoshes make really amazing applesauce, which I can say with authority, as I’ve now made three batches worth of it. We’re down from twenty pounds to maybe two–there are about a dozen small apples left. There are also about eight pints of applesauce in jars, plus a half-pint in the fridge.
Applesauce is dead easy to make and can. Those of you who are intimidated by canning could do worse than starting with applesauce.
First, peel your apples. These apples are actually more peeled than most of the ones that I used–I don’t mind bits of skin in my sauce, and I like the color that it gives. I try to take off about half of the skin. If you’re willing to put your sauce through a food mill or blender (I’m not) you could skip the peeling entirely.
Chop them roughly–most of the pieces in that picture got chopped in half before they were cooked.
I cook my applesauce in the crockpot, because I’m lazy and the crockpot is easy. Cram as many apples as you can into the crock, because they’ll cook down a lot, almost by half.
This is a crockpot full of apples! We’re making a slightly sweet, slightly spicy applesauce here, so I added about 1/4 cup of white sugar, plus a bunch of cinnamon and ginger. That’s the scientific term, bunch. You can also add some cloves, allspice, or the generic “pumpkin pie seasoning” that you can sometimes find. I also added a slug of maple syrup, probably about a quarter of a cup.
Now you put the lid on the crockpot, turn it on, and walk away. Leave it for either about four hours on high or about eight hours on low.
When you come back, the applesauce is going to look like the picture above. (Well, probably not quite like the picture above. I suspect that most of you have kitchens that are rather less tightly packed than mine are. So yes, that *is* a popcorn maker and two bottles of olive oil and some coffee and some popcorn and… Don’t judge.) If you’re lazy like me, you’ll just mash this up a little bit with a potato masher, and you’ll end up with mostly-smooth applesauce. If you’re an overachiever, you can run your sauce through a food mill. (Which–seriously, I don’t even own a food mill. Too much work.) You could probably also run it through the blender, though if you do that, do it in batches. Blenders plus hot things equal explosions.
If you just want to stick the applesauce in your fridge or freezer, ta-da, you’re done! Let it cool, pack it away, and you’re done.
If you want to can the applesauce for future use, here’s how you go.
Leave your applesauce keep simmering–I take the lid of the crockpot off and let a little moisture cook off.
For canning your jars need to be sterilized. You can do this in one of two ways: boiling them for a while (ten minutes, probably, but I always get distracted and leave them in there for half an hour) or by putting them in a cold oven, turning the oven to 300, and then letting the jars hang out for fifteen minutes or so after the oven’s come to temperature. The lids and rings of the jars need to be sterilized, too. Drop them in a small pot of boiling water, let them boil ten minutes, and then leave them in the water until you need them. If you are super-organized, you will do this ahead of time.
I am never super-organized. Not even on my very best days.
The other thing you’re going to have to do is process your applesauce. This sounds scary but is actually really easy, plus other people find it very impressive. All you will need for this is an enormous pot with something to keep the jars off the floor of the pot. I use a pasta pot, the kind with the holey insert. You can fold a dishtowel and put it over the bottom of the pot, and that’ll work fine, too. Fill this pot most of the way with water and bring it to a boil. (Again, if you’re organized, you do this ahead of time. If you’re not, you do it while the sauce thickens a bit. Whatever.)
So once your jars are good and sterilized, you get to fill them with applesauce. Ladle the sauce into the jars. A wide-mouth funnel helps here, though it’s by no means necessary. Fill the jar, pull a lid out of the lid-sterilizing pot. Dry the lid off, place on the jar, screw on the ring. Stop when you feel resistance.
Do that for all your jars. My average-sized round Crockpot gives me about three pints of applesauce, usually with a bit (anywhere from a few tablespoons to a half pint) left over for the fridge.
Now for the processing. You’ve got your giant pot of boiling water, and you’re going to very carefully put the jars in. Use tongs or a silicone oven mitt–don’t just drop them in. My pot can only handle four jars at a time, because you can’t stack them at all, and you need the water to be over their tops. (This may mean that you have to add more water if you’re canning a whole bunch of jars.) Once the water comes back to a boil, set the timer for twenty minutes. (A little longer is fine–I often end up going more like twenty-five or thirty, just because I’m doing other things.) When the timer dings, pull the jars out of the water.
Let the jars cool on the counter. You’ll hear them sealing as the night goes on–Ping! Ping! Sometimes they’re really loud, other times they’re barely noticeable. Don’t worry too much about it.
When morning rolls around, check your jars to make sure that they’ve sealed. The little button in the middle of the lid should have popped down–if it goes down when you press on it, the jar didn’t seal properly. This isn’t a huge deal, and the applesauce is perfectly fine to eat, but it won’t be shelf-stable. Stick it in the fridge and eat within a week, or pop it in the freezer, where it’ll keep for six months to a year.