In a recent blog post, I talked about the apple as a sacred tree in that it provides us with bountiful, amazing cider. In this post, I’m going to walk through the art of making and canning applesauce. The applesauce I made when I was taking photos for the blog is hands down the best applesauce I have ever tasted in my life! I really like making applesauce because it connects me with the sacred apple tree (more on that in an upcoming post), its very healthy, and it can be shared and enjoyed with others.
The first thing you need to do for a good applesauce is to find your apples. In my crazy quest last summer to pay homage to the apple, I tasted apples from literally hundreds of trees. I realized then that not all apples are created equal. A good applesauce requires a really delicious apple. These apples a friend and I gathered from my neighbor’s house. We have no idea what variety they are, but they are literally the most delicious apple–a little tart, a little sweet, excellent creamy flesh. I used these apples to make my perfect applesauce.
Now you shouldn’t have to buy apples–lots of old apple orchards are out there, and most people (at least in this area) have apple trees in their front or backyards. I have found that if you go ask to pick apples, most people will be happy to let you (especially if you offer some of the bounty in return). You can also find apples in local parks and the like. If you are gathering lots of apples, make sure you get some sturdy bags (we gathered with 50 lb feed bags – pictured in the photo above) because we were also going for bulk for making cider. The other thing about making a good applesauce is that sometimes a combination of apples can yield the best results. So I used a few kinds of apples for the sauce, but the bulk of them came from the incredible tree of the neighbor’s! You should pick apples from the tree–pull gently and the apple will come off easily if the apple is ripe.
Besides being free, there are a lot of other benefits to gathering your apples wild. First, they are almost certainly not going to be sprayed with pesticides–and since apples are one of the fruits that hold in the most pesticide, this is something you absolutely do not want to have in your fruit. Second, you can find varieties wild that you can’t find in the store, allowing for very unique flavors (my friend and I found one apple tree that literally produced apples that tasted like cotton candy last year!) Third, you are eliminating the use of fossil fuels associated with transporting apples over great distances (depending on your mode of transportation, you might still have some fossil fuel expenditure, but it shouldn’t be nearly that of a commercial grower). Most of my apples were gathered within 3 miles of my home, or were gathered where I was already heading (e.g. I went to campus for the day, and stopped at the orchard on my way home to pick apples for an hour before heading home).
Coring and Peeling your Apples
You can core and peel your apples by hand. I used to do this until I discovered this great little device called an “apple peeler and corer.” I found mine on Etsy for $10. I don’t actually know why anyone would do anything else–this is SO fast. I can do enough apples for a huge pot in about 45 minutes–and its a lot of fun to use. The one thing I will mention is that you want fresh, firm apples to use this little device. If they are too soft or mushy, they will fall apart and cause frustration.
The peeler, corer, and slicer works like magic, and it creates these awesome little apple spirals. It also creates a great deal of apple peel, which I dehydrated and have been using for tea.
Cooking Your Sauce
Now that you have some cored, peeled, and sliced apples, you are ready to start cooking down your sauce. One word of warning – applesauce easily burns! Stir it frequently! The one thing that can do you in is having too high of heat and ignoring your applesauce. I bought a beautiful long wooden spoon from a local craftsperson at the farmer’s market, and I use that spoon to lovingly stir my applesauce so that it doesn’t burn.
To speed up the cooking process and make sure my apples on the bottom don’t burn, I usually use my immersion blender to chop up the apples (otherwise, this can be a really long process!)
Now how much you want to cook your applesauce down is a matter of personal preference. I prefer really chunky applesauce, so I cook mine a lot less than some others do (the store-bought stuff is all way overcooked, IMHO). Here’s what mine looked like about halfway through the cooking process:
At this stage, I added a bit of freshly ground nutmeg and cinnamon to the sauce. I also added a little honey for added sweetness–but my apples were pretty sweet, so not much was needed. Once I had it tasting exactly how I wanted it, I was ready to can!
Canning Your Applesauce
Standard hot water bath canning applies here–you hot water bath can your applesauce for 15 min. One of the important things to remember is that applesauce EXPANDS A LOT during canning, so you want a full 1″ of headspace on your pint jars. I have not had applesauce explode on me yet, but many people I’ve spoken to about it have!
When you are finished, you will have some of the most amazing applesauce you have ever tasted. It is likely you will be unable to eat the drivel that they call “applesauce” in the stores ever again. And you’ll be one step closer to self-sufficiency and more sustainable living!
Enjoying your Applesauce
Canning any kind of food preserves that food at its peak freshness, saving it for you to savor in the cold, dark months of winter. As I finish this blog post, I eat a bite of my most delicious applesauce straight from the jar, and look back with fondness on those wonderful apple-filled months leading up to Samhuinn. I think there is real magic in making and preserving applesauce–apples are such an abundant gift from the wild and we can preserve that gift for years to come.