Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Applesauce: A Tale in Two Parts

The full array of apples grown locally are just showing up at the farmer's markets (well maybe not just...but only within the last couple weeks) so its the perfect time for apple preserving. Although we had many things in mind like apple pie filling (for which we couldn't find the required cooking starch) and brandied apple rings (for which we couldn't find the right kind of apple corer) we decided to start simple with applesauce.

We bought a bag of wonderful Macouns from our favorite local orchard and then supplemented this with 20 pounds of local apples from the grocery store (99 cents a pound!). We divided this between Macintosh, Macouns and Cortlands.

Since applesauce preferences in this house vary we decided to make two batches. (I like mine unsweetened but the boyfriend likes his sweetened with lots of cinnamon.)

Part 1: We decided to do the unsweetened batch first. We cut off the blossom and stem ends of the apples (discarded these), and cut out the cores (but those went into the pot whole). We chopped up the apples and after going temporarily into lemon water (1/4 cup lemon juice to 4 cups water) they went into a big pot with a little water to simmer. We decided to leave the skins on since they weren’t waxed and mom is convinced this is where all the nice color resides and possibly some of the nutrients. (I can attest to the color but not the nutritional value of the skins.
Our first big mistake was trying to simmer an entire batches worth of apples at one time. There were too many to practically be stirred and we ended up burning the ones on the bottom (just like with our tomatoes!). We ended up cooking the apples in much smaller batches and putting them through the ricer as we went.

Our second big mistake: using Cortlands. While all the other apples got soft enough to squish fairly quickly the Cortlands were amazing in their ability to stay rock hard after much simmering.

Our third mistake was thinking we could leave it completely unsweetened. Between the tartness of the apples we chose and the lemon juice which is required for canning it was just too tart so we ended up adding a little sugar.

Our fourth mistake (this is a lot for one project isn’t it?) was not leaving enough headspace. Even though we followed the instructions it wasn’t enough and I think some of the applesauce escaped the ring during the processing because the outside of the jars were sticky. Luckily they all appeared to seal fine.

Part two: With all the lessons in mind from our first batch we were much more successful our second time around. We left out the Cortlands all together but don’t worry, they didn’t go to waste, they went into apple crumble which is a much better use for such structurally sound apples.

We also cooked and squished the apples in much smaller batches to avoid burning. I also suspect that the skins sticking to the bottom might have increased the likelihood that they would burn so this time we peeled them off. But we didn’t throw away the peels. Instead we simmered them in a second pot with some water to extract the color.

Once all the apples were cooked and squished we added the water from cooking the skins which gave it a nice pink color. We also added the lemon juice, sugar and lots of cinnamon. I also left more headspace in the jars this time (although I’m not sure it was enough).

(Batch 1)

(Batch 2, which doesn't look as good but don't let the camera fool you, it really is better.)

Luckily this is a learning experience and not something we will be depending on this winter for all our food (I’m not sure how long we’d last on jams and pickles). So my applesauce wisdom is this: careful with which varieties you use, make sure they have similar cooking times and make sure they don’t burn!

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