So your apple trees are loaded with fruit, more apples than you can possibly eat, more apples than you have room to keep in storage. Or maybe you visited the farmer's market and went just a tad bit overboard, and now you wonder what you can do with all those bushels of apples. One answer is applesauce.
Applesauce is a concentrated product. Each quart of applesauce contains about three pounds of apples — that's around nine or ten apples, depending on their size. And of course it can be canned or frozen to preserve it.
Applesauce is pretty simple stuff. In essence, it is just the cooked pulp of apples, sweetened or spiced to taste. The trick is separating the pulp from the peel and core. You could peel, core and slice your apples by hand, cook them till soft, then strain them through a sieve to make your applesauce. But this can be a time-consuming process when you're looking at bushels of fruit to process. Fortunately, there are a couple of handy tools that can make this job easier.
I have two ways of making applesauce — a smooth, strained sauce and a chunky version.
For the smooth sauce, I rely on a Victorio strainer. These are now made by different manufacturers but they all work in much the same way to save you a lot of work. Apples go into the top hopper, you turn the crank, and sauce comes out of one chute while seeds and skin are discarded through another.
Using this method, there is no need to peel or core the fruit. This is a particularly good way to use those lumpy or dimpled apples that are too much trouble to peel. Simply quarter the apples, removing the stems, until you have filled a large pot. Add a pint or so of water — enough to steam the apples and make sure they don't burn or scorch. Put a lid on the pot and cook over medium heat just until the apples have softened. The quarters should still be intact, not mushy. Drain the apples, let them cool a little, then run them through the strainer. Out comes applesauce.
At this point, you might want to add sugar or spices, or cook the sauce until it is thicker. If so, pour it into a clean pot, cook uncovered over low heat, stirring frequently, until the texture is to your liking, then add sugar and ground spices to taste. If the apples were sweet, you may not need any sugar at all. Otherwise, ¼ cup per pound of fruit is a reasonable amount. Add it last to minimize the chance of burning or sticking. If you are going to can the applesauce, heat it to the boiling point. Ladle the hot applesauce into hot, sterilized jars leaving a ½ inch headspace; process in a hot water bath 20 minutes for pints or quarts.
It is possible to use this method with other devices such as a food mill -- anything that will strain out the skin, seeds and core. But in my own experience, having tried several different kinds of strainers and sieves, the Victorio-type strainer beats them all for processing a large quantity of apples with the least amount of work. This is also an excellent way to make pulp for apple butter.
The other method that I use to make a chunkier applesauce involves peeling and coring the apples first. To do this, I use an old-fashioned manual apple corer-slicer-peeler. This ingenious device removes the entire peel in a spiral while spiral-slicing the whole apple and cutting out the core, just with a few turns of the handle. Once you get the hang of using it, you can process about three apples a minute.
As the apples are sliced, dip them in water with lemon juice added so the fruit doesn't turn brown. When you have enough apples to fill a large pot, add about a cup of water, just enough to keep the fruit from burning. You can also use apple juice or cider. For spiced applesauce, make a cheesecloth bag to hold a cinnamon stick and a dozen whole cloves and throw it in with the apples while they cook, so the flavor of the spices has time to mix with the apples. Cook slowly over low heat, covered, until the sliced apples are quite soft and you can mash them with a potato masher (after first removing the spice bag if you have added it). This method leaves the chunks of fruit intact that many people prefer.
You can also make a smooth sauce this way by using a stick blender, or by running the cooked apples through a sieve or food processor. Be careful with a food processor not to liquify the product. When the applesauce has the texture you like, add sugar to taste and process for canning as above.
For each bushel of fruit, you will get about 15 quarts of applesauce. With a little mechanical help, all those bushels of apples can soon be in jars sitting on the shelf of your pantry.
It's Apple Week at Dave's Garden! Keep reading all week for more interesting articles on growing and processing apples.