My apple trees have an overabundance of fruit this year, and it was quite unexpected. For some reason, they have never put on much of a show. Late spring freezes get the blossoms most years, and I have never tended them, as I should. I slink by them, eyes averted, hoping that a miracle will occur and they will somehow prune themselves, and produce bushels of flawless, bugless fruit.
This year, they surprised me, and the trees are loaded with apples. The branches nearly bent double with the weight of the fruits. Since no preparations were made to deter the insects, I have a healthy crop with Coddling Moth damage. The apples have various bad spots and indentions that make them visually unattractive, but what they lack in beauty, they make up for in sheer numbers. It was time to get into gear, and make these apples a productive part of my summer gardens!
A friend commented on what a shame it was that the whole harvest was ruined, and gazed forlornly at the trees hanging full of this sorry looking fruit. I, on the other hand saw the potential in the harvest, and quietly went about collecting this organic crop. Organic? Well, yes, no artificial fertilizer had been used. In fact, NO fertilizer had been used! No chemical bug spray, or even a safe product coated the leaves and fruit.
It was purely apples, nothing else. I filled my buckets full, and proceeded inside to make applesauce. Applesauce is easy, and everyone should learn how to make it. You never know when a sudden windfall of imperfect fruit might come your way.
I washed the apples in cool water, and allowed them to drain in the kitchen sink while I assembled the things that I needed to prepare the applesauce. That consisted of a sharp knife, and a large bowl containing salt water, a large stockpot, and my food mill. About a gallon of water, containing a teaspoon of salt was placed by the sink, and I dropped the apple chunks into it as I cut up the apples. This keeps the fruit from turning dark and unsightly. Lemon juice will do the same thing.
I cut the apples in quarters, removing the cores and trimming off the bad spots. As I cut them into about one-inch chunks, I dropped them into the salt water. There is no need to peel them because the food mill will remove the peelings and only press the pure applesauce into the container.
When I had a large amount of chunked apple pieces in my bowl, it was time to cook them down to make the applesauce. I drained the apple pieces and filled my large stockpot about half way. Do not over-fill the cooking pot because these apples need to be stirred often, and too many apples will make that hard to do. I add the juice of one lemon too.
Turn the heat on medium, and cover the pot. Check on it often, and I mean do not stray too far! When the apples start to cook and sizzle a bit, uncover and start stirring, do not allow them to stick. If you have to, add a little water, but do not over-do it. You want your applesauce to be thick. Turn the heat on low, and keep a close eye on the apples. Continue to stir. They will start to mush up, break down and will start to look like applesauce with some apple chunks mixed in. At this point, I season my applesauce. There was about a gallon of apple mush, and I added ½ cup of sugar and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon. No sugar is necessary, but my husband prefers sweeter applesauce, so I add just a little. Add seasonings, and taste as you go, to determine the proper amount to please your own family's taste buds. Diabetics can even add a non-sugar sweetener if they so wish. This is cooked in, and the sugar dissolved. By adding the sugar at the end of the cooking time, it is less likely that the applesauce will stick and burn. Cook only long enough to incorporate the sugar.
When the apples resemble mush with a few chunks, it is time to run them through the food mill. A food mill is a handy thing to own, and every cook should have one in his or her kitchen arsenal. It is not essential to preparing applesauce, but you would have to peel your apples before cooking, which would waste valuable fruit. Place the food mill over a large bowl and hook it on the edge. Spoon a large amount of the cooked apples into the mill and begin turning the crank. The mechanism will press the sauce through the holes, and the skins remain behind in the pan. After turning several times to mash the apples through, reverse the direction and the same mechanism will scrape the skins from the bottom of the mill. This will allow you to keep mashing new apples through the holes. It will take a little while, and sometimes scraping the sides of the mill to rearrange the contents is necessary. Keep adding apples as the level drops. When you are done, there will be just a small amount of spent apple skins in the mill that can be added to the compost heap. Now you have a large bowl of fresh applesauce. You know EXACTLY what has been added, because you did it yourself! Your family may devour it immediately, but it can be easily preserved if you can keep them out of it.
The easiest way to preserve applesauce is freezing. The applesauce needs to be completely cool before starting. I simply covered my large bowl, and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. I use the zipper-type freezer bags with a strip for documenting the contents. Before filling the bags, I write on the label space what the contents are, the date, and other important information. In this case, I wrote low sugar, and the measurement. Even though the freezer bags could hold a larger amount, I froze my applesauce in one-cup increments. This way, when preparing a recipe that calls for applesauce, there is no question about how much is in the bag. I simply thaw the number of bags required, and it is ready to add to whatever I am cooking. Having a selection of various amounts frozen, and labeled, makes for an easy time when preparing a recipe in January.
There is a trick to filling freezer bags with something as messy as applesauce. Fold down the top of the bag a couple of inches before spooning the sauce into it. This keeps the zipper part clean and sauce-free. When the desired measurement has been added, simply unfold the top, close the zipper almost shut and press the air out of the bag. Air is your enemy when freezing foods, so remove as much as possible, and then finish closing the bag. Make sure that you purchase bags made especially for the freezer, and I prefer the ones that do not have the plastic slide. The plain seal is better for freezing purposes. Mash your bags flat and stack on a cookie sheet. Put this in the freezer for a few hours, and then you can remove the cookie sheet and stack the bags in a very small amount of space. The cookie sheet helps the bags stay perfectly flat, because if they are placed in the freezer jumbled up, they will freeze that way, taking up valuable space.
Making applesauce is a wonderful way of using those less than perfect apples. Even if you do not grow your own, apple farms will sometimes sell baskets of ‘seconds' or ‘spots' at a much reduced price. Applesauce will keep in the freezer for a year, so be sure and make plenty when apples are available. It is an easy process, and even older children can help with some of the preparations, giving them the incentive to sample their work. Preserving a less than perfect harvest is a smart and frugal way to make use of these rejects. Be sure to add applesauce to your list of summer projects.