When life gives you apples …
It was rainy and cold at the market yesterday, and the dwindling number of vendors huddled behind the windbreaks of their booths, bundled in caps and sweaters and blowing on their hands to warm them before they counted change.
Not many shoppers, either, but several vendors told me sales were good. At this time of year, I suppose, the casual browsers stay home, leaving the market to the hardcore among us, eager to stock up on good things before the end of the season.
Right now “good things” include, significantly, apples, and even though the growers say this year’s harvest isn’t great, I’ve been glorying in the huge array of heirloom apples being brought to market by local orchards such as Antique Apples and First Fruits Farm. Like most people who grew up on supermarket produce, I used to think of apples as the fruit you bought when there wasn’t anything better around, or if you wanted to bake a pie. Learning the vibrant flavors, aromas and textures of old-fashioned apples has changed all that, and I look forward to the apples of autumn as much as the peaches of summer.
We’ve brought home big bags of apples every market Saturday for the past few weeks, enjoying them in crisps, or just eaten out of hand. But I also made a batch of applesauce, and it disappeared so fast that this weekend I did my apple shopping with sauce specifically in mind, and lots of it – enough to freeze a few quarts for later in the season.
On conferring with the Antique Apples vendor, I came home with Esopus Spitzenbergs (Thomas Jefferson’s favorite apple), Golden Russets, Gravensteins, a few Jonagolds for tartness, and some tasty little Davy and Smokehouse apples. And sauce-making ensued.
There’s no mystery or trick to making applesauce: Cut up some apples, simmer them in a little water until they’re soft, moosh them up and you’ve got basic applesauce. Everything else – to sweeten or not, to spice or not, smooth or chunky – is a matter of personal preference.
Me, I like a chunky, spicy applesauce, not too sweet. I can’t be bothered with canning, so whatever isn’t destined for immediate eating gets frozen in 2 cup-to-one-quart containers. Here’s what passes for my recipe:
- Several pounds of apples, some sweet and some tart, peeled, cored and sliced (for this quantity, I get out the Applemaster, which is as much fun as it is efficient. Wheeeee, long spiral ribbons of apple peel!!!)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cups of port (you can skip this, but I like the rosy color and subtle fragrance it adds to the sauce)
- 1/4 cup or so of candied ginger, chopped coarsely
- Cinnamon. I like a lot of cinnamon – as much as a tablespoon for a big batch. If you don’t, use less. Or none at all.
- 1/4 cup sugar or more, depending on the apples and how sweet you like your sauce. I prefer mine on the tart-and-tangy side.
- Secret ingredient: If you have access to them, quinces are a wonderful addition to applesauce. Their more-apple-than-apples-themselves perfume and tart flavor add a subtle brightness to the sauce. They require longer cooking than the apples; I usually cook them separately and add the cooked quince to the applesauce when it’s nearly done.
In a big, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my enameled cast iron Dutch oven), combine everything but the sugar, and add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot, if necessary. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to just simmering. Cover.
Cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour (depending on quantity and variety of apples), stirring occasionally to make sure the fruit doesn’t scorch. This will begin breaking up the apples, too. Enjoy the fragrance of apples that fills your kitchen and wafts out into the house.
When apples are tender but not yet falling apart, taste and stir in sugar to the desired level of sweetness. If the mixture is soupy, leave the lid off to reduce the juice a bit while you finish cooking.
Remove from heat, and stir/smoosh until the sauce is as chunky or smooth as you like. I use my mom’s old iron potato masher, which she inherited from her own grandmother, to break up any big pieces of apple. If you prefer a smooth applesauce, you can let it cool and press it through a sieve or food mill, the old-fashioned way, or just run it through the food processor. Pour into freezer containers, leaving a little head space for expansion.