It’s that time of year again, when the air turns crisp, when the leaves change to glorious reds, yellows, and oranges, when pumpkin patches open, and when my family and I head out to our favorite tree-climbing scavenger hunt: apple picking.
I love local apples. They feel a little rough, not waxy so they don’t need to be drowned in vinegar to get the yuckiness off. Picking them yourself is a little more work, but cheaper than the grocery store or farmers market. Another perk where we go: apple cider doughnuts. Enough said.
There are three rules we all abide by: (1) using an apple picker tool is cheating, (2) the best apples are at the top of the tall trees, (3) you have to eat the first good apple you pick.
Rule number two got me into a little trouble in college on my first apple-picking outing. I climbed up a tall tree, sat on a branch, and stretched my arm out towards the perfect apple. The next thing I knew, I was flipping through the air and then my feet were hitting the ground. This time I decided not to attempt any gymnastic feats. I didn’t want any one else in my party to feel inferior.
After all was said and done, our two bags were full and we managed not to let our three-year-old wander off. On our way back to pay for our bounty, we noticed a couple of tears in our heavy-duty bags and envisioned an avalanche of our precious apples rolling down the orchard hill. We double-bagged and brought them all home safely. Lots and lots of apples, perfect for making applesauce and apple butter. I also planned on canning some applesauce in those cute little jars, too, for baby food on the go. I know its more work and you can just buy those little plastic containers at the grocery store, but I love the idea of giving baby A. local, unsweetened applesauce.
As far as preparations for canning go, I like that you don’t have to peel the apples before you cook them (unlike peaches or tomatoes). But, later, the recipes call for running the hot hot cooked apples through a sieve or food mill. I’ve always ignored that step. I have to confess, I didn’t really know what a food mill was and assumed it was sort of like a blender. Instead, I usually picked out the peels by hand until I got so bored and frustrated that I just ground them up with the apples. This year, I tried several different methods for getting the peels out including my fingers (ouch!), two forks, and, my favorite, a potato masher and a wooden spoon.
My husband preferred the two forks method. He asked me if he was doing it wrong because it was taking so darn long. No, it’s just that slow going, we realized, when I couldn’t go any faster. The potato masher/wooden spoon method involves scooping up some applesauce in the potato masher, pressing down with the wooden spoon until the apple falls through the holes and you are left with the peel on top. Then the peel is transferred to another bowl for composting. So this involves picking out the peels one by one. Let’s see if I can do some math (always questionable): I chopped twenty-four apples into eighths with an apple corer. 8 times 24 equals 192 apple peels. Picked. Out. By. Hand. Wow. Writing that makes it seem even more ridiculous.
And here comes the epiphany: Sometimes it’s not worth it to be cheap! Like a politician, I am changing my stance on this issue. I now believe it is worth the thirty bucks to own a food mill. It would save SO much time and energy. If you’re going to make applesauce or apple butter more than once in your entire life, invest in a food mill. Here’s one from Amazon I’m thinking about getting for next year.
It’s kind of embarrassing how often I need to learn this lesson about being too frugal. . .
Canning Applesauce Recipe
24 medium chopped, cored, and quartered apples (or enough to fill your largest pot) I use a mixture of apples. If you use sweet apples (Gala, Winesap, Fuji, Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, McIntosh, Jonagold) then you don’t have to add extra sugar.
2 cups of water
1. In an 8-10 quart pot, combine apple and water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for 25-35 minutes or until the apple is soft and peel dislodges easily. Stir often.
2. Press apple through a food mill or sieve (or some homemade equivalent). Return to pot. Add water if you think it is too thick and/or cinnamon, to taste.
3. Scoop hot applesauce into sterilized pint canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe jar rims; adjust lids. Process in covered canner or pot for 15 minutes (timer starts when water returns to a boil). Remove jars and cool them on racks. This makes about 6 pints.
Enjoy and if you used a food mill pat yourself on the back for saving time!