Homemade applesauce is one of our favorite treats here at the Bear Cave. But this year, our orchard was bare. A late hard freeze killed the new buds on our entire orchard. So, we did the next best thing to going out the back door and picking our own fruit. We drove across the valley to a great U-Pick organic apple orchard. They are the next best thing to our own apples.
If it is impossible to grow your own fruit because you don’t have room, time, or inclination to maintain an orchard of your own, check out the local orchards. Benefits abound. You will be helping keep the local economy strong by shopping locally. You can see the fruit hanging luscious and ripe on the tree and know that your apples weren’t picked rock-hard green and ripened with chemicals such as ethylene or calcium carbide while being transported from around the world. The cost, economic and environmental, of transport is confined to your car on a local foray to the orchard. You and your friends, family, and certainly children, can enjoy a great outing. Local U-Pick is good for your health, your environment, and your kids. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Be aware that local organic apples may not look much like the waxy, shiny reds, yellows, and greens of the apples in neat rows at the grocer. Our experience with local U-Pick apples has been that they are smaller, not uniform in shape, have some bug bites on some of the apples, and just don’t appear as pretty as the commercial apples found in big box stores. So, think of the apple that tempted Snow White. It was pretty nasty inside, right? To be fair, some of the apples in stores are going to taste great. On the other hand, few will compare with the sweetness of a tree-ripened fruit, even if it’s a bit smaller. So you get generally great tree ripened taste and all the other benefits. What’s not to like?
At our local U-Pick orchard, we were treated to the extra special sight of a flock of sheep put out into the orchard to glean the fallen fruit. I don’t know that I’ve seen a more tranquil country scene than the sight of those sheep quietly munching their way along the rows of trees. Snippets of Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze floated around in my head as I slowed my pace to that of the sheep and just relaxed into the picking. It was like active meditation.
On to the Applesauce!!
No fruit will last more than a few days in your kitchen fruit bowl. We prefer not driving a minimum of 20 miles, the distance to our closet market, every few days just for fruit, nor do we like commercially canned products. So we preserve our fruit and vegetables by canning, freezing, or drying. With apples, our favorite method of preserving is homemade applesauce made from local apples and frozen in quart freezer tubs.
Despite the absence of chemicals on the skins of the apples, we washed them thoroughly and drained them before coring. Our hand operated food mill nicely separates skins from the sweet pulp of our homemade applesauce, so peeling is just not necessary. That makes me happy as hand peeling is pretty labor intensive and the patented machines for coring and peeling waste a lot of apple.
Barbara and I set up a processing line. I quartered the apples while she cored. When the quartered apple bowl was full, I helped quarter. With careful coring with a good paring knife, little usable apple is lost.
Note: If your use very sharp paring knives, as ours are, you may risk little slices or nicks in your thumb as you are coring. We just put a band-aid on BEFORE it’s needed and the coring can proceed without a sore thumb.
After coring, the apple quarters are put into a large stainless kettle with enough water to keep the apples on the bottom from burning. Barbara starts with a couple inches of water in the bottom of the kettle and monitors the level as the apples cook down. As the apples cook, the volume in the pot reduces and juice accumulates with the water at the bottom. Don’t overdo the water as it will thin the applesauce. We cook the apples at a medium low heat and stir them as they cook down every ten minutes or so. The hotter your stove, the more frequently you should stir. Don’t rush the cooking-down process as your apples could burn. Also, be prepared to have your house smell like fresh apple pie during this process, a great harvest perfume.
When all the apple chunks are mushy when tested with a stirring spoon, we let the pot cool for a few minutes and move it to the island for processing. The process is simple, ladle the mushy apples into your food mill a bit at a time. We team up with one of us spooning apples and one cranking the food mill. As the bowl below the food mill fills, we dump the new homemade applesauce into a larger bowl to finish cooling before freezing. We chose not to add any sweetener to the homemade apple sauce as the tree-ripened apples made a great, slightly sweet applesauce.
After our homemade applesauce has cooled sufficiently, we ladle the fresh sauce into one-quart freezer tubs. This quantity is perfect for our consumption without getting oldy-moldy in the refrigerator. As we use applesauce with everything from waffles to hot cereal and as a fruit side with a meal, it just goes quickly. We even put applesauce in a bowl with homemade yogurt and a drizzle of honey in the evening to accommodate my sweet tooth.
If apple butter is on your list of favorites, your frozen applesauce can be thawed and combined with sugar and cinnamon to make great apple butter. So if you want a great activity, super healthy foods, and the satisfaction of preparing your own food, try picking, preparing, and freezing some homemade applesauce.