I always get excited when our first apples arrive. It signals the beginning of the end of summer. Soon, fall will arrive and the leaves will be ablaze in a rainbow of colors. With this comes cooler weather, corn mazes, bonfires and hay rides. There is nothing I enjoy more than to walk into our home to the scent of apple everywhere! Apple butter, apple sauce, apple cookies, apple fritters, there is just no end to what you can do with apples!
For the past few years we have purchased apples by the bushel from a family friend. We started with a single bushel and as our family has grown, so has our apple purchase. Last year we did 3 bushels, and this year we will do at least that and maybe more. Our favorite apple is the honey crisp. They are large, juicy and sweet. So sweet in fact that I am able to cook and can with much less sugar than with other varieties we have tried making it both cheaper and healthier for us.
We have put up our first run of apples for the year, and are awaiting our next one in the coming weeks. So now is the perfect time to sit down and share some of our family's favorite ways to eat apples! This year, I was lucky to have two little apple helpers. Macey decided it was her job to take the apples from the drainer and sort them on the table for me.
Well, the temptation was just to much for little brother. William soon joined the apple party. Only, he wasn’t as much into sorting the apples as he was in eating them!
Now, regardless of what you decide to do with your apples, there are a few staples I must recommend. First, if you are doing any large number of apples you just have to have an apple peeler/corer/slicer! I don’t know how we survived without one, but I wouldn’t take any amount of money for mine! This thing does three steps at once, and tremendously cuts down on your prep time, not to mention the stress on your hands from cutting all those apples. Large bowls, that’s another big one. You need bowls or containers large enough to handle at least 3-4 pounds of cut apples at a time and you need several of them. A good paring knife is handy for cutting off the little pieces your peeler may miss, or for cutting slices off for your helpers to eat! Now, from there other essentials are dependent on what exactly you plan on doing.
Our first project was apple butter, which is the most time consuming of our favorites. Andrew loves apple butter on just about anything, so we have to make lots of it for Daddy! After the apples are washed, peeled, and sliced they usually go straight into a stock pot for cooking. This year we tried a new recipe that cooks over night in the crock pot. Well, I filled up our 6 quart crock pot before bed time and hoped for the best.
Now, I must say that for someone with a limited amount of time or knowledge of apple butter this recipe may have been sufficient. However, we were not so impressed. The consistency was just not what you expect from apple butter, even with extra processing and adding liquids it just did not look right or have the right texture and taste. I want my apple butter to be smooth and glossy, but stand on a spoon. It must be well spiced, as this is what makes a good apple butter! Even though this was a disappointment as far as apple butter goes, I think it will make a nice sauce for a pork loin. We'll have to try that later!
So that morning we went back to our traditional stock pot recipe. It has never failed us so far, and has won ribbons in both our previous county’s fair as well as our current hometown. This year, it was a 2nd place red ribbon.
4 pounds of peeled apples
4 cups of sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Combine apples and 1-2 cups of water in a large stock pot. Simmer until apples are soft enough to puree. Be careful not to liquefy!
Add pureed apples, sugar, and spices back to large stock pot. Cook slowly (this will take several hours) until butter stays rounded on a spoon. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent sticking. Place butter in hot jars with 1/4-inch head space. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.
If your butter cooks down to much, you can add apple juice (I use sugar free) as needed to get the right consistency. This yields roughly 4 pints.
Macey’s favorite apple treat is an Apple Cinnamon Cookie. This concoction is one I came up with just this year to use up some apples that were beginning to lose their freshness. They turned out rather well, and we have enjoyed them frequently since. It’s a fast, easy treat that the kids will love! A highly recommended tool for these is a cookie/ melon scoop. I use a 1 teaspoon size scoop to make smaller cookies that are just the right size for our kiddo’s!
Apple Cinnamon Cookies
1/2 cup softened butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon hot water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 apple – peeled and diced
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Combine butter, brown sugar and egg in a mixing bowl. Cream well. Stir in baking soda, water, and vanilla and mix lightly. Add flour, apples and cinnamon and mix well. Scoop cookie dough by the teaspoon and place on a greased baking sheet. Flatten slightly if desired (I usually don’t). Also optional, sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar. Bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes. Remove and cool.
OPTION: Skip the granulated sugar before baking and sprinkle with powdered sugar while cooling.
William also prefers a sweet treat. His favorite apple recipe is apple fritters. Years ago we went to a wonderful little restaurant in Pigeon Forge, TN called the Apple Barn. They had the most delicious apple fritters they served with apple butter! We have tried replicating their recipe, and although we can’t manage an exact copy we have found one that we like. William could eat these for every meal if we let him. I also make these with a scoop, which makes them so much easier and faster even though they are not in the “traditional” fritter shape.
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
½ cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
2 large apples, finely diced
Confectioner's Sugar to dust
These are really so easy! All you have to do is finely dice your apples, I recommend doing this by hand as a food processor tends to make them too juicy. Then mix all of your ingredients together in a bowl. I use our deep fryer to heat oil to 350 degrees. Once the oil is well heated, I use my trusty cookie dough teaspoon size scoop to drop the dough into the oil one at a time, being careful not to let them touch while raw. Once they are medium to golden brown remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar, and serve with apple butter for dipping.
I enjoy all of these recipes as well, but probably my favorite is just a good old fashioned cinnamon apple sauce. Before canning our own, I was never a fan of store bought apple sauce. It just tasted to bland to me. Since we started canning cinnamon apple sauce with these honey crisp though, I could sit and eat a whole jar! The beauty of the recipe is that it is simple, quick, and easy to alter to suit your needs. We have made it with full sugar, half-sugar, and no sugar at all and it has come out well each time. This has also been a consistent ribbon-winner for us. This year, we won 1st place at our county fair with our cinnamon sugar-free apple sauce. As you can see in the picture, adding cinnamon does make the sauce darker but it did not hurt our chance of winning! Below is the recipe for the half-sugar run.
Cinnamon Apple Sauce
6 pounds of peeled and sliced apples
3/4 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoon cinnamon (to taste)
water (as needed, to prevent sticking)
Add apples to a large stock pot and cook until softened. If necessary, add a few tablespoons of water to your pot to prevent the apples from sticking. Puree apples making sure to thoroughly break up any large pieces but also careful not to liquefy. Return apples to stock pot and add sugar and cinnamon. Bring sauce to a boil, and fill jars. Process pints and quarts for 20 minutes in a boiling water canner.
HINT: For both apple sauce and apple butter I leave the apples in the pot and use a hand-held mini mixer to puree. It’s quick, clean, and doesn’t dirty any more bowls! We also use this little mixer to make our own baby foods. Truly a must have in my opinion! Ours came with attachments to puree, blend drinks, and whisk. One of my favorite kitchen tools!
Now, processing all of these apples leaves a lot of left over apple pieces. Peels, cores and other little pieces are all collected in a 5 gallon bucket. When the bucket is full, it goes out to the pigs. The kids have always liked the book “Pigs Love Potatoes.” Let me tell you, while that may be true, pigs love apples too!
So while the pigs chow down on apples, we’re inside processing jars. One bushel of apples yields quit a bit of stuff. We probably ate a dozen or so from the box, made two batches of Macey’s cookies and a run of apple fritters, and had 6 quarts and 1 pint of apple sauce, and 10 pints and 4 half-pints of apple butter. It’s just the beginning of apple season, so we have lots more apple sauce, apple butter, dehydrated apple chips, pies, cookies, and cakes left to do! And then … it’ll be pumpkin time!