MY FAMILY CALLS IT ‘PO SAUCE, with the “po” representing the last syllable of the word “apple,” the way my beloved niece pronounced it when she was small. One fall weekend, as I hurtled by to give a lecture out their way, I met my brother-in-law at Exit 9 off I-90 to deliver the first load of Pink ‘Po Sauce that started life on my century-old trees. Sigh of relief: 11 quarts and 5 pints moved from my freezer to theirs.
Another day that year, my friend Katrina filled the back of her car with my apples, heading home to cook them up, and many neighbors have been the recipients of boxes of apples, apples and more apples, too. It’s applesauce time, and here’s how that goes:
Bountiful rains put regional 2013 apple crops—including fruit on my handful of ancient trees that I do not spray (that’s a 40-foot-wide one out back, above)—at bumper levels. The 2015 season didn’t feature much rain, but the apples were crazy-plentiful, after a 2014 when I had almost none. In 2016, almost a total bust, after a non-winter and a very dry whole year. Neighbors with old trees had none, either; I bought several bushels in for the first time ever. And so it went: bumper 2017; smallish 2018 crop, so-so in 2019…
My 125-plus-year -old standard-sized trees are too tall to pick from, so I simply cull the windfalls, dumping any runts or chewed-on ones into the woods for deer and other animals, and taking wheelbarrow loads of good ones over to the kitchen door.
Katrina adds raspberries to her sauce for a beautiful, vivid color and flavor, like this (her recipe for “Time in a Bottle,” as she calls it). Those lucky apples of mine who got to go home with her, huh?
- Wash apples (a vegetable brush will help).
- Cut apples into large chunks; discard cores. Cut out any major blemishes or bruises if needed.
- Fill a spaghetti pot three-quarters full of big apple chunks. Why don’t I fill the pot to the brim with fruit? I find that making slightly smaller batches reduces the inclination for sticking or burning, but if you promise to stir every 5 or 7 minutes, go ahead and fill to the top.
- Add 1 or 1-1/2 cups of water to start, to just barely cover the bottom of the pot. The amount of water you’ll need eventually depends on the apples’ own juiciness, and also whether you plan to puree later with peels still in the mix as I do, which thickens the sauce. You can add more water after cooking if desired for a thinner sauce.
- Cover and get the water bubbling fast with high heat, then lower heat to medium-low and allow the fruit to sort of steam in the water and their own juices.
- Remove lid only to stir every 5 or 7 minutes. As things soften, both stir periodically and also mash gently with a slotted metal spoon or a potato masher. Lower the heat to low as things soften to a mush.
- Cook, continuing regular stirring, until thoroughly soft, which may take a total of 25-45 minutes start to finish. Each variety and ripeness level of apple will vary in cooking time (and again: in water required).
- Want smooth sauce, instead of chunky? Once off the heat and cooled down, use an immersion blender (a stick-shaped hand type) to puree in the metal cooking pot if desired. Why have to clean your blender jar–the immersion blender is the best tool ever for pureed one-pot soups and sauces.
- Ladle sauce into recycled quart yogurt containers, or into wide-mouth, straight-sided glass canning jars, leaving ample headroom for expansion. Straight-sided jars are less likely than jars with “shoulders” to break in the freezer as their contents expand.
Yes, I know: You can quarter the apples, then use a paring knife to core each quarter. But I have enough apples for four armies, so I use one knife only, the chef’s size, and simply make four cuts, leaving the core intact to discard (as below).
You could get rid of the peels after cooking, with a food mill or sieve. But again, why?
You can add sugar, brown sugar, honey, spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, or even those raspberries the way Katrina does, remember? Me? I keep it simple. Depending what I use the sauce with later on, I might dress it up accordingly, but usually just apples and a little water works for me.
- Prefer the Crockpot or Instant Pot? Go for it, overnight, according to your appliance’s directions.
running out of freezer space?
RUNNING OUT of freezer space? Canning applesauce in a boiling-water bath is fine (presuming you have the right gear and follow the rules!).
The classic “Stocking Up” canning guide from Rodale recommends 4 pounds of apples; a cup of water; a half-cup of honey; optional cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon. Also optional (to “brighten” the flavor of too-sweet apples if desired) is a quarter-cup of fresh lemon juice. Ladle cooked hot sauce into scalded pint jars and process for 20 minutes, they say. Another option in that recipe: to leave the skins in or food-mill them out.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation peels their fruit (for a more standard product like store-bought, my expert friend Theresa Loe says, not because of food-safety worries) and processes 15 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts, like this.
Or just meet your brother-in-law at the side of the highway with 11 quarts or so (that delivery, below, in recycled goat yogurt containers). That will free up some room, admittedly while overstocking his.