Rain Makes Applesauce was the name of a favorite children’s book; today, we experimented with applesauce recipes while it rained! Brave volunteers of our garden group gathered to trim, cook and can a few bushels of apples that had been available for the taking to our mate, CJ.
No one at the orchard knew the varieties, but one apple was Macintosh-like; it had white flesh, a tart flavor and a soft texture. The other had matte, dark-red skin, a firmer texture and a sweeter flavor. They both went into the pot — or I should say — many, many pots, bowls and pans.
We pooled our personal applesauce recipes to make two large batches. One was a smooth, rosy-colored sauce from unpeeled apples, which we passed through a food mill after cooking. The other batch began with peeled apples. Then, we milled half of this batch smooth and left the other half chunky.
When we taste-tested, we decided the applesauce was too bland, so we added a little bit of raw sugar and a healthy dose of cinnamon, agreeing that each of us could doctor the sauce further when serving it, if necessary. Nutmeg, lemon peel, sage or rosemary were other possibilities.
The group rotated casually through trimming, stirring the pots and milling the cooked apples. Then, some of us washed and set out the jars, then boiled the lids. Eventually, we transitioned to seasoning, filling and sealing the jars. CJ orchestrated the wisecracking flow of labor.
One member, Mallory, rewarded us with apple pie for our work. She completed it quickly while we worked on the applesauce, and just as the first jars went into their water bath, her shiny, domed pie emerged from the oven. We took a break over generous wedges of Mallory’s apple pie.
Mallory has apple pie down; this one was just sweet and just seasoned enough with cinnamon and a pinch of clove. Her favorite crust was thin and flaky over the heaped-high apple slices, which cooked down to neither mushy nor too firm, just the way I like pie filling to be. Heaven.
To stock your winter pantry, make a party. You might even look into sites such as www.neighborhoodfruit.com and www.veggietrader.com for foraged produce, but it’s relatively easy to pick or buy apples in bulk.
Assemble the correct canning equipment (www.freshpreservingstore.com) or make the party BYO jars. A dishwasher helps to heat and clean the jars, and a food mill assures no peeling, but neither is obligatory. Or, you can skip the hot-water bath altogether and freeze the sauce in quart-size freezer bags, which is even faster and simpler.
Tasks like this go so much faster in a group, and it’s great fun to chat, nibble and share stories while your hands are busy. Everyone goes home with a goodie bag of fresh, sweet-scented applesauce.
My favorite way to eat applesauce is on top of whole-grain pancakes, but applesauce is also mighty good dolloped on vanilla yogurt, served beside a good pork chop or transformed again into a raisin-spice cake.