August 16, 2015

Apple Sauce

I talk to a lot of people who are nervous about preserving food.  It's understandable.  Can you say botulism?!  In reality, preserving food can be really easy.  In the past I've posted instructions for simple preservation, like freezing and making jams.  But a great beginner's step into food preservation is to make apple sauce.

It's mid August now and the apple harvest is just starting.  The early apples, like Romes, Cortland, Braeburn and Gravenstine, do not store well and are best eaten fresh or made into sauces, juice or pie filling.  To get your apples, I highly recommend going to a local farm and buying direct.  Not only will you get a great day out in the country and support local farmers, but you are more likely to get the apples you want.  Stores typically only carry the most popular apples and therefore have a small selection - you almost never see saucing apples at the store.  For the best apples sauce, pick a variety of apples. Get about 10-15 pounds.  These do not have to be pretty apples.  After all, you are just going to sauce them not display them.  Misshapen, water marks, a couple bruises are all OK.  (No worm holes though.)

You do need some basic equipment.  August is a good time to buy canning equipment.  Most stores, even Fred Meyers, have canning equipment on sale.  If you aren't ready to make an investment, ask around.  I bet you know someone who will loan you a few things for a day.  Here is what you need that you probably don't already have in your kitchen:

1) A food mill.  To make nice smooth sauce, like you buy it at the store, you need a food mill.  I also use this to make blueberry jam and cranberry sauce.  Yesterday I made plum sauce with it.

2) A very large, deep pot and two smaller stainless steel pots (one is pictured).  You will use the huge pot on the left to give your jars of sauce a "hot water bath".  That's the processing method.  You need a pot that will fit roughly 8 pint jars and that you can fill to 1-inch above the top of the jars with water - so pretty darn big.  The pot on the right is for making the sauce.  Don't use aluminum because it will discolor your sauce.  You need two because you boil the apples in one and then sauce in other.

3)  The thinging on the left is a jar extractor.  You use this for putting the hot jars into the boiling water and removing them after the hot water bath.  The funnel on the right is for putting the sauce into jars without spilling.  It's not necessary but very helpful.

4)  And you need jars, of course.  I use wide mouth pint jars.  

5)  You'll also need a big slotted spoon, a soup ladle, and a couple of clean kitchen towels.

The whole process will take 2-3 hours from start to finish.  There is some down time, but not much. 

Preparation.  Wash and dry everything, including the jars and lids.  If you have a sanitize setting on your dishwasher, use that to clean the jars and lids.  Keep the jars and lids hot.

Step 1 - Slice and core the apples.  Remove any major blemishes.  No need to peel.  No need to make them look good - just chop them up.  Place into the stainless steel pot, filled halfway with cold water and 2 table spoons lemon juice (to slow the browning process).  Keep going until the pot is full.  Place on stove and bring to boil, stirring occasionally to prevent apples from sticking to the bottom.

Step 2 - While the apples are coming to boil.  Fill the large pot with water to about halfway and put on stove.  Cover and bring to boil.  Since it's such a huge pot, it will take a while to boil.

Step 3 - When the apples are soft and starting to fall apart, move that pot off the stove, on to a folded up kitchen towl.  Set the second pot on the stove with the temperature off.

Step 4 - Place the food mill on the empty pot by hooking the two legs over the edge of the pot.  Use a large slotted spoon to scoop apples into the food mill until it's half full.  Twist the handle clockwise around and around.  Every so often go backwards (counter clockwise) to loosen up the apples and then go around and around again.  Keep going until all you have left are the peels.  It takes a while.  Dump the peels into the compost.  Scoop more apples in and do it again.  Keep going until all of the apples are through the mill.  Add some water as needed.

(If your hot water both is boiling, turn the heat down to medium to keep it hot.)

Step 5 - Taste your sauce.  It's hot so be careful.  Decide if you want to add sugar or cinnamon.  Add a little at a time.  I add 1/2 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon, stir and taste again.  You can always add more, but if you add too much there is no going back.  You can add more of the water from the other pot if the sauce is thicker than you like.  Make it perfect for you.

(Let the liquid from the boiling cool and then pour into a pitcher.  Store in the fridge to have fresh apple juice for the next week.)

Step 6 - Start bringing the sauce back up to boiling.  You  need to stir constantly to prevent burning on the bottom.  Slowly increase the heat from low to medium to high.  Thick sauce doesn't boil like water.  It will create bubbles that can splatter.  As soon as I see bubbles, I turn down the heat to medium-low.

Step 7 - While your sauce is coming to boil you need to prep the jars.  Clean out your sink and fill with hot, hot, hot water.  Place the clean, sanitized jars and lids into the hot water.  Make sure everything is covered with water.  You want to be working with the hottest jars and lids possible.

(Turn up the heat on the hot water both, so it comes back to boil.)

Step 8 - Remove one jar from the hot water (use the jar extractor).  Place the funnel in and use a soup ladle to scoop sauce into the jar.  Fill leaving about 1 inch of headspace at the top.  Place the lid on and tighten.  I use a towel to hold the hot jar and tighten.  Use the jar extractor to put into the hot water bath.  Repeat with the next jar.  Keep going until the pot is full - usually about 8-9 jars.

Step 9 - Bring the hot water bath to boil.  When it's boiling, set the timer for 10 minutes.  Then use the jar extractor to move the sauce to a towel to cool.

Note - If you have more than 8 jars worth of sauce, you will have to make two batches.  While the first batch is processing, drain and re-fill the sink with hot, hot water.  Prep the next set of jars.  Keep the sauce at a very slow boil and stir occasionally.  When the first batch is done, repeat steps 8 and 9.  If you have just a little bit of sauce left - like one jar - skip the hot water bath.  Instead fill the jar, put on the lid and let it cool.  Then put in the fridge and eat within a week.

Step 10 - After all the jars are cooled to room temperature, check that each has sealed.  The center of the lids should be sucked down.  Gently push on each lid.  If there is no give, it's sealed.  If it pops down and back up, it didn't seal.  Sealed jars can be stored in the cupboard for up to a year.  Unsealed jars should be placed in the fridge and eaten within a week.  I stick a square of masking tape on the top of each jar and label it "2015 Apple Sauce."  If all you are making this year is apple sauce and you've never canned anything before, then you don't need to label.  But if you make lots of stuff you will forget what you have and when you made it.  I've dug into my pantry and found jars of stuff that are years old.  (Those go straight to the compost.)  And some things look a lot alike - plum sauce, cranberry sauce and pizza sauce look surprisingly similar but cranberry sauce on your pizza is no good at all.

That's it!

The picture below is me and my mom picking out apples in Hood River, OR.  We go to the Heirloom Apple Festival every year and get some awesome apple varieties.  My favorite are called Arkansas Black.  They have a thick skin and hearty flesh, so they store great!

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