Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Make your own applesauce

When I was a kid, I thought applesauce was one of those magical foods that you could only buy in stores, like bread or pie. Okay, so mom wasn't much of a baker.

Thinking back to childhood, though, I think we all had foods that we grew up thinking could only be purchased rather than made at home. My mom made her own salad dressings and she made pickles and jelly. She even made her own noodles once in a while. Those weren't mysterious.

Applesauce, on the other hand, came in jars. And it didn't appear very often. If we were having a pork roast for dinner, applesauce might be a side dish. Or it might be served with potato pancakes. But it wasn't an everyday item.

As an adult, I like applesauce but find that many brands are too sweet for my taste or they're loaded with cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices. I like all those spices well enough, but when I have apples, I want it to taste like apples and not like the spice cabinet.

The other problem with applesauce is that it spoils relatively quickly after opening, particularly if you use it like a condiment (like I do) instead of like a snack. And the brands I like best don't come in kid-sized portions. Nope, the ones I like are mostly in big jars. So when I open a jar, I have to think about what else I'm going to use it for. If I don't, it ends up at the back of the refrigerator and the next time I think about applesauce, it has green fuzz on top.

The solution to all of my applesauce woes is to make my own. I can make just as much as I need, and make it as tart, sweet, spiced or unspiced as I like. It's also a great way to use up apples that have a few bruises and bumps that make them less tempting for eating out-of-hand. And when I want to get creative, I can add other things, like dried cherries, fresh cranberries, or maple syrup in place of the sugar.

Speaking of which, sugar is completely optional. If your apples are very tart, you might want sugar to balance the tartness. For many apples, you might decide you don't need sugar at all. You can make that decision after the apples are cooked down a bit.

You can use any type of apples you like for making sauce. There are differences in flavor, but if it's an apple you like to eat, you should like the flavor in applesauce. The big difference, though, is texture. Some apples - the kind that are good for baking or pie-making - will hold their shape much longer during cooking. Apples that are less suitable for baking will break down into sauce much sooner.

But that doesn't mean you can't use the baking apples for sauce - you'll just need to cook them longer. However, if you like a chunky sauce, those baking apples will provide that texture you're looking for. And you don't need to use all of one type of apple. Mix them up any way you like.

Applesauce

5 apples, peeled, cored, and cut in chunks
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
2 tablespoons sugar (optional)

Put the apple chunks in a saucepan on medium heat with just enough water to keep them from sticking when you begin cooking them. Add the salt and cinnamon (if using) and cook, stirring as needed, until the apples break down to a sauce consistency. This can be as short as 5 minutes, or as long as 20 minutes, depending on the apples you are using.

Taste for sweetness and add the sugar, if desired. Continue cooking and stirring until the sugar is dissolved in the mixture. Taste again, and add more sugar or cinnamon, if desired.

If you prefer a smoother sauce, you can pass it through a sieve or food mill, or use a stick blender to smooth it out.

Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

You can make applesauce in much larger quantities, if desired. If you want to can the applesauce for storage, consult a canning book for proper procedures to process it safely.
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