Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Festival of Food: I'm possesive over my homemade applesauce

Welcome to the Festival of Food Carnival. In celebration of autumn and Halloween, we're sharing recipe ideas for healthy treats, or anything you would enjoy this time of year. Hosted by Diary of a First Child and Hybrid Rasta Mama, you're welcome to join us next time, or if you have a previously published recipe you'd like to share, add it to the linky below. 
 Festival of Food Carnival

Mmmmm..can you smell it? The sweet combination of baked apples with a touch of cinnamon, cardamom or chai spice? Applesauce is my tradition for the start of fall. A warm bowl on a rainy afternoon, while curled up reading a book (or, lately - snuggled up with my hubs, baby or dogs.. sometimes all together) perfectly represents this glorious season. That, and brisk walks, apple cider, aromatic pies, scarves, sweaters and seeing my baby in a cute knitted hat.

We're what you might call applesauce snobs. I have a hierarchy for my applesauce. I use applesauce in a lot of my baking (as a replacement for oil and calories), but will only use the store bought stuff. I jealously guard reserve the homemade variety so that it is only enjoyed in a bowl, by itself. Why? Because I painstakingly peeled, cored, chopped, and cooked each one of those apples and I'll be damned if each bite isn't savored.  I even ration my husband's portions, because in my mind if he has too much at one time, it isn't special anymore. Yea, he thinks I'm crazy and controlling over my applesauce. I'm not afraid to admit it, either.

Enough of my melodrama, homemade applesauce isn't that hard. It's time consuming. It can be painful, when your hands are tired or you've accidentally nicked yourself one too many times with the peeler. Or when your hands are all pruney from the juice and the slices slip out of your hands over and over. Applesauce isn't technically difficult - it's just not for the faint of heart ;) I truly see it as one of my labors of love for my family.

Growing up, my mom made applesauce in a pot and it felt like it took days. And a lot of attention. I'm definitely a "set it and forget it" kind of cook (whenever possible) - so that wasn't going to work for me. And lo - behold, the crockpot.  My sister in law taught me how to make applesauce in this manner, otherwise I probably would either a)still be a slave to the stove and pot or b)not making applesauce at all.

So since that first fall where she came over with her own crockpot and borrowed my father in law's crockpot, I've sort of grown my own little crockpot army. I think I have 5 total. And they all range in different sizes, from the tiny party-dip size to the humongous cook-a-turkey size. Whenever possible, I use all of them to my advantage come applesauce time. The smaller crockpots cook the apples faster, so I use them to "flash-heat" the pieces and eventually move them into bigger crockpots as I chop more apples. It's my own crazy little science, and perhaps in my attempt to efficiently cook apple pieces as quickly as possible I've also wasted a lot of time and energy in coordinating the mush between crockpots, but hey- to each her own. You don't need 5 crockpots to make applesauce. I just like to make a production out of it :)

Had enough of my babble? Ready to embark on your own applesauce adventure? Read on.

What you'll need:
  • Organic apples (rule of thumb: 1 lb of apples = 1 cup of applesauce)
  • crockpot(s)
  • Tools to core, peel, chop apples: I use a corer, a peeler and a knife. Although, one of these days I need to get an actual apple peeler and corer
  • Optional: hot water to heat up your crock pot quickly 
  • Optional spices (any combination of your choice): cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, chai spice, apple/pumpkin pie spice blends **No sugar needed! :)
  • Containers to store your applesauce - tupperware for freezing, jars for canning (see this link from PickYourOwn.Org on canning)
  • Depending on how many apples you have, expect to spend about 1-2 hours coring, peeling and chopping, and about 5-8 hours of cook time depending on your crockpot. 
What you'll do:
1. Start with your apples. I keep an eye out for good prices on organic apples at the start of September. Besides the feel-good portion of choosing organic, it is SO important to use organic apples because they are the #1 fruit in the Dirty Dozen List. The Dirty Dozen is a list of foods that have the highest level of pesticides. Sometimes organic fruits/veggies go on super-sale at your local grocery store, but you can also venture out to your farmer's market or fruit stands that are popular this time of year.  We've always used Golden Delicious apples because they are so naturally sweet, but this year I picked the apples off the tree in my parents' yard (another reason why I should be possessive over my applesauce - I picked these apples with my own two hands! They didn't magically appear one day from the grocery store). But the bottom line is use the type of apples that you find tasty. The amount of apples you use is up to you. Remember, 1 pound of apples will produce about 1 cup of applesauce (see what I meant by labor of love??).

2. Core and peel your apples.

3. While coring and peeling, prep your crock pot. One of my efficient-applesauce-secrets: turn the crockpot on HIGH, and fill it about half way with already hot water. This will heat the ceramic quickly and as soon as you pop your first apple chunks in there they will immediately start to cook.  Keep it closed.

3. For the chopping part, I like to chop them relatively thin and uniformally (another of my efficient apple sauce secrets!) because the apple chunks cook quickly and the applesauce will be pretty smooth. If you like chunky, chop them in varying thickness and sizes. Once you have accumulated a decent sized apple chunk pile, dump the hot water and turn the crockpot to LOW. Keep the lid closed as much as possible.

4. Chop, chop, chop away. You'll be here a while. Transfer into the crockpot when necessary, but don't open the lid too often!

5. Cook until you've reached the desired consistency, stirring every 2-3 hours. If the sauce is too watery, remove the lid for about 5 minutes and stir to allow some water to evaporate. I've never had a problem with my applesauce being too thick, but I suppose if it was too thick you can add a few tablespoons water or apple juice to loosen it up a bit.

6. Now that I have a baby, I prefer to leave my applesauce unseasoned until I'm ready to serve, so that I have the option to give some to her. But if you don't mind, you can season to suit at this point.

7. When done, scoop your applesauce in your choice of storing containers. Average shelf life of applesauce in a tupperware in the fridge is less than two weeks (don't worry, it probably won't be a problem!).

Whew! See, like I said - in theory, not that hard. It's not rocket science, people. But it definitely takes some time. I look forward to one day sharing this responsibility with Penelope / kicking up my feet and watching her toil over those apple slices ;)

So what do you think, am I crazy for hoarding my applesauce? Do you hoard any food of your own?

Here are some fun ways to enjoy applesauce (besides in a festive bowl by the fire)
  • As a condiment: on pork chops, potato pancakes, oatmeal, ice cream, apple spice cake (!), waffles or pancakes
  • Mix with walnuts and golden raisins (I like to soften mine up by placing them in hot water for a few minutes prior)
  • I'm excited to try this one out - scroll about half way down for Organized Living Essential's Recipe for her Vanilla Yogurt and Applesauce with Almond Oatmeal Topping
Comment below if you have your own special way of enjoying applesauce!

Please take a moment to visit the blogs of our other Festival of Food participants. The links in this list will be live by the end of the day, as participants are all in different time zones.

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