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Pot of Gold

February 15, 2007 By:
Andrew Schloss, JE Feature
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Once upon a time, not too long ago, in a home very much like yours, people actually cooked. They threw vegetable trimmings and chicken parts in a pot, and got soup for a week, without spending a lot of money or effort. They believed pie really was as easy, and soon after the first frost hit, they transformed any apple unworthy of eating out of hand into applesauce.

Canned or fresh, spiced or sweet, chunked or puréed, applesauce is winter's most economical convenience food, and there's still no way to eat better with less fuss. The availability of commercially prepared applesauce is so widespread that it has, in many parts of America, wiped out the cultural memory of applesauce in its made-from-scratch form, leaving us with the uneasy feeling that homemade applesauce is unattainable, and more akin to hard labor than cooking.

And though usually in this column I introduce you to the packaged ingredients crowding your supermarket shelves, I'd like to reverse the process this week and reintroduce you to a simple, wholesome homemade pantry staple.

If you've never had real applesauce, then you're in for a delicious miracle. Though every batch varies -- depending on apple varieties and the peculiarities of the specimens at hand -- the results are always startlingly thick and rich. And best of all, it's incredibly easy to make.

An honest homemade applesauce can be whipped up by anyone with a dozen apples on hand and a half-hour to spare.

Peeling and coring the apples is optional. If you do this first, there will be no need to strain the sauce after cooking. However, if you're in a rush, you can save time during preparation by cooking the apples without trimming, and then strain the sauce to remove any debris. The only restriction to this method is that the finished sauce will be smooth, a definite drawback for those of us who like chunks of fruit in our sauce.

The best way to purée and strain applesauce all at once is by using a food mill. These old-fashioned-looking contraptions are just the thing for mashing potatoes, blending a soup or pulverizing cooked apples into perfect applesauce.

Unlike food processors, which have a tendency to make applesauce that is baby-food fine, food mills leave slight bits of pulp in the sauce, which gives the finished product a natural homemade look and textural interest. In addition, they strain the fruit as they crush it, eliminating the separate sieving process made necessary when using a food processor.

Food mills are available at well-stocked hardware stores and in almost all cookware stores. They come in pint, quart and two-quart sizes, and usually include a collection of blades, ranging from fine to coarse.

Cooking the apples can be done in any heavy pot, but without question, the easiest, cleanest and calmest way to make applesauce is in the microwave. It takes less than 20 minutes from the first slice to the first bite, and uses just one mixing/cooking/storage vessel. Because food cannot scorch in a microwave, additional liquid is unnecessary, making the finished product exceptionally flavorful and thick.

Though any apple will produce applesauce, a few are perennial favorites. The smoothest applesauce comes from McIntosh apples. Granny Smiths give a tart applesauce with good color, but a slightly runny consistency.

Winesap and Stayman apples make wonderfully sweet/tart applesauce, and Golden Delicious applesauce comes out delicately perfumed with a mild flavor.

Fiji and Gala applesauce can be runny, so its good to add a few McIntosh into the batch for a better consistency. The only apple to avoid completely when making sauce is Red Delicious. Fine for eating out of hand, these apples will cook into a product that is bland and watery.

Applesauces can be flavored in many ways. Sugar, honey and cinnamon are almost universal but by no means conclusive. Create savory applesauce flavored with herbs, and mixed-fruit applesauce pungent with dates or tinted pink with cranberry juice. You can cook apples with dried fruit to sweeten the sauce without sugar, or you can simmer apples with caramelized onions or pears for inventive flavor blends.

Scent an applesauce with vanilla, lemon, orange, almond or rum. Spark flavors with apple-cider vinegar or wine.

The choice is yours, and the results are almost always successful.

I've started you off with three basic recipes and seven variations, but don't stop there. Use these basic recipes as springboards for your own imagination. It will change your mind forever about the convenience of convenience foods.

Basic Applesauce 

(Pareve)

3 lbs. (6 large) apples (preferably McIntosh)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup water

Peel, core and coarsely chop the apples. Combine with cinnamon, if desired, and 1/2 cup water in a heavy saucepan.

Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the apples are tender.

Mash lightly with a potato masher, or the back of large fork or spoon until the sauce has the chunkiness you desire.

To finish, add more water to reach the desired texture. You can also add some sugar to adjust the flavor, but I prefer my applesauce unsweetened. The exact amounts of water and sugar added to any applesauce are dependent on personal taste, as well as the natural sweetness of the apples and thickness of the sauce they create.

Makes about 1 quart.

 

Basic No-Peel Applesauce

(Pareve)

3 lbs. (6 large) apples (preferably McIntosh)

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

Cut apples into eighths. Combine with cinnamon, if desired, and 1/2 cup water in a heavy saucepan.

Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the apples are tender.

Run the mixture through the medium blade of a food mill in small batches. To clean the blade of scraps of apple skin, reverse its direction periodically during milling.

To finish, add more water to reach the desired texture. You can also add some sugar.

Makes about 1 quart.

 

Basic Microwaved Applesauce

(Pareve)


3 lbs. (6 large) apples (preferably McIntosh)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
1/2 to 3/4 cup water

Peel and core apples, if you want. Cut apples into eighths and combine with 2 tablespoons of the water in a 3-quart microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave at full power for 6 minutes.

Carefully uncover. Stir, recover, and cook another 3 minutes at full power until the apples are tender.

If you have peeled and cored the apples, mash them with a potato masher, or the back of a large fork or spoon, to desired texture. If you have not peeled and cored them, you will have to run the applesauce through the medium blade of a food mill in small batches. To clean the blade of scraps of apple skin, reverse its direction periodically during milling.

To finish, add the cinnamon, if desired, and more water to reach the desired texture. You can also add some sugar to adjust the flavor.

Makes about 1 quart.

Applesauce Variations

Pink Applesauce (Pareve): Follow any of the Basic Applesauce recipes, eliminating the cinnamon and using cranberry juice in place of the water.

Vanilla Applesauce (Pareve): Follow any of the Basic Applesauce recipes. Eliminate the cinnamon, and add 1 teaspoon honey and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to applesauce after cooking.

Raisin Applesauce (Pareve): Follow any of the Basic Applesauce recipes adding 1/2 cup golden raisins to the apples before cooking.

Double-Apple Applesauce (Pareve): Follow either the recipe for Basic Applesauce or Basic Microwaved Applesauce, using peeled and cored apples. In place of half the sugar, use 1 cup finely chopped dried apple slices.

Spiked Applesauce (Pareve): Follow any of the Basic Applesauce recipes, adding 2 tablespoons brandy after cooking.

Apple and Pear Sauce (Pareve): Follow any of the Basic Applesauce recipes, substituting 11/2 pounds ripe pears for half the apples. Replace cinnamon with vanilla and eliminate the water.

Rosemary and Sage Applesauce (Pareve): Follow any of the Basic Applesauce recipes, substituting 1 teaspoon dried rosemary and 11/2 teaspoon rubbed sage for the cinnamon. Finish with 1 tablespoon melted pareve margarine.

This applesauce is especially good served warm as a side dish with roasted meats.

Andrew Schloss is a food-industry consultant and a cookbook author. His current book is Almost From Scratch: 600 Recipes for the New Convenience Cuisine.

 

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