Once the weather turns cooler outside, we get ready to turn up the heat inside. Time for one of our favorite fall traditions - Making Homemade Applesauce.
Here's a list of Do's and Don'ts about making your own applesauce:
- Expect to have "fun" making a giant mess in your kitchen.
- Give yourself an entire day. Processing food takes time.
- Ask for help. We had a team of three and could have used a fourth helper.
- Think you're going to make applesauce any less expensively than buying it. Our equipment "replacement" cost is now "two burnt pans."
- Get distracted by your kids. Let someone else have fun with them for a day.
- Lose your cool. This project generates a lot of heat and steam and scalding liquids, and maybe even a tiny bit of frustration.
Have I convinced you how fun this is yet? Really, the best part is spending a day with my mom and sister, working together and seeing a counter of warm applesauce jars. And I've been fascinated by The Machine (The Victorio Strainer) since about age nine. So gather your friends, share equipment, dust off your mason jars and pick some apples!
If you're new to canning, here's a list of Canning Basics to get you started. We used the hot-water bath method and processed our own apples using the Victorio Machine, which actually turns cooked apples into applesauce with a few cranks.
Gather Your Apples
When sweet Edie, a widow neighbor of my mom's, called to say she had an apple tree ready for picking, my mom was ready to help on the spot. If you have your own apple tree, take time to take care of it and you'll enjoy the "fruits" of your labors. We picked a couple of bushels of apples and cleaned up the ground for Edie, but really, free apples are NOT worth making applesauce. Don't get me wrong. Home-grown apples can be tasty, but they can also be small, full of worms and bird holes, the wrong variety for cooking and therefore, more of an inconvenience in the kitchen. Beside's Edies Johnagold apples, we used two boxes of large, gorgeous Johnathon apples from a local orchard.
Wash Your Bottles
Sterilizing your bottles, lids, and utensils in hot water helps fight the risk of contamination in your applesauce. Match up your lids and rings to make sure you have correct sizes. Throw out any old lids or rings that have excess rust or a broken rubber seals. Plan to process same sizes of jars at the same time for consistent cooking times.
Prepping Your Apples
The Machine will remove cores, peels and stems, leaving juicy apple pulp behind. Fill a large sink with hot water and rinse off your apples. Remove any bruised or wormy spots with a knife. Place quartered apples in large containers. Since we had so many small, homegrown apples that needed "editing", we chopped those first and then "rewarded" ourselves with the pretty big apples at the end.
Cooking Your Apples
Fill your large roasting pan with cut apples and add water. Bring to a boil and cook the apples until they break easily with a spoon. Be sure to test your first batch to see how much juice boils out of the apples. Since we mixed two sizes of Johnathon apples with a few boxes of green Golden Delicious Apples, we had a nice balance in water content and sweetness. WATCH your pots. We lost TWO pans full of apples because they ran out of water and carmelized ("burned") to the bottom of the pan while no one was watching. Goodbye Mr 46-Year Old Roasting Pan, now with a Blackened Carmelized Interior.
Making the Applesauce
These next steps all involve hot apples and juice. Have plenty of hot pads and cleaning cloths ready as you transfer hot, cooked apples to a bowl to await smushing. Yes, cooked apples cling together like a bunch of pre-teen girls. They'll collectively exit the pan with a big PLOP and SPLASH if you aren't watching. Pretty sure we each had some type of hot apple burn by the end of the day.
Carefully scoop cooked apples and their juice into the top bowl of The Machine. Turning the crank and using the mallet, you are directing the apples through a sieve-wrapped tunnel. Apple "garbage" comes out the end into a Catch Bowl. The pulp and juice flow down the tray into a 9x13 pan. Add sugar to taste. We use between 1/2 and 1 cup per pan, depending on the ripeness of the apples. Whisk the pulp, juice and sugar into an even consistency.
Bottling the Applesauce
Use a wide-mouth funnel and scoop the applesauce from the receiving pan into a clean quart jar. Tap the bottle to remove air bubbles and leave at least 1/2-inch space at the top. Clean tops of jars with a warm rag to remove any drips or spills. Place lids and rings onto bottles, ensuring a clean seal.
In a large 21-quart porcelain canning pot, insert a bottle rack and cover the base of the rack with warm water. Carefully place up to seven similarly-sized jars in the pan and add water until it reaches just below the ring. The jars should not be touching the bottom or sides of the pan or each other. Bring the water to a boil. Once at a boil, reduce the heat slightly and set a timer. Quarts take 25 minutes to process and pints take 20 minutes. Using canning tongs, remove the jars from the water and set on a heat-proof counter to cool. Allow the jars to sit for 24 hours so the rubber seal can cure and protect the applesauce from contamination. The lids should be vacuum sealed and not pop up or down. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
We had four stations and rotated through Cutting, Cooking, Running The Machine and Water Bath Processing. Using three of four stove burners to cook the apples and just one for processing the jars, we still couldn't cook the apples fast enough. One pan of cooked apples made about one 9x13 of finished applesauce which filled 2 1/2 quart jars. Meaning it took all three pans of cooked apples to fill enough jars to process in the large blue canning pot.
Every year we gear up to make homemade applesauce. When we're finally finished and have collapsed exhausted on the couch, we smile and wonder if keeping our fall traditions costs us too much in time and effort. Then we laugh at the burned pans and spilled apples and remember that the memories are priceless.