By this point in the winter I start to think about what to do with the remainder of the apples I have stored up from the previous fall. Regardless of how good a place I found to store them, most the apples are inevitably soft and mealy by February. Personally, I get spoiled by gorging on apple after apple, ripe off the branch all through September and October. It therefore feels hard to bring myself to eat an apple that is a ghost of the crispy juicy taste of autumn it once embodied. I do however find these February apples perfect for cooking with. One can only make so many apple pies, cobblers and crisps however, thus I have found that a good simple apple sauce does a tremendous job of using up large amounts of apples while also preserving their flavor.
With the advent of large scale refrigeration and more recently controlled atmosphere (CA) storage used by most large orchards, many people have gotten used to crispy "fresh" tasting apples year round. Although crunching down on an Empire or Gala on a hot July day can be wonderful experience, it is a long way from an "apple season" when apples were consumed fresh, mainly during or soon after the harvest. This gave the fresh apple an anticipatory place in the cycle of seasonal foods, where the only way to have the fruit year-round was by drying or canning it.
SIMPLE APPLE SAUCE
Using a medley of apples always seems to give better flavor in my opinion, although there is some debate in the culinary world as to whether a one-variety sauce is more tantalizing to the buds.
Another question is always skin or no skin? In my opinion, if you own a food mill or have access to one, go with the skins (especially if you are using organic apples). The skin contains the majority of the nutrients found in apples and if you are using red-skinned apples, they also add a nice hue to the finished sauce. If you don't have a food mill or are concerned about what else conventional apples might be storing in their skins aside from nutrients, peeling the apples still yields an incredibly flavorful sauce.
- Gather your apples. Generally two small/medium apples or one large one will yield a cup of sauce. I usually make a batch of 15-20 apples at a time.
- Wash the apples (especially if you are leaving the skin on).
- Peel if you wish.
- Core the apples. This is most easily done with a corer/divider, but a small knife will also work fine. Large pieces are fine, they will just take a little longer to cook down.
- Fill a large pot with about an inch of water. This will prevent the apples from burning until they begin to release there own juices.
- Put the cut apples in the pot on medium heat.
- Once they have begun to bubble turn the heat down to a simmer, cover.
- Add cinnamon to taste (usually 1/2t. for every 5 apples)
- Simmer for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. The longer you cook it the smoother and thicker it will get. As you cook off more of the water the sugars will also become more concentrated and the sauce sweeter. I fine it nice to leave a few apple chunks in the sauce.
- Let cool and eat! (Note: If you cooked the apples with skins put the sauce through the food mill after it cools)
If you want to get back to basics, canning the apple sauce is a good way to preserve what you can't manage to eat strait out of the pot. With modern-day appliances, freezing is another good option, and generally less labor intensive than canning. As far as taste is concerned, canning will preserve the true flavor of the sauce, especially if you want to store it for a longer time. If you plan on eating it within a few months, freezing is fine.