appling 1One of the great joys of autumn up North is the apple harvest. The “King of the Orchard” is a staple crop here, and the only orchard fruit to bear regularly and abundantly despite spring freezes and cold summer rain. Yesterday my friend Liz and I went to an abandoned homestead on the Douglas Highway on our lunch hour and picked grocery bags of apples: Baldwin, Yellow Transparent, Olive Crab, Winter Greening and a few others that I can’t identify even using “Apples in Maine“. I was picking with the intent of making applesauce so I tried to stay mostly with varieties I could identify. New England was planted all over with cider apples, and they have too much tannin to make a good sauce. Taste the fruit if you’re unfamiliar with the tree – people describe cider apples as “floury” or “dense and dry”. They may not even be particularly sour – it’s the texture that  leads to applesauce with the consistency of library paste. My particular rule of thumb is to only pick from trees within 60 feet of a house. The best “dessert apples”  were  planted where they could be tended and picked with a minimum of effort.

It was probably our last good picking day for a while – 50 degrees and bright sun with hatches of midges and late mosquitoes swirling around our heads. Then I went home and made applesauce. For this recipe you’ll need a food mill. I have a Villaware and I love it.

appling 2Wash your apples if you need to. None of these have been sprayed, and they grow at least a quarter mile from any road so a light rinse will do. Halve them and cut out the stem and blossom ends. I halve them only to check for rot or insect damage.

Leave the skins and seeds for color and flavor. Pile the trimmed fruit into a large pot. Now add the secret ingredient –  2 C of sugar. Adding the sugar now allows it to blend with the finished sauce and, I think, improves the flavor and texture over adding sugar to the finished product. It also increases the liquid content, allowing you to add less water. Then add about 1 C of water mixed with 2 Tbs. lemon juice. Stir to coat the apples. I don’t add any spices at this point, preferring to spice the individual batches as I use them. Put a close fitting lid on the pot and cook at medium high for about 20 minutes, checking periodically to see if you need to add more water.

appling 4The apples are ready when they’ve “exploded”. Turn off the heat and allow the juices to soak in for about half an hour with the pot still covered.

appling 5Dump the apple mixture into your food mill in batches. It would be nice to wait long enough for the apples to cool to room temperature, but by this time it’s always 10:30 p.m. and I have to get on with it. By all means wait till you can comfortably handle the fruit if you have that luxury – it won’t do it any harm and you’ll avoid spatter burns. Crank the mixture through the mill. The Villaware produces a nice smooth sauce, ruddy and thick with the processed apple skins, and only about a cup of waste from a whole pot of apples.

appling 6

Dish yourself a sample of sauce and congratulate yourself on an efficient use of resources. You can put up the rest by canning, but applesauce is a fairly low acid food and prone to contamination. Consult your Blue Book for details or get yourself some real produce freezer bags from the Agway  and  freeze the sauce in meal size packets.

appling 7According to Liz, this is pretty good stuff.

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