Thursday, October 23, 2008

when life gives you apples...

Our new house has an awesome apple tree in the front yard. My parents even lent us their fruit picker (a long pole with a cushioned basket on the top to catch the fruit gently) so we can reach the high-up ones. Of course, we are inexperienced at harvesting, so half the time we find half-eaten apples the squirrels and birds have gotten to, and half the time we leave apples on too long and they go to mush. The third half of the time, they are just perfect! I'm not sure what variety they are (how does one find that out?) but they are crisp and sweet - a perfect combo. I'm usually a Granny Smith fan, and the fam prefers sweeter ones like Fujis and Honeycrisps. These taste delicious to all of us. Best of all, when you cut them open, they don't seem to brown!

Naturally, I've been on the hunt for apple recipes. My great aunt Ruth has at least two terrific apple cake recipes, but I haven't had a good excuse to make a cake. I made Country Fair Caramel Apple Bars, which were good but not great - they had a streusely-oatmeal-brown sugar crust, chopped apples, a caramel drizzle, and more streusely crumbs on top. They tasted nice but were pretty unattractive, and the caramel behaved weirdly. It kind of sank to the bottom, integrating tastily with the crust, but not really creating a top layer with the crumbs. They also didn't hold together firmly like a good bar cookie; I almost felt like I needed a plate and fork to eat them politely. I expected something... different, I guess.

My brother-in-law's brother wisely suggested apple butter, which after some research, we determined is made by cooking applesauce slowly, for hours, until it turns brown, thick, and kind of caramelized. I don't have a crockpot, and I didn't relish stirring contstantly for hours, so I put that idea on the back burner. But hey - applesauce! Easy, so delicious; the most time-consuming part is peeling and coring, and if you put the cooked applesauce through a food mill, you probably wouldn't even have to do that. (I understand cooking the apples with the seeds and skin adds more natural pectin.)

My applesauce recipe comes from my mom's friend, Wendi. It's a snap:

Apples, peeled, cored, and cut into fairly uniform-sized chunks
Orange juice
Red hots

Place the apples in a big pot. Pour orange juice over, nearly to cover. Bring to a boil (it will boil up and the pulp will rise to the top - don't be scared). Reduce to a simmer and cook until the apples are soft, maybe 20-30 minutes. It could take more or less time depending on how many apples you're dealing with. It's not an exact science.

When the apples are soft, turn off the heat. Sprinkle in some red hots. They will melt, giving your applesauce a hint of cinnamon flavor and turning it pink! More red hots = more pink. When I make it for Chanukah (goes perfectly with latkes), I make it kind of bright pink, but this time I wanted just a subtle flavor/color, so I probably only put in 15 or so. Use a potato masher to carefully mash the apples (you don't want to splash hot oj on yourself). It will take a few minutes for it to come together and start looking like applesauce. You can leave it alone and give it a few more smushes as it cools.

The kids don't like lumps, so I divided it in half and used my immersion blender to make theirs smooth. Worked like a charm and they totally loved it! Applesauce also apparently freezes well, so I froze about half of it. I left the applesauce for the freezer chunky, figuring I can always blend it when I defrost it.

General amounts: I think I used about 10 medium apples, about a quart of oj, and 15-20 red hots. This yielded approximately 6-7 cups of applesauce.

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