Homemade applesauce is one of those dishes that sounds complicated yet is really very easy. It is also nutritious, adds a nice balance to a fatty meal like the typical holiday feast, and is even a great way to use up old apples or apples that are not quite as tasty as they looked.
There are two basic methods: the first (very, very easy) uses unpeeled apples, and the second involves peeling and coring them (still easy, but a bit more labor involved).
For the first method you will need a food mill, which is widely available for about $20-$30, or which you can often find used, or even in your grandmother’s cupboard (where I got mine). No special equipment is required for the second method.
For the first method:
Step 1: Wash the apples and remove any stickers. Use two or more apples, figuring about 3/4 of one apple per person as a side dish.
Step 2: Put about 1/2 inch of clean water into the bottom of a lidded pot large enough to hold all of the apples you plan to use.
Step 3: Cut the apples in half or into smaller pieces (don’t worry if they’re not very even), and put them into the pot, cover, and heat at a low-to-medium boil until the apples are soft. This will take about 10-25 minutes depending upon the firmness of the apples and how small they are cut. There is no need to remove the stems, seeds, or peel before putting them into the pot since that’s what the food mill will do.
Stir the apples occasionally to make sure they do not stick to the bottom of the pot and that the water has not evaporated. You can actually cook the apples for a long time, even more than an hour, as long as there is still water in the pot. This dish is super forgiving and will readily work with your schedule, so if the kitchen gets busy and you run out of time to mind them just keep them on low heat until you’re ready. The longer you cook the apples the smoother the applesauce will be.
Step 4: Once the apples are reasonably soft (can be mashed with a fork or spoon), remove from heat, pour or ladle everything into the food mill set over a bowl large enough to hold it all, and operate the food mill.
That’s it! The seeds, stems, and peel stay in the food mill while what ends up in the bowl is delicious applesauce, made from scratch. Give it a quick stir to combine the water and solids before serving either hot or cold. Amazing, right? And so good.
For the second method:
Proceed exactly as for the first method, but peel and core the apples first. Once softened they can be processed with a food mill or with a potato masher, ricer, or just a large spoon, which will produce a slightly chunkier applesauce a little like apple pie filling, yum!
To make your applesauce taste a bit like apple pie:
Just add the same spices to it as you would to your favorite apple pie recipe in proportion to the number of apples you used. An apple pie has about seven apples in it, so add more or less spice based upon the number of apples you used in your applesauce.
Put it back into the pot and simmer for 10 minutes or so to let the spices blend, taste, adjust spices as necessary, then serve either hot or cold.
To make your applesauce taste a bit like mulled cider:
Add (per every 3-5 apples):
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- 4 cloves
- 5 black pepper corns
- 1 star anise
Return it to the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes. Remove the spices before serving or storing.
To make apple butter:
Return the applesauce to the pot and simmer on very, very low for a few hours, stirring more frequently as it thickens. When it reaches the consistency you want, remove from heat and serve or store. Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, if you like. Apple butter also freezes well.
A few tips and tricks:
- If you leave the skins on while cooking, their color will affect the color of the applesauce, and if you use apples with really red skins and white flesh, like Mackintosh, the resulting applesauce will be a beautiful color of pink.
- If your applesauce is a little too watery then just put it back in the pot and simmer for a few minutes longer until more of the water has evaporated.
- Applesauce freezes really well. Cool it in the fridge first, then freeze it in serving-sized containers. Don’t forget to label it (masking tape and a sharpie work great for this) since it doesn’t really have any distinguishing characteristics once frozen that would prevent you from mixing it up with say, gravy, or even chicken stock. Been there. Done that. Fortunately homemade applesauce can actually be a tasty alternative to gravy.
- Apples can actually be peeled in the same manner as potatoes and not just by starting at one end and working around in circles as the peel comes off in one big strip.
- When adjusting the spices always add a little, simmer for a few minutes to let the spices blend, then taste and add a bit more if necessary. With some practice you will learn what spices you like, and how much, and the process will be even easier.
Have fun impressing your family and friends with your own take on this deceptively simple dish, and thanks for reading!