Applesauce may seem like the most mundane food ever, but it has so much potential. The difference between good applesauce and the watery, bland stuff you get at the store is like the difference between a gas-ripened tomato in January and a fresh, juicy one, warm from the garden in July. The contrast is so striking, they might as well be different foods.
For me, applesauce is very much a total experience: it begins each fall with picking apples; carting buckets and buckets home; days of smelling and cooking and blending apples, taking sips of of the hot juice as I work; canning quart after quart; placing them neatly on the shelf downstairs; and, finally, cracking open a jar on a cool winter’s evening, when it’s dark and chilly outside but warm and bright inside, and dishing up bowls to eat after dinner.
This year the fun started in late September. We are lucky enough to have some friends who let us pick from their trees every year, and it’s always an exciting day. My daughter gets covered in mud from head to toe, and we both eat as many apples as we want while picking, crunching into their skins for bite after juicy bite.
Afterwards comes the canning, which I will admit I do not like. It’s hot work, and it gets monotonous for me after awhile, but making a single batch of applesauce is an entirely different experience. It’s quick and the results are so delicious, you’ll be tempted to make it several times a week. Plus, you can try a host of variations. While I was canning, I didn’t have time to do any experiments, but once I was done, I decided to come up with more lively version, and I’m quite pleased with the result.
This recipe yields a thick, spicy medley that’s so naturally sweet, there’s no need to add any sugar. The secret lies in cooking the apples for a long time, allowing the water to evaporate, concentrating the natural sugars in the fruit. It also allows the cranberries, cardamom, and cinnamon to infuse the apples and their juices, and fill the kitchen with an absolutely heavenly smell. I like to toss the ingredients in the crock pot the night before, so we wake up to an aroma not unlike apple pie. The taste is also reminiscent of that American favorite: you know how the syrup in a hot apple pie creeps out of the crust and above the fruit? I always like to steal a few tastes of that tempting sweetness when I bake one, and this recipe reminds me of that.
Someone once told me to use at least three varieties of apples when you make applesauce, try to follow that rule, as it does seem to create a more complex flavor. However, I think it would still be good with just one. I have found applesauce to be an extremely forgiving recipe, and have never been disappointed with any variety, or combination of varieties, except the time I used all Red Delicious Apples, which was overly sweet and less flavorful.
One note of caution: As I mention in the headnotes, it’s essential to remove all of the core; this includes the hard pocket that goes around the apple’s seeds. It looks like this:
This hard skin will not grind up in a food processor or blender, and will leave little hard things, ruining the sauce’s smooth texture.
Special Diets and Allergies: Vegan, dairy free, vegetarian, nut free, wheat free, soy free.
Cranberries add a tart twist to this quintessential fall dish, and the cardamom and cinnamon lend a spiciness that brings out the flavor and sweetness of the apples. For the best results, use at least three varieties of apples. I used a combination of Honey Crisp, Liberty, and Braeburn apples, but any combination should work. However, if you only have one type, it’s still worth making this recipe. Make sure you remove all of the apple’s core, including the hard casing around the seeds, or there will be unpleasant hard bits in the sauce. This is delicious on its own, but is also excellent on top of pancakes, mixed with plain yogurt, or, my favorite, with vanilla ice cream and granola.
10-11 C apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 t dried cardamom
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/3 C dried cranberries
- Place ingredients in a 10-quart crock pot. If the apples are too high to properly close the lid, don’t worry; as they cook, they will compress and the lid will fall into place.
- Cook on low for 12 hours, or until the mixture is brown and the apples are so soft, they fall apart when touched with a fork. Do not cook so long, though, that the apples begin to blacken and burn on the bottom or sides of the crock pot.
- Working in batches, blend the mixture in a food processor or blender. Be very careful, as the mixture will be hot. Make sure that there is a small hole to release steam in the top of your blender or food processor, or else the hot steam may blow the lid off. (In the past, when using a blender without a hole, I would hold down the top with a heavy towel while processing the applesauce, and it seemed to work fine.)