Haven't posted much on gardening or canning this year, so thought I'd share one of my favorite canning recipes - Spicy Ginger Applesauce. Mmmmmm, this is GOOD stuff.
I make many quarts of this every fall when our apple trees bear fruit. Our neighbors also give us the apples from their trees, and we invest in apples from local orchards as well. As our apple trees become more mature, we won't need the local orchards as much, but we'll probably always get some so we have a wider variety of apples for the sauce.
We give homemade gifts to our friends and the kids' teachers. Some years it's plum chutney, this year it was Raspberry Jelly or Spicy Whiskey Pumpkin Butter, but every year is a Spicy Applesauce year. Yep, it's so good that people request it for gifts!
I both can and freeze the applesauce since I like to have both types of storage on hand. I often also dehydrate some apples and make apple chips as well. Sadly, these don't last long if my sons find them (note to self ─ make more next year)! I haven't made fruit leather from the applesauce yet but I hope to next year. Should be goooooood!
The recipe is extremely easy. You can make it on the stovetop in the traditional way, or in a crockpot if you are in and out all day or want to do it overnight. It's very flexible and adaptable. The hardest part is getting the apples ready, and that's not very hard. I do it while watching T.V. or doing laundry so I can multi-task.
You adjust the sweetness and spiciness of the sauce to your family's taste. Some people like their applesauce very plain and apple-y; our family prefers it with lots of cinnamon and spices. A recent experimental addition in our house has been ginger, which really gives the applesauce some zing. Our Spicy Ginger Applesauce has gotten rave reviews from all who have received it so far.
The key to not needing very much sugar is to cook the apples in apple cider (or apple juice, but cider gives a richer flavor) instead of water, and to add a bit of salt to the sauce while cooking it down. The salt really potentiates the natural sweetness so you don't need as much sugar. In addition, a touch of vanilla enhances the flavors and makes the sauce seem sweeter than it is.
Some people prefer their applesauce with no added sugar. I like the flavor better with at least a little bit of sugar, but you need less than you might think, especially if you add it at the end of the process instead of early on. Personally, I think white sugar gives the best results without distracting from the apple flavor, but many people make it with brown sugar, agave syrup, or honey instead. Whatever floats your boat.
Mixing several different apple varieties together in the sauce is another key to improving the flavor and sweetness. I like a mix of Braeburns, Galas, Fujis, Gravensteins, or Winesaps, but I usually limit myself to 2-3 apple varieties per batch. That way they enhance each other without the flavors fighting each other for dominance.
Different people have different techniques for prepping their apples. Some just cut them up, boil 'em down, then use a strainer to mash them and take out the cores and peels. Others cut out the cores etc. ahead of time so they don't have that extra step of straining later on. Some bake them in the oven for even less prep, and then sauce them.
Lots of people use an apple peeler, like the one on the left, especially for homegrown organic apples with imperfect skin. The bonus of the apple peeler and slicer is that you can prepare extra apples for the dehydrator at the same time you are getting ready to make sauce. Using a slicer/peeler is a little messy but if you have fairly uniform-sized apples it works pretty well.
If I'm going for a really pretty sauce for gifts or special baking projects, I take off the skins and am very thorough about coring them so we don't find bits in the finished product. But in most of my sauces, I leave the skins on for extra nutrition (they disintegrate with the stick blender) and I don't care if I find an occasional bit of apple core or skin in the sauce.
Here's how I make my Spicy Ginger Applesauce. Feel free to alter it as you'd like when you make yours. I don't give any amounts; this is truly a recipe you adapt as needed for your own preferences. Just wing it; you'll be fine as long as you don't let anything scorch. And in time, you'll find your own preferred way to make the sauce.
- Prepare your apples - Wash them well and cut out any bad spots. Peel them if you prefer. Cut up the apples and put them in a little bit of salt water or lemon water to keep them from browning before the cooking begins. Drain them before starting to cook them.
- Cook your apples - Cover the bottom of a large pan with apple cider or apple juice. Add some lemon juice for acidity if you are going to be canning the applesauce. Add the apples. Cook the apples on medium heat (with the lid on to capture the steam) until the apples start to fall apart, about 30-45 minutes or so. If you like a very "appley" taste, start saucing here. Otherwise, it's spicing time!
- Cook the apples down - To intensify the flavor and get a richer, thicker applesauce, add a little salt, then reduce the heat to low and keep cooking the apples down till the liquid has reduced considerably. I let my apples cook down for at least an hour on the stovetop, or for several hours in a crockpot. This is the key for a really flavorful applesauce.
- Sauce the apples - Use a potato masher to smush the apples if you like a chunky applesauce; use an immersion stick blender if you prefer a very smooth, creamy applesauce. Watch out; the apples will be hot! Wear long sleeves and an apron to protect yourself from any splatter.
- Add the spices - Add a bit more salt and some vanilla extract (the good stuff), and stir it all in. Then add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice to taste. If you like ginger, add either finely grated fresh ginger or a small amount of powdered ginger. (Ginger and cloves get more powerful with time, so go easy ─ a little goes a looooong way!) Stir the spices into the sauce and let it cook down even more. Keep a lid on to minimize any splatter.
- Sweeten the sauce - Add sugar or sweetener only at the very end of the process, and taste the sauce before adding to estimate how much you will need. Some recipes call for several cups of sugar, but I only add about 1/2 c. or so of white sugar to a pretty big pot of sauce. Some people add just a touch of honey, but I find the honey can overwhelm the apple taste. Brown sugar adds a bit of caramel taste, which can be tasty. Cook the sauce a bit longer, then taste and adjust as needed.
- Pour the sauce into heated jars - Using a measuring cup, ladle or funnel, pour the hot sauce into pre-heated, sterilized jars, leaving a bit of extra room on top. If canning, follow standard canning directions and immediately do a waterbath can for about 20 minutes (adjusting for altitude and jar size as needed). Let sit in the hot water for 5-10 minutes more to minimize air pockets and oxidation, then remove and cool on a towel. If freezing the sauce, let the jars cool on a towel for a few hours, then refrigerate overnight. Put into your freezer the next day. Label your jars with the date the applesauce was made.
|image from oldworldfarms.com|
Our Spicy Applesauce is the best I've ever had, bar none, and I really do love the ginger version too. It's so wonderful to have on hand all through the year. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
This is definitely a very rich, flavorful applesauce, so if you like your sauce watery and appley like store apple sauces, you might not care for it. But if you are open to an applesauce that it has a little deeper, smokier, and spicier flavor, this is your baby.
And the nice thing is, it doesn't use much sugar. That's not for dieting considerations, but just to minimize sugar intake to stay healthy. To get such a rich flavor experience with so little added sugar is definitely a win-win situation!
The key is using several different apple varieties, cooking the apples in cider, adding salt and vanilla, and cooking the apples down thoroughly. This potentiates the natural sweetness of the apples and brings out their richer, deeper flavors.