To say that my family has a fondness for apples would be an epic understatement. Obsession may be a more appropriate term. I currently have a forty-pound box of apples in my kitchen. That’s no exaggeration. Eighty apples are just calling my name! For us, buying in bulk just makes sense; it also saves cents as well. Purchasing items in bulk almost always saves you money. You may have to do a bit of foot work to hunt down buying options, but they’re out there to be found.
Some of those burgundy beauties will become pie, others crisps, but most of them will become one of my signature dishes: applesauce. Some people are known for their incredible baking prowess, others can make a lasagna like no other. Me? It’s applesauce. Whenever I make a batch, I am sure to pass along some to share. I am inevitably asked for the recipe. When I hand it over, most people pause, look perplexed, and question whether I am holding out on them. I assure them that the recipe card they hold in their hands produces the applesauce they love. Why are they surprised? My recipe only contains three ingredients: apples, water, and cinnamon. Nothing more, nothing less. There are, however, two simple requirements that are needed to make this ordinary dish, extraordinary: time and love. Remove those two elements from the process and you have nothing more extraordinary than store-bought quality applesauce. But, add them to the mix, and you have something special, something that will be etched in the minds of people.
It all starts with the right apples. This is key. I am a huge fan of Stayman Winesap apples, preferably local. At their peak, they produce an applesauce with such natural sweetness, that it would be criminal to add sugar to them; it would almost be an insult. When I tell people that there is no added sugar in the applesauce, they are usually quite surprised.
To get started I begin by peeling, coring, and sectioning each apple. I typically peel all the apples at once, then core them all at once, and finally section each apple at once. I then cut each section into three relatively uniform chunks and begin to fill my 8 quart stockpot. Ten pounds of apples just about fills my pot and produces between 3-4 quarts of applesauce.
To the apples add 1/3 cup of water. That’s it. Don’t be tempted to add more. As the apples cook they will begin to release their own juices. Too much liquid in the pot will literally drown the apples. Next, begin to heat the pot on the stovetop over medium heat. You will begin to hear the water bubble; this is your clue to reduce the heat to low and cover. Allow the apples to “cook” for about one hour. I place quotes around “cook” because I liken the cooking process more to steaming.
Every ten minutes or so, carefully remove the lid and stir the contents with a wooden spoon. You’ll need a little bit of muscle power to transfer the apples from the bottom of the pot, to the top. During the cooking time you must be careful to not boil the apples. As more and more liquid enters the mix from the apples, you will need to be more and more watchful. Most often you will be able to hear if the stove heat is too high, as you will hear the liquid bubbling loudly. The overall key to success here is to allow the apples to naturally breakdown. Just keep saying, “Low and slow. Low and slow.” I promise you, it will be worth it.
Once you begin to see that the apples are beginning to fall apart, turn off the heat, and gently mash the apples with a potato masher. This applesauce is best a bit on the chunky side, so don’t mash too much. When the applesauce reaches the desired consistency, stir in one teaspoon of ground cinnamon. This amount of cinnamon provides just a subtle flavor. For a more pronounced cinnamon flavor, add an additional half teaspoon. The addition of cinnamon at the end of the cooking process is important. If I were to add cinnamon at the beginning of the cook time, it would transform into a bitter syrup…not what we are looking for.
So what makes this applesauce so different? (1) It is thick and hearty; hold some on a spoon upside down and that applesauce isn’t going anywhere. I’ve never been fond of watery applesauce; the water dilutes all of the delicious apple flavor right out. No good! (2) Good quality apples are key. The longer they are allowed to ripen on the tree, the sweeter they will be. The sweeter the apples are, the better your applesauce will be. That’s why local apples are best if you can get’em. (3) This applesauce is allowed to cook slow. I am getting old enough to say this: almost anything worthwhile in life takes time. This applies to food as well. Slow food is good food. (4) This applesauce is made with love. I seriously think that love should be listed as an ingredient because without it, almost anything you make will be missing something!
This recipe yields enough for you to keep some and give some away.
Homestyle Chunky Applesauce
10 pounds Stayman Winesap Apples, peeled, cored, quartered
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon