Several of you have expressed interest in learning to preserve seasonal produce, so I thought I’d do a quick post on preserving apples 3 ways. This will be quick, easy and oh-my-word, the satisfaction you’ll feel when you’ve taken a bag of apples and turned it into 3 amazing treats in a day’s time! So let’s dive right into this with a quick primer on apple varieties. The best option for a newby to canning is to find a nice all-purpose apple. Some apples cook down to mush, which is fine if you’re committed to making a LOT of applesauce. Some apples stay firm when they’re cooked, which is fine if all you’re doing is making pies. If you can locate an all-purpose apple, it will allow for several different options when you get it home. All purpose apples can be made into sauce, salads or pies and are good eaten straight out of the bag. Varieties will vary according to your region and the season, so it’s best to ask a local orchard for recommendations, but some common all-purpose apple varieties may include Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, Empires, Ida Reds, Johnathons and MacIntoshes. So now that you’ve picked an apple variety let’s get to work preserving apples by making applesauce, apple butter and apple leathers.
By far, the peeling, coring and slicing will take longer than any other aspect of this job, so if you have a countertop peeler/slicer, BY ALL MEANS use it! If not, I find bribery is quite effective.
I use this one and have found it extremely effective: Prepworks by Progressive Apple Peeler and Corer Machine
Peel, core and slice your apples and place them in a deep stock pot with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pot to prevent scorching. You’ll need to pay close attention to this; if they boil dry, the natural sugars will scorch in 2 shakes of a lamb’s tail. Set your stock pot over a med-low heat and let it come to a slow simmer. This step takes time, my friends, so don’t try to rush it. Stirring frequently, let the apples cook til they’re tender and translucent. Depending on the variety you chose, they’ll probably retain their shape, but will mush up easily when you smash them with the back of the spoon. Using either a food mill or blender, puree the cooked apples in small batches and return them to your stock pot over a low heat. You’ve just made applesauce. At this point you can sweeten with sugar and flavor to taste (we love a little ginger in ours!), return to a simmer, ladle into hot canning jars, add 2 piece lids and process in a boiling water bath (15 mins/pts, 20 mins/qts). Done! How easy was that?! Here’s a very detailed set of instructions for you to follow.
Okay, so you’ve followed the instructions and you have a big lovely pot of pureed apples but you don’t want to can plain old applesauce. No problem! We’ll take this a few steps farther and by the time the day is through, you’ll have a finished batch of apple butter. You simply measure out your pureed apples, add sugar, tons of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves or allspice and slowly cook it down til it’s reduced by 50% or more. You can do this on the stove top, which is quick but more apt to scorch, or you can put it in a crock pot and let it cook down slow over the course of many hours. Either way will yield the same results. So how do you know when it’s cooked down adequately? The spoon test! Carefully (watch for steam and splatters!) scoop up a rounded spoonful of apple butter and hold it at eye-level. If the apple butter remains mounded up on the spoon, it’s ready to go! If the apple butter flattens out into the bowl of the spoon, it needs to cook down a little longer. (This is the art, not the science, of food preservation!) Once you’ve determined that your sauce has indeed cooked down into butter, ladle it into hot jars, add your 2 piece lid and process according to directions, typically 10 mins for pints and 15 for quarts.
So now you have oodles of apple butter and you’re not sure you’ll actually eat it all before next fall….here’s what you do! Fruit leathers! This is one of my favorite means of preserving apples! You have a couple options for drying your fruit leathers, but I’d be lying to you if I told you I do anything but use a dehydrator. I’ve been using a L’equip model dehydrator for nearly 10 years and have nothing but good to say about it!
(This is the model I use! L’EQUIP 528 6 Tray Food Dehydrator, 500-watt )
Using either an oven or dehydrator, you pour your fruit puree onto a sheet of plastic wrap (or parchment paper, my preference) in a thin layer of perhaps 1/8th of an inch thick. Smooth it out so that it’s as even as you can make it…this will prevent underdrying/overdrying, especially if you’re doing a large batch. Dehydrate the puree at 140 degrees for 8 hours in a dehydrator, up to 18 hours in the oven or until the center of the puree is no longer squishy (technical term there). Once it’s dried, you roll it up and wrap it in plastic wrap. These typically don’t last long if you have children around! Precise, step-by-step directions can be found here.
How cool was that? You begin with one bag of apples and end up with 3 entirely different finished products. You’ll find in the world of food preservation, you can use that step-by-step method we just used preserving apples with several different varieties of fruits and veggies. Tomatoes chopped, simmered and put through a food mill will yield tomato juice. Cook down the juice for 30 minutes or so, and you have a delicious tomato sauce. Cook down further and you have tomato paste. All of which can be water-bathed and in the pantry or fridge in a day’s time. If you find this type of post helpful, let me know and I’ll be sure to follow up with some more “3 Ways” posts in the coming seasons! Til next time, my friends!