Homemade Applesauce

DSCN0687How could I let the month of October go by without an apple recipe?

Growing up, every Sunday we would pile into the car and go about eight miles to Ellie’s to pick up our weekly apples. Ellie reminded me a lot of my Grandma Koli, and she had a wonderful farm stand and gift shop, which was a bit on the old-fashioned side with little china trinkets. (It was the first time I saw the sign, “you break it, you buy it” which always led me to wonder if I actually had enough money in my piggy bank, just in case!) Ellie always let my brother, sister, and myself pick out one apple to munch on the way home. The apples would be in wooden crates and I would always dig through to find the biggest, reddest apple. It is an autumn tradition I remember fondly.

Subconsciously–or not–I’ve continued this tradition every fall. The apple orchard in our little town used to be on my long Sunday walk, so I would walk, pick up my apples (and cider doughnuts), and then walk back, exercising off the just-eaten doughnuts. But a few years ago, they moved their “store” to their other orchard, a few miles away that is not on my regular walking route. I have walked it, but it’s on a main road and my backpack would be laden down with apples, cider, and sometimes maple syrup, so it’s just not fun. Since the move, I drive over every Sunday after 4 p.m., when the apple picking crowd is starting to thin, and select my apples and Concord grapes for the week.

Helpful Kitchen Tip: I use Cortland apples for both applesauce and pies, as their flavor is sweet, not too tart, and they have a bit of water which is good for baking. If you select a harder apple, like a McIntosh, they will be great, they’ll just take longer to cook and more sweetener, depending on your taste. Another tip, if you have a food mill, you don’t have to worry about paring the apples; just core, dice, and the food mill will eliminate the skins for you! Cooking with the skins on adds a bit of pink to the sauce!

Homemade applesauce is delicious and easy to make. All you have to do is peel and dice some apples, put it in a saucepan with a little bit of water, and leave it on the stove top to cook. Add some more water, if needed, sweetener, cinnamon and/or nutmeg, and you’re done! And this time of year is perfect; a roasted chicken, some roasted root veggies, a simple green salad, and you have a perfect autumn meal to warm you on a chilly evening!

Homemade Applesauce
I like my applesauce to have a little bit of texture, so I sometimes don’t cook the apples fully, so there are pieces of apple. Honey adds a different layer of flavor, but you can always use white or brown sugar.

4 Cortland apples, fairly large
1-2 Tablespoons honey or sugar
¼ cup of water, more if necessary

1. With a paring knife, peel and dice the apples. Place in a saucepan with ¼ cup of water.

2. On low heat, cook the apples, occasionally stirring them. Add more water, a quarter cup at a time, if you find they are getting too dry. When the sauce it at the consistency you like, add one tablespoon of honey or sugar, taste test, and add more to get the right sweetness.

3. Add cinnamon and nutmeg to taste. You can keep this in the refrigerator for at least four weeks.

Just in Time for Halloween!
In case you missed this recipe last year, I thought I’d bring it to you again. Surprisingly enough to me, it was my most popular recipe EVER! Sadly, it is not my own, but it was fun to make and you could whip up a batch this weekend for the little trick-or-treaters who will knock on the door next Thursday or give away to your co-workers like I did!

Candy Corn Cookies

Naked Apple Pie

After fighting tooth and nail to extend summer, when October rolled around, I knew I lost my battle. The leaves are changing, it continues to get darker earlier each day, and the biggie, we finally had to turn the heat on! So I figured if we’re going into another season, I’m going to jump in head first. Weekly trips to the apple orchard have brought me my favorites, Jonagold and Ginger Gold. And side dishes for dinner have turned to squashes, root vegetables, and dark hardy greens.

This recipe is one my mom gave me years ago and I still make at least once a year. Basically it’s an apple pie with no crust, but it’s more than that; with the baking powder and egg, there is a little bit of fluffiness between the apples, which almost steam in the oven. Eating this warm topped with cream or some vanilla ice cream, it will make you forget about the loss of light and all the other goodies summer brings. You can even eat it for breakfast!

Naked Apple Pie
I like to use Cortland apples for my pies; if you use a sweeter apple, you can, of course, cut down on the sugar. A perfect dessert to take along to a potluck; the only real work is cutting up the apples!

½ c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
6-7 peeled, pared, diced apples
½ c. nuts, optional (if using, I use walnuts)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Add the egg and vanilla and stir.
4. Add the apples and nuts, if using.

Bake in a greased pie pan or small cake pan after topping with cinnamon and nutmeg for roughly 30 minutes, or until apples are soft.

It’s Autumn!

Note the miniature hunter's moon!

Although we’ve only had two evenings of a hard frost, it definitely is autumn in Vermont. It’s dark when I awake and turns dark soon after I return home from work. Long early evening walks have been moved to weekend days. The foliage is a brilliant orangey-yellow this year, yet with some rainstorms, the leaves are slowing falling. It’s time to make an appointment to put on the snow tires.

So with the change of seasons, comes a change in the kitchen. Dinners and lunches are soups, stews, and hardier meals. Gone are the days of salad suppers, the oven is now on and we’re eating food to warm the heart and soul: curried chicken, vegetable soups, lots of roasted root vegetables. So turns the page to another season, and another way of looking at–and cooking–food. Below are small pieces on two of my favorite fall foods, apples and homemade doughnuts.

Apple Salad a.k.a. Waldorf Salad
Every Sunday afternoon, from September through November, you can find me at our apple orchard a couple of miles away, selecting a week’s worth of apples, cider, and in October, my favorites, Concord grapes. This year my favorite apples are Greenings, a slightly sweeter version of a Granny Smith. With a little bit of peanut butter or cottage cheese, they are a perfect snack. But I usually tuck a couple of Macintosh apples in my bag for a salad.

Sometimes, I tire of the usual green salad accompaniment for dinner, or for dinner, and I whip up a quick apple salad, especially this time of year, since apples are plentiful. The only thing that takes time is cutting the apples, and if you don’t peel them, it takes even less time. Tossing everything into a bowl, mixing in the dressing, and you have a bright and nutritious fruit salad. And you can make it for one eater or ten!

I fixed this for a luncheon potluck one winter and it must have been memorable, because I received a request for the recipe more than six months later! I think of it as more of a fall/winter salad, but it truly is delicious any time of the year, as long as your apples are fresh!

In a mixing bowl, combine:
— Chopped, diced, unpeeled apples (although can be peeled if you prefer)
— One to two stalks, chopped celery
— A handful of chopped walnuts or almonds
— A couple of handfuls of raisins or currents

Add a choice of:
— mayonnaise
— mayonnaise and sour cream
— mayonnaise and plain yogurt

Mix until combined. The dressing should lightly cover the ingredients, just a couple of tablespoons each, it shouldn’t be heavy and thick. Chill in fridge, then serve!

Doughnut Days
When the calendar turns to September and October, the days start getting shorter, and there is a crispness in the air, it means one thing in my mom’s house: time to get out the large cast iron skillet and make some doughnuts! This fall tradition has been around as long as I can remember. Now, although our family is even bigger, we still gather together for an afternoon of making–and eating–doughnuts.

This year, the tradition continued, although we were missing a couple of family members. I never miss this day; as many can attest, I am not a sweets person, but I do love doughnuts!

The big wooden cutting board is pulled out, and Mom rolls out the dough and then cuts each one carefully. No dough gets wasted, and my favorite doughnuts are the holes and pieces, because they are crisp, yet soft. The first batch goes in, and a few minutes later are draped onto a paper towel. I usually burn my tongue because I can’t wait to eat one from that first batch; it’s always the best.

Although I’m constantly watching my waistline, I brought a small bag home that I promptly stuck in the freezer for later eats. Relaxing on a Sunday morning after a long walk with dark coffee and a homemade doughnut is about as good as it gets!

MY Best Ever Apple Pie

(Writer’s note: I thought this would go unnoticed, but not by some astute readers. (Mom.) I am now going to post one article a week, Wednesday morning. I may on occasion write more, but I was beginning to feel pressured to put out two pieces weekly. (My own fault, I tend to be ambitious and committed to what I set out to do!) Rather than pass along two mediocre pieces, I will focus on just one for the time being. But winters in Vermont are long, so who knows!

A baker I am not, but when I read about the “Best Ever Apple Pie Contest” at our local harvest festival, a competitor I am! For the past couple of years, I’ve thought about entering this contest. While I have been making apple pie since I was about 12, it’s only been for friends and family. Could I win a blue ribbon from a panel of apple pie loving judges?

Like any good athlete, I went into training. Heck, it had been almost a year since I made my last apple pie, so I was rusty. I took Macintosh Apples, my usual butter crust, and made this one evening when I got home from work. The adage from the Joy of Cooking, “moisture out, dry air in,” is very true. The evening was just right, probably high 60s, and no humidity. The pie crust was gorgeous. The filling, according to my number one eater, was light on the sugar and cinnamon. I made a mental note to up both the next time. I also found it was a bit mushy, since Macs have a lot of water. The rest of the pie went off to a book club to be enjoyed.

Note: Two mistakes made here. One, I added the sugar and cinnamon to the apples when they were in the pie dish as opposed to mixing them in a bowl. This is the way I learned, but I don’t think you get the full incorporation of everything. Also, I used an apple corer. While this is really handy kitchen tool, it makes the apples almost instantaneously brown. Maybe I have a cheap model, but it won’t be used for pies again.

I decided to do some research and find out what is the best apple to make a pie. I think the jury is still out on that. Our local apple farmer said Macintosh and Cortlands; he told me the Sweet Williams I had just bought for Pie #2 were not going to do. I’ve never been picky about my apples for pie, I always figure if I have the right ratio of the sweet/tart of the apple to the sugar and spices, anything will taste good.

So, Pie #2 was with the errant Sweet Williams and a Crisco crust. Talking with friends–and eaters of Pie #1 Saturday morning–I was reminded some judges may be traditionalists, they’d want a lard or Crisco crust. Since I was on my way to the grocery store, I put Crisco on my list. They now make them in sticks, easier than the way I used to make it growing up, by glopping the white stuff into a measuring cup and taking two days to get the cup clean.

This is where I sometimes get myself in trouble in the kitchen. Two sticks of butter to two cups of flour for a butter crust. I swear I read two sticks of Crisco to two cups of flour. As I was mixing it up, I noticed there was way too much Crisco to the flour. I had misread it, it was supposed to be ¾ of one stick! To the compost pile I went, came back, made another crust with the correct ingredients, but I just couldn’t get it together. I thought it was too wet, added more flour, then it was too dry, added more water. It was a big mess and hence, didn’t leave the house it looked so horrible. Taste-wise, the crust was very flaky, and surprisingly enough, the Sweet Williams were a good apple for the pie. The upped sugar and cinnamon also were good.

I bought fixings for yet another pie, but didn’t get around to making it. The first-place pie wins $50, so I figured I didn’t want to spend that on just prepping, so I set everything aside for “the” pie.

Ready for the oven!

Pie day, I set the alarm for 6:45, but woke up a little after 6. Heck, that was sleeping in for me and plus, I was a little anxious. I heard the pitter patter of rain on the roof. Great. I thought I’d have to be doubly careful with the weather, but luckily the skies parted around 8.
Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “Write what you know,” and I’ll take that one step further, “Cook what you know.” Back to the butter crust I went and I used Cortlands. The apples were fairly large, so I used five instead of six. For sugar, Pie #1 had ¼ cup, Pie #2 was ½ cup. Tasting the Cortlands, they are a bit on the sweeter side, so I put in ⅓ cup of sugar, then got worried and added another tablespoon. One teaspoon of cinnamon, and once the pie was in the dish, added a spritz of lemon juice, and dotted it with one tablespoon of butter and freshly grated nutmeg.

I find it’s easier to prep the apples before making the crust, I don’t know if that’s the traditional way, but that’s how I like to do it. I should have taken the butter out to warm a little bit while I prepped the apples, but I didn’t. So I found myself doing the previous night’s dinner dishes and baking dishes while I let the butter warm a bit in the bowl before mixing the crust. I used my favorite bread-making bowl for good luck!

I’ve always wanted to make really fancy designs on my crust, but decided to go with my traditional “star,” which really isn’t a star, but more of what I like to think of as fancy air vents. No matter, when I pulled it out of the oven, one of the vents caved, plus my lovely crimping fell! I was less than pleased with the appearance of the pie, since that was 25 percent of my score, but there was nothing I could do about it now. I like to think of it as a rustic pie!

My final "rustic" apple pie.

* * * * *

We rushed into town, joking if we got pulled over by Sheriff George, he could give us a police escort. I got to the table with just minutes to spare and was given Number 4, which I thought was a good sign, because my birthday is in April. We stopped by on occasion to scope out the rest of the competition. There ended up being seven in total, two had crumble crusts; mine, in my opinion, was the most authentic looking.

Alas, I wish I could tell you I ended up winning the first-place apron and blue ribbon, but I didn’t. They only awarded first place, but was told only one point separated first from second. A little disappointed, we walked back to the car, holding my head high, knowing at least those close to me think I make a good apple pie, and that I stepped out of my comfort zone to participate; you will never know the outcome if you don’t take the risk!

I think the next time I want to either make or eat an apple pie will be Thanksgiving!

Chris’s Best Ever Apple Pie

• 5-6 Cortland apples
• ⅓ cup plus 1 Tablespoon white sugar
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• A spritz of lemon juice
• 1 Tablespoon freshly grated nutmeg

• 2 cups white flour (King Arthur preferred)
• 2 stick of salted butter
• Dash of salt
• 5-6 Tablespoons ice water (more or less depending on how much you need, go by the feel of the crust)

For the filling, cut the apples into fourths, cut out the core, peel and slice and put into a large mixing bowl. (Sometimes when I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll peel the entire apple, then cut and slice.) Add the sugar and cinnamon and mix.

With a pastry blender (my preference) or two forks, work the butter into the flour until it resembles pebbles or grain. Add the dash of salt. Sprinkle three tablespoons of water into the crust, mix and keep adding water until everything comes together. Cut in half. Add flour to your counter or pastry cloth. Form a circle with the dough, and start rolling it out, one way, then turning in a circle. Once it’s completely rolled out, place it in a buttered pie dish. Add the apples, lemon, butter, and nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Repeat with process with the top crust. (I put the top crust in the freezer while I was doing this, so it would be easier to work with.) Make some air vents toward the middle of the crust and crimp either with your fingers or a fork.

Bake a 450 degrees for 10 minutes, then 350 degrees for 30 minutes.