Tuesday, October 1, 2013

super sides: crock pot apple sauce

After coming home with nearly 18 pounds of apples from a local orchard last Sunday, I certainly had some work to do. I'm hoping to have plenty of apples for pies in the coming months (we were told at the orchard that if you put the apples in a plastic bag in the coldest part of your fridge, they will last 6-9 months...amazing!), but I also wanted to try making apple sauce for the first time.

I found a couple of recipes online, and decided to go with the crock pot version. Making apple sauce in the crock pot is perfect because you can prepare the apples in the evening, then let them cook all night. When you wake up, you have warm apple sauce ready for breakfast. Plan about a half an hour for prep time and 3 hours cooking time if setting your crock pot temperature to high, or overnight for a lower temperature setting. I made quite a few adaptations to the original recipe, which are all noted in the description below.

what you need:
3-4 lbs apples (peeled, sliced and cored)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon (or other spices - nutmeg, ginger, cloves, allspice, etc.)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup water
crock pot
hand potato masher (or food processor or blender)
kitchen scale (not necessary, but helpful)

what you do:
1. Rinse, peel, slice and core your apples. I do all of this by hand rather than use and apple coring device.
2. Measure the quantity of apples either by weight or volume. If using a kitchen scale, don't forget to tare the scale with the empty container on it before adding the apple slices. If your scale does not have a tare feature, weigh the empty container first, then subtract its weight from the total weight of the container and apple slices. If measuring by volume, 3 pounds of apples was around 16 cups. The original recipe calls for 4 lbs of apples, but my crock pot got pretty full around 3 lbs.
3. Dump all of the apple slices into the crock pot. Then add the sugar, cinnamon (or other spices), lemon juice and water, stirring all of the ingredients together in the crock pot. I added measurements in the ingredient list as a starting point, but I eyeballed the amount of lemon juice and cinnamon. You can omit the sugar from this recipe completely, adjust the amount, or perhaps try another sweetener like honey or maple syrup. Also, the 1 cup of water is for 4 lbs of apples, but it did not make my apple sauce too thin, even with only 3 lbs of apples.
4. Cover your crock pot and set the temperature. The original recipe calls for 3 hours on high or 6 hours on low. I cooked my apples on high for about 2 hours (stirring the apples a few times), and when I went to bed, I changed the temperature to the "keep warm" setting to continue cooking overnight.
5. After the apples have cooked, turn your crock pot off and use the hand potato masher to mash the apples right in the crock pot. They should be soft enough to mash into a nice consistency sauce with some small chunks. If using a blender or food processor, ladle apple slices (they are still whole) and liquid from the bottom of the crock pot into the blender or food processor in small batches. Use a pulse setting until the apples are just blended. Make sure all of the liquid is used - that's where all the flavor is!  
If you've made a larger batch than you can eat fresh, apple sauce can be canned using the water bath method, and can also be frozen in air-tight containers or freezer/food storage bags.

I'm usually in such a rush in the mornings that I never make time for breakfast. In fact, the same container of oats is still unopened on my counter from when I bought it about 3 weeks ago and haven't had time to make stove top oatmeal for breakfast. It was so nice to wake up to a pot of warm apple sauce and get to enjoy it first thing in the morning.

sunday funday: apple season

We had amazing weather on Sunday, and local apples were ripe for picking, which meant an afternoon spent at the apple orchard - after we stuffed ourselves silly on some amazing wings (priorities, you know). Ashley and I headed to an orchard in one of the city's northern neighboring counties, and it looked like everyone else had the same idea. We got to the orchard and waited in a line of cars until we were directed to a place to park. There were lines of people everywhere - a line to get into the market, a line of people waiting to hop on the wagon for a ride to the orchard and a line of people with full bags of apples waiting to pay. Not one to waste time standing in lines and not wanting to waste such a nice afternoon, I almost suggested we ditch the idea and find something else to do. I'm glad we stuck to our plans, because it ended up being a great afternoon.

I was really hoping to load up on honeycrisp apples, but the biggest part of the orchard open for picking that afternoon was full of piƱata apples. We were told they're a newer variety, really sweet and great for baking or eating. We had fun climbing the ladders to get the apples from the tops of the trees and filled our bags up pretty quickly. Ashley ended up with 11.5 pounds of apples and I think I left with somewhere around 18 pounds. He's looking forward to brewing another apple beer, and of course I want mine for baking (first, apple sauce!). And we may or may not have snuck around to one of the unopened rows and picked a few contraband apples.

As we were walking back to the car and stuffing our faces with fresh apple cider donuts (is there anything better than a warm apple cider donut sprinkled with sugar?), we saw two hot air balloons on the horizon. Well, what else are you going to do on a late Sunday afternoon other than chase them down? Off we went! We wound our way through back roads and neighborhoods until we spotted the chase vans and were close to the balloons. It was so cool! You could see the flames at the base of the balloon and make out the shape of a few people in the basket. They must have had an amazing view from all the way up there!

If I keep up the baking frenzy, maybe we'll make it back to the orchard another time or two before the season's over.