Applesauce is among my earliest canning memories, in the kitchen and on the tongue. My dad grew several varieties of apples, and every year my mom would puree the fruit into dozens of quarts of applesauce. I recall pushing down on softened apples with a wooden mallet while my mother cranked away on the handle of the Victorio food strainer. I called it the “Victoria strainer” and clung to the idea that the British queen once used a similar device.
But my favorite applesauce was made by my grandmother. Grandma Tiny chopped apples by hand for small batches she stored in her freezer. Her “chunky applesauce” outshined all others. Mom’s applesauce did have one advantage: we could pour it onto dehydrator trays and dry it into fruit leather for school lunches. Between the two versions, I was spoiled to all other applesauce and have never been able to stomach commercial forms.
Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup apple cider
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Peel and core the apples; cut them into large chunks. As you work, add the apples to a large, heavy stockpot, tossing them with lemon juice to prevent discoloration. Add the remaining ingredients, and bring the stockpot to a boil. Decrease the heat to a simmer, cover partially, and cook about 15 minutes, until the apples are softened; stir often to keep the batch cooking evenly and prevent the apples from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Remove the pot from the heat. Use a potato masher to coarsely mash the apples with their cooking juices.
Ladle into hot pint jars, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. If desired, set some applesauce aside to cool for fruit leather (see below). Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, plus your altitude adjustment. Alternatively, cool and then freeze in pint containers. Makes about 7 pint jars.
Tips & Tricks
- Although I attribute this to my grandmother, I doubt she ever followed a recipe. The chunkiness is what makes me remember her sauces; the ingredients here are to my personal taste. But apples are acidic enough that the National Center for Home Food Preservation says the fruit alone can be processed in a water bath safely.
- Because you’re cooking down dense apple chunks, it is helpful to add some liquid to the pot to prevent the fruit from burning while it comes to a boil. I prefer apple cider, to enhance the apple flavor, but feel free to just use water.
- If your sauce is too thick after you mash the apples, simply add a little more cider or water; if it’s too thin, return it to the stovetop and cook uncovered at a simmer until it reaches the desired thickness, stirring continually to prevent burning.
- When my mother retired from canning, I inherited the “Victoria strainer.” On bumper-crop years, we pull it out to speed up the process. If you have a similar food strainer, you can do the same. Cook the apples down with the cider for about 10 minutes, and then run them through the food mill before adding the lemon juice, honey, and spices and processing.
- If canning seems like too much effort, you can always follow Grandma Tiny’s lead and freeze your applesauce in freezer-proof containers, leaving plenty of headspace for expansion. If you only have a pound or two of apples, you can still make this recipe and just eat it fresh.
Twice as Tasty
When I was a child, my mother had a dehydrator that was a piece of furniture: a wooden cabinet with doors on the front and an electric cord out the back to power the fan. There was no temperature setting, just air movement. She made all sorts of fruit leathers for our lunchboxes. But she often complained that my favorite—applesauce fruit leather—was twice as much work because you had to make the sauce and then dehydrate it. Twice as tasty though, right?
Food is my favorite gift for friends and family, and after my nephew and niece were born, I played with a lot of ideas for food gifts just for them. Fruit leather instantly came to mind for their preschool lunchboxes. Last Christmas, my 2-year-old niece opened her batch and immediately stashed it in her lunchbox—where she thought it would be safe from her 4-year-old brother.
Auntie Julie’s Fruit Leather
4 cups Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce
1-1/2 pounds apricots (about 4 cups pitted and chopped)
3/4 cup rhubarb syrup
3 cups Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce
1 cup Roasted Pumpkin Puree
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger powder
1/8 teaspoon clove powder
1-1/4 pounds plums (about 3 cups pitted and chopped)
1-1/4 cups Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce
3 cups Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce
3/4 cup reserved raspberry pulp from Roasted Raspberry Syrup or 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries
Puree the ingredients for your chosen flavor combination in a blender, adjusting to taste. Pour the puree onto dryer sheets set on your dehydrator trays, spreading it as smoothly as possible with a spatula. Dehydrate at your machine’s fruit setting (usually 125°F–145°F) for 12–24 hours, until the puree is leathery.
Gently pull the fruit leather off of the dryer sheets, cutting it into appropriately size pieces with kitchen scissors if necessary. Tear off a piece of plastic wrap so that it is just wider than a piece of fruit leather, and place the leather onto the plastic. Fold the leading edge of plastic over the fruit leather, and then begin rolling tightly to the opposite edge, rolling the excess plastic on the trailing edge around the entire roll. If they are overly long, cut off the rolled ends of the plastic with scissors, ensuring you leave enough to protect the fruit leather. Makes 12–15 fruit rolls, depending on your preferred size.
Tips & Tricks
- Unlike my mother’s unheated unit, I have a modern dehydrator with round trays that have a hole in the center for air circulation, so my fruit leather sheets look like doughnuts. I usually use 1 or 1-1/2 cup puree per tray, although it varies with the thickness of the mixture, and cut the leather from each tray into three pieces. With my mother’s square-tray dehydrator, we typically made four puree “pancakes” per tray.
- The thickness of your puree and power of your dehydrator will determine how long you need to dry the fruit leather. It should be leathery, rather than saucy, to the touch. But be sure to stop the dehydrator before the fruit leather begins to crack on the sheets. Once you have used your dehydrator a couple of times, you should have a sense of how long to run it.
- I try to minimize the sugar to my fruit leathers, particularly with the sweetness contributed by the applesauce. But don’t hesitate to blend in 2–4 tablespoons of agave or honey if your fruit ends up being too tart for your little eaters’ palate.