If you have an abundance of apples every fall, you know that all of that goodness must be preserved somehow. While homemade pie filling, jelly, jam, juice, and cider are all delicious ways to use up some of the surplus, they're all also high in sugar.
As a busy home-schooling mom, I want the foods I spend my precious time preserving to be versatile and as healthy as possible – foods that can be used in a variety of ways. For instance, something I can pull off the shelf to feed my visiting friend's baby, a healthy dessert option for the diabetic couple from church, and something I can use as is or incorporated into some of our favorite go-to recipes. Applesauce is just the thing.
Aside from the time-consuming job of peeling, applesauce is a pretty quick canning project. It's an efficient and scrumptious way to use up a lot of apples, whether picked fresh from your own trees or purchased from the local orchard, and it's an excellent sweet and healthy treat to serve for dessert when you don't have time to bake something – or when you simply don't want something laden with sugar. Of course, it goes without saying that store-bought versions don't hold a candle to fresh, home-canned applesauce.
Every apple variety has its own specific flavor and texture, and our family is partial to the more tart varieties, such as McIntosh and Red Stayman Winesap. The assortment of choices is vast, and you can be creative in concocting your own flavorful applesauce potpourri to suit your personal taste preferences. If you want, you can even add other fruits, such as pears, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blueberries, or spices like cinnamon or cloves.
When it comes to chunky or smooth, it seems that applesauce connoisseurs have their own preference, much like folks do regarding peanut butter. Whether you like chunks in your applesauce or you prefer it thick and smooth, when you can it yourself, you get to customize just how chunky or smooth your own recipe is.
If you get your apples at an orchard, and they have bruised or end-of-season apples on the cheap, take advantage of the savings, as the flavor of your applesauce will be unaffected.
How to Make All-Natural Sugar-Free Applesauce
Clean and sterilize seven to eight wide-mouth quart canning jars, and keep them hot. (If the jars are cold when you place the hot applesauce in them, they are likely to break.) I typically either set my jars in a clean/sanitized sink full of very hot water, or place them on the rack in the oven, set at the lowest temperature. The important thing is that the jars are really clean and really hot.
Place the lids in a pan with water, and bring to a slow boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, and let simmer.
Peel, core, and cut 20 pounds of apples, which is equivalent to half a bushel, into chunks. It doesn't matter how big or small your chunks are, as long as they're consistent so they cook down at the same rate. If you're going to use a food strainer, you can skip the peeling and coring step.
Place the apple chunks in a large stainless steel stockpot, and add a little water to prevent the apples from sticking. Stir the apples frequently as they cook, and if it seems like they're sticking to the bottom, add a little more water. Don't add a large amount of water all at once, but instead add small amounts. You don't want too much water, or your applesauce will be watery.
Stir in one-quarter cup lemon juice, and continue cooking until all the apples are soft and mushy. If you didn't peel and core your apples, wait until after you've run them through the food strainer to add the lemon juice.
Remove from heat, and let stand for about five minutes to begin to cool. If you're using a food strainer, run the apples through it, and put the applesauce back into the pot. Now you can add the lemon juice. Heat the mixture on the stove, bringing it to a gentle boil.
If you're not using a food strainer, you'll need to process the apples to your desired consistency. You can mash the apples with a food masher for a chunkier applesauce, or you can run them through a blender or food processor (in batches) for a smoother consistency. Once processed, return the applesauce to the pot, and bring the mixture to a gentle boil.
Remove the jars from wherever you have them heating. Place a wide funnel on top of a jar, and ladle in the hot applesauce, leaving a headspace of one-half inch. Wipe the rim of the jar clean with a cloth. Remove a lid from the simmering saucepan, place it on the jar, and then screw on a ring. Place the jar on a rack in a water-bath canner. Repeat with remaining applesauce and jars until the canner is full.
Fill the canner with hot water until the jars are covered. Bring canning water to a boil, and boil the jars of applesauce for about 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Carefully remove the jars from the canner, and place them on a towel to cool for 24 hours. Then check to make sure all the lids sealed. If they sealed properly, the middle of the lid should not flex up and down when pressed.
Now label the jars, and store all that golden goodness!
• If the thought of peeling loads of apples is unappealing to you, consider purchasing an apple corer/peeler. This device can save a lot of time when making applesauce or pie filling. I found one at a local thrift store for $10. New ones run about $25, but the cost is worth the time saved if you plan to make canning applesauce an annual endeavor.
• Many folks like to use a food strainer when making applesauce. This tool relieves you of the need to peel and core your apples, as it does the separating for you after everything is cooked down.
• Though the food strainer is handy, a person does not need lots of fancy tools for making applesauce. A simple potato masher can do the trick for making a chunky-style applesauce, and we use a basic food blender to purée our applesauce to our smooth-as-silk preferred consistency. A stick blender would also work, if you have one.
• Wide-mouth jars make for less mess during the canning process, and also make it easier to get every last delicious drop of applesauce from the jar after opening it.