Today I start the 10th batch of apples for sauce and fruit leathers. I already have around 100 quarts canned for the rest of the year. Due to the bumper crop of apples this year we have had an abundance of apples. Apple sauce, apple chips (dehydrated apples), apple pie filling, apples in light syrup, apple leather, raw apples, apple dumpling, apple pie just a few of the ways we have already prepared. Everyone says apple butter, but no one in our house actually likes apple butter.
I cook about 40 lbs of apples at a time and get about 12 quarts of applesauce from that. That is the largest stock pot I have that will fit on our stove. Everyone has their own recipe, and I have tried a bunch. What I have found that works best for me is; it is simple, uses little supplies or ingredients, and has little to no waste. I have anywhere between 3 and 4 ingredients; Apples, water, lemon juice, and sometimes sugar. Sugar is added if I overdo it with lemon juice, or the apples just are not sweet enough. We tried making some with cinnamon, but all the kids liked the plain better. Typical applesauce from the store has; APPLES, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, WATER, ASCORBIC ACID (VITAMIN C). Sometimes there are more chemicals than that. I may add 1 cup of sugar to 12 quarts of applesauce. And ½ cup of lemon juice. The lemon juice is a preservative and keeps the color from turning brown when the apples oxidize.
Here is my process. I use the whole apple, core, peel and all. I quarter them for faster processing and cooking, it also allows me to see if any bugs are in the cores. Those go directly to the chickens. All the good quarters go into a big stock pot. Some recipes call for peeling, and coring them. That is more work than I want to put in. The bonus is there is so much more nutrition and benefits in the peal.
After ALMOST filling the pot, I take 2-4 quarts of water mixed with ½ cup lemon juice. Pour all over the apples before you start cooking. This will help the sauce from turning too brown. The lemon juice acidifies the sauce, and also keeps the apples from turning brown. You need a slightly acidic sauce for proper canning to prevent spoilage. Lesson learned from one of my batched. One recipe called for adding the lemon juice after cooking and processing. The sauce was a brown color and the kids weren’t real crazy about it, even though it tasted exactly the same as other batches.
If you fill you pot too full with apples this is what happens after you start to cook. Lesson learned; do not fill it ALL the way with apples. You do not need to cover the apples with liquid either.
I cook on high for a while, and then turn down the heat to medium. I rarely measure unless for the first time with a recipe, and rarely time things. My wife hates this about me cooking. When I explain to her that not all stoves, pots, etc. are the same, and some heat differently, cook differently. She sighs and states “Whatever”. I leave the apples on until they are tender on the top (the bottoms will be mush at this point. I go off and do other things, dishes, getting jars ready etc. until the house starts smelling like apple pie. Very important, do not turn on the burner until the water/lemon mixture is poured over the top. Lesson learned. The bottom apples can scorch, and then once it all cooks together and you spend the time to make the sauce, it tastes like burnt sugar/apples.
If you have a stand mixer I cannot recommend highly enough getting one of these, food mils. Well worth the investment. If you do not have a stand mixer you can you a hand mill. But if you are going through 500+ lbs of apples, a mechanical one makes all the difference in the world.
I process the cooked apples hot, and put back into a smaller pot until everything is processed and blended. This way I can mix, blend and add sugar if it is necessary. The blend of apples we have this year usually does not require any sugar at all. It is better to use a blend of apples if you can, but totally not necessary. Like a wine, you want to blend different grapes with different flavor profiles, and a blend is better for all around taste.
When the apples are processed the pulp comes out looking like this. This is after the first pass.
After straining out all the apples from the liquid that has collected in the bottom of the cooking pot, I will add the pump back and cook it a second time.
It will rehydrate, further break down, and I run it again through the mill. This additional process usually gives me an additional 2-3 quarts of sauce. Less water waste and less pulp waste. After the second cooking I am left with maybe 1 qt of pulp, seeds, stems, and peels.
There is not much waste from 40lbs at the start, and even that is not wasted. Some people will strain the liquid waste and use for apple juice, cider, hard cider or apple vinegar. The juice is just the filtered liquid from cooking, if you let it sit, you get cider when the juice combines with natural yeast in the air. If you let the cider sit you can get hard cider when they yeast ferment the cider to alcohol. If you let the alcohol sit, you can get apple cider vinegar. More work than I want to put into it, and not enough yield for the work. While you are just letting it sit, I forget about these sorts of things, and it ends up looking like a science project. Then I get in trouble with the home boss.
I combine the liquid again with the pump to make a slurry, and feed to the chickens. They love it, it is not wasted, I feed them less purchased feed as a result, and they give me eggs. Permaculture principals at play.
No chickens? Feed them to you worms in the worm bin to make compost, compost tea, and worm castings. No worm bin? Just add to your compost and allow it to break down to rich soil.
Back to the sauce, here is the final batch.
I will taste, usually have one of the kids taste as well. They are the final judge of sweetness. You would think they would want it almost candy tasting, but no. They actually prefer my sauce to that of store bought. After eating our homemade sauce for a while, then eating the store bought while staying with family, they said the store bought was too sweet? WHAT? Up until this last year that is what they ate all the time with no complaints. Go figure.
If no sugar is needed, we move forward, bring to a boil then, and added to cleaned mason jars. Once all the jars are full lids and rings go on. I pressure can everything now that I have one, but you do not need to for applesauce. Heating 10+ quarts of water plus the jars, for a water bath boiler is wasted energy and time in my opinion. Using the pressure canner I can get up to temp and pressure much faster, with less energy. As an added bonus, if I am canning other things such as chicken stock or other things that require the canner I can just throw them in at the same time. Because I use a pressure canner I have found that if the sauce is somewhat thin, it is better for storage. If I have a thick applesauce, then can it, it ends up getting thicker during the process and we need to add water when we open a jar to eat as it is almost like a jam. It is almost hard to describe, I like the sauce as a soup consistency vs. a ketchup consistency prior to canning.
You can experiment as we have with various different blends such as apple-peach, apple-pear, apple-mixed berry, apple-blueberry, apple-strawberry, and apple-carrot (it was an experiment). Everything came out of our gardens so we know that there was nothing sprayed on the skins, or waxes etc. Important note, DO NOT run blackberry or other seeded berry in your kitchen aid mill. The seeds can get clogged and I have read where it can damage it. You also do not have to use sugar as a sweetener, you can use stevia if you have it. I have done this a few times and no one noticed. We also grow our own stevia and I make my own liquid sweetener.