A few weeks ago I got two boxes of Gravenstein apples from The FruitGuys through my association with Slow Food USA. Their fruits are sourced from local and regional farms across the country, supporting small growers, collectives and communities. They offer year-round delivery with your choice of case size, content mix and how often you want to receive it. They are a great way to regularly receive seasonal produce.
Gravensteins are one of the earliest apples to ripen, arriving in late July. Each crispy bite fills your mouth with its wonderful sweet/tart flavor and plenty of juice. First planted in Sonoma County in 1811 by Russian trappers, the Gravenstein is in danger of becoming extinct for a number of reasons, but the most obvious is its difficulty to harvest. They are extremely delicate and perishable making shipping very challenging. It is the perfect tree to have in your backyard where you can pick the apples as they ripen and eat them quickly.
The warm, dry days and cool nights in Sonoma County are perfect for the apple trees. Gravensteins are an interesting apple that differs from all others in one very unique way. Once sliced, other apples quickly turn an unappetizing brown, but the Gravenstein gets a light blush removing the “requirement” to use lemon juice in pies and other apple desserts. They are terrific for eating out of hand or baking. Except for their short season they are the perfect apple!
The minute the boxes arrived our house filled with the unmistakable aroma of freshly picked apples. There are only so many apple pies that we can eat, but freshly made applesauce is healthy, the perfect snack to have on hand and The Artist and I both love it – especially when it is homemade.
The Artist’s father has a large yard with a garden and fruit trees. Each year The Artist would eagerly wait for the apple tree to produce enough fruit to make applesauce. I grew up just the opposite with a mother who hated to cook and used every convenience food available. I never had homemade applesauce until I decided to make it myself one year. I was an instant convert.
Applesauce is one of the easiest things you can make and is perfect for teaching children to cook. It takes very little effort – even less when you use a food mill (see Hint below) – and yields quick rewards. You can experiment with seasonings, different types of sweeteners, and add food coloring for some fun seasonal treats. Little ones will be so proud to serve this to their family and friends.
When I have apples as flavorful as the Gravensteins I don’t add any cinnamon or other spices. I want the beautiful flavor to shine through. But when it is late in the season or I have apples without a lot of personality, tossing in a cinnamon stick or other spices adds a lot to the final product. Use your best judgment and remember you can always sprinkle cinnamon over the top when you serve it if people like that flavor!
The beauty of using a food mill is that there is not need to peel or core the apples before cooking. Just cut them up, throw them in a pot, add a little water and sugar and cook them down. When they are soft, toss everything into the food mill and the grate at the bottom with catch all the solids, forcing the liquid portion through. No fuss, no muss. It is one of my favorite tools and one that I didn’t buy until fairly recently. I just wish I had purchased one years ago!
With a title like The Heritage Cook I am sure you can appreciate my concern about saving our country’s heritage foods. From produce to livestock we are quickly losing many of the things our grandparents took for granted. But there is a growing movement of people fighting to bring back heirloom breeds and varieties and we can help them!
It is a simple matter of voting with our dollars. Every time we buy organic or heirloom products at stores or at the farmer’s market, it sends the message that there is consumer interest and they should keep more of it in stock. Try to buy in-season fruits and vegetables, organic when you can afford it and make the best choices you can.
With apple season beginning, print out this recipe and tape it to the inside of your kitchen cupboard. Then the next time you are at the store or if your family goes to a Pick and Carry orchard, you can easily whip up a batch of your own applesauce.
Have a wonderful time enjoying the pure essence of freshly picked apples!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
A food mill makes extremely quick and easy work of any cooked and pureed foods. I particularly love it for making applesauce, pear butter and tomato sauce from scratch. If you have the room to store it, I would recommend this tool as one that will actually get used!
Homemade Gravenstein Applesauce
Jane Evans Bonacci © 2011
Yield: about 6 to 8 servings
10 to 15 medium-sized heirloom apples such as Gravenstein
3/4 to 1 cup water
Pinch of kosher salt
1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar, depending on the tartness of the apples
1 (4-inch) cinnamon stick, optional
1/4 tsp ground mace, optional
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if needed
Thoroughly clean the apples under running water, washing with fruit and vegetable wash if they have been waxed. Using a large, very sharp knife, cut apples into quarters and place in a large Dutch oven. If you are using a food mill there is no need to peel or seed the apples before cooking.
Sprinkle the salt and sugar over the apples, using as much sugar as you feel the apples need. You can start with 1/2 cup and as it is cooking, taste the liquid and add more if needed. Add the cinnamon stick and mace if using.
Turn the heat to high and bring the liquid to a boil; cover, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes or until apples are soft. Stir the apples occasionally, bringing those from the bottom up to the top, so they cook evenly.
When done remove the lid. Taste the applesauce and adjust with additional sugar and or lemon juice if needed. Simmer for about 15 minutes longer if needed to evaporate excess water and to dissolve any added sugar. Remove the cinnamon stick if present.
Place the food mill over a large bowl and scoop the apple mixture into it. Turn the handle of the mill, forcing the apples through the grate and into the bowl beneath it. Occasionally turn the handle backwards to release the skins and seeds. Add more apples as needed until they have all been processed. Wipe the bottom of the food mill with a rubber spatula. Discard the solids.
Let the applesauce cool and transfer to an airtight container. Refrigerate for up to a week or place in glass jars and process following standard canning procedures for longer storage.
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