Canning applesauce

Leaving the peels on the apples give the jars a pink hue.
Apples are certainly in season and there are lots of them. If you can't think of creative ways to bake or cook with them and/or still have bags or bushels left at your house, make applesauce - fresh or canned.

Fresh applesauce will keep for a few weeks in the fridge. Although apples store well if you have the proper conditions, applesauce is definitely a versatile pantry staple and extremely easy to make.

If you're looking to save some money in the winter, take the extra step and can. You'll have to pay for the initial costs - the apples, canning supplies and jars - but you won't need to go to the store to buy applesauce, at least for awhile or depending how much you want to make. I've put up a few dozen jars of applesauce for my own use and determined that they're about $1.00 - $1.50 per jar. Another money-saving tip, don't buy apples from the grocery store. Next time you're at the farmers' market, local farm stand or orchard, ask for their seconds or baking apples. They're often half-price or less.

Here's how I make applesauce and can it:

- 1/2 bushel of apples (20-25 lbs.; ask your farmer - they usually come pre-bagged or weighed) - cores and stems removed, cut into quarters; take on more if you want to process that much!
*To peel or not to peel: I leave the skins on when making fresh and canned applesauce. First, I don't really feel like peeling tons of apples - they come off when you put them through a food mill or a sieve. Second, the peels contain natural pectin that helps to preserve the apples and gives the apples a pretty, pink hue. A word of advice: If you're using non-organic apples, scrub the apples really well. This won't eliminate the chemicals used on the apples but will reduce the amount you ingest.*
- water

Equipment (all available at your local hardware or kitchen-supply store)
- Ball/mason jars - pints or quarts (regular or wide-mouth)
- Canning kettle or pot, filled 3/4-full with water
- If you haven't canned before, invest in a canning kit. They usually contain a jar lifter, a lid want, a thin plastic spatula (to remove air bubbles - a wooden skewer will do the same thing), a wide-mouth canning funnel
- Jar rack
- Heavy-bottomed pots (Two are ideal. If you only have one, use a large bowl to transfer the cooked apples into.)
- Ladle
- Clean cookie or baking sheets with clean, dry dish towels

1. Whether you're making fresh or canned, cook down the apples. Put the apples in a heavy-bottomed pan and add enough water to the cover the bottom of the pan and so the apples don't scorch. Cook the apples, covered, over medium-low to medium heat until the apples are can be easily pierced with a fork but not mushy. This will take between 15-20 minutes, depending on how many apples you use.

2. While the apples are cooking, prepare your canning supplies and sterilize your jars:

  • Bring your canning pot to a boil.
  • Thoroughly clean your jars and lids in hot, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly.
  • When the water in the canning pot has come to a boil, it's time to sterilize the jars - pints and quarts - for 10-15 minutes**. Most canners only fit 7 jars; do not put in more than that. When they are done, remove from the pot with the jar lifter and place on a towel-lined baking sheet until ready to use. (**To be safe, always refer to manufacturers' instructions and prepare jars accordingly.)
  • In a separate pan, place your lids and seals and either pour hot water over them or heat water on low until ready to seal the jars.

3. Once the apples are cooked, spoon or ladle them through a food mill or sieve to remove the skins and any seeds. Place the food mill or sieve over a second pot to catch the sauce. Return the strained sauce to the stove and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and boil for 5 minutes. Stir to prevent sticking. (If you want fresh applesauce, you can stop here!)

4. Ladle the hot applesauce into the prepared jars, leaving a 1/2-inch at the top. Slide the plastic spatula or wooden skewer around the jars to remove any air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims to remove any residue. Seal the jars with the seals and screw caps. Process the jars - both pints and quarts - for 20 minutes from the point of boiling in the canner.

5. After 20 minutes, remove the jars with the jar lifter and place on a towel-lined baking sheet. Allow the jars to cool completely. If you hear a "pop," your jars have sealed - congrats! Even if you don't hear the pop, you can test the jars after they have cooled by pressing the center of the lid. If the seal pops back, it didn't seal correctly, refrigerate the jars and eat the contents within two weeks.

Variations: This recipe is sugar-free. The apples contain natural sugars, so I don't really feel the need to add any. But, if you want extra flavor, you can add cinnamon, cloves and other warming spices at Step 3, when the sauce is reheated.

Enjoy your canned applesauce in a few months as-is, in your favorite recipe or give as a gift during the holidays.