The following 101, on five ways to preserve apples, comes from HOMEGROWN member Cynthia. You can read more of her tips for living well on a lower income at A Life Beyond Money. Thanks so much, Cynthia, and please keep the good ideas rolling!
My mum has a couple of apple trees on her property, and at harvest time each year, she gathers our clan together for apple-processing day. We spend the day talking, listening to music, and we usually order a pizza from our favorite local delivery place.
This year we got everyone together: Mum and Dad, my sisters and their beaus, my grandparents, Trucker and me. We spent six hours working and produced enough that each family was able to fill their freezer with apple goods. We all pitched in whatever we had: apples, freezer bags, cinnamon, sugar, or snacks for the workers. By shopping sales, we spent around $5 for ingredients and another $5 for freezer bags. We each brought our own knives, cutting boards, and a large pot.
Mum picked the apple trees before we arrived so that we could get started immediately. She filled a wheelbarrow, four 5-gallon buckets, two large coolers, and three large boxes.
Each family received two plastic grocery bags full of apples to eat out of hand. The rest were processed into apple slices for pie, applesauce, and apple juice. Next year we hope to try some new items, such as apple jelly, dried apple rings, apple butter, fruit roll-ups, and perhaps some hard cider!
I began by filling up two sinks with water. We loaded one of the sinks with apples and gently scrubbed them before moving them to the rinsing sink.
1. FREEZING SLICES FOR APPLE PIE
After washing the apples, we peeled, cored, and sliced most of the good ones for Mum's famous apple pie, cutting out any really nasty spots. We packed the slices into gallon-sized freezer bags. These will save her a lot of money over the holidays as she bakes dozens of pies for parties, family gatherings, and church or other social functions.
» ¾ cup sugar
» ¼ cup flour
» 2 Tbsp butter
» ½ to 1 cup applesauce (see below)
» 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp cinnamon, to taste
» 6 cups apples, sliced (about 6 to 8 apples)
Mix sugar, flour, butter, cinnamon, and apples together. Fit your pie crust into a pie plate and add the apple mix. Add enough applesauce to just cover the mixture and bake according to pie crust directions. My mum uses a store-bought crust and bakes according to the package. (For a homemade pie crust to die for, check out Mary Elizabeth's recipe using rendered lard.)
Next came the applesauce making. We chopped all of the not-so-pretty apples—the odd-shaped, the small, the bug-bitten, or fallen—into large pots of water. We weren't concerned about having white applesauce, but if we were, we would have added 1 part lemon juice to 1 part water to prevent browning. (I like leaving the peels on for added fiber and less waste; plus, white applesauce seems moot when we add so much cinnamon, anyway.)
We added a bit more of water, about 1/4 cup per pot, to help in steaming the apples before they released their juices. We also added a lot of cinnamon to each pot, about 1 Tbsp per pot. Since some of us have blood-sugar concerns, we left more than half of the applesauce unsweetened. To the remainder, we added about 1/2 cup of brown sugar to each pot. The apples cooked over medium-low heat until fork-tender, and then I pureed them in the blender until smooth, adding just enough of the cooking liquid to help everything blend easily. By using the blender instead of just mashing the apples with a fork, I could leave the peels on without compromising the texture of the sauce. This saved a lot of time and had the added benefit of a higher fiber content.
We placed pots and bowls of applesauce on cooling racks all over the kitchen. Once the sauce was cool, we ladled it into quart-sized freezer bags. We marked each with the date and whether it was sweetened or unsweetened. The applesauce is great to eat as is or warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (Oh, my!) We also use it in baking cookies, muffins, breads, and brownies.
3. APPLE JUICE
We also made some amazing juice. I hope to eventually get my hands on a cider press, but they’re so pricey. For now, my dad and I both supplied our juicers. We took the cores and peels of all of the apples we processed for pies and applesauce and ran those scraps through the juicer. Using these leftovers, we ended up with several gallons of juice. This went into one-gallon freezer bags to drink warm on chilly winter evenings—a great future treat from something that otherwise would have been thrown away.
4. DEHYDRATED APPLES
Lately, I've been making dehydrated apples. I chop them into very thin slices, about ¼-inch thick; sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar; and place them on my dehydrator trays. I dehydrate them for about six hours. I've heard they’ll be good stored in a closed container in the pantry for a year, but they never last more than three days around here!
Any rotten apples, as well as the pulp left over from juicing, went into the compost bin. (Get more tips on what can go into the bin in the Composting 101.) How wonderful to know that none of the apples went to waste!
I look forward to apple-processing day every year. It's a great way to spend time with my family, and we all leave with some amazing organic applesauce and juice, almost for free, and there’s still Mum’s pie to look forward to come winter. Plus, we learn about food preservation and increasing our self-reliance. Not bad for a day’s work.
Got a question for Cynthia? Or another way to put all of those delicious apples to use? Post it below and share the love! In addition to the 101s mentioned above (the Rendering Lard 101, the Compost Bin 101, the Composting 101), you might also be interested in Cynthia’s Six Ways to Use Stale Bread 101 and Jackie’s Apple Molasses 101. If you’re looking for more tips on preserving, check out 101s on freezing, drying, and storing herbs; pickling; small-batch canning; and canning basics. And you can always find more things to cook, preserve, plant, grow, make, craft, and freeze in the HOMEGROWN 101 library.
ALL PHOTOS: CYNTHIA SKELTON