Friday, October 2, 2009

Easy Crockpot Applesauce/Apple Butter

It's autumn. Not just on the calendar, but for real. The trees are turning, the nights are getting nippy enough that even I close my window at bedtime, and local apples have replaced ones from New Zealand in the stores. (The stores I shop in, anyway.)

Last winter I discovered Stephanie O'Dea's FABULOUS website and blog-- This chick made a 2008 resolution to use her crockpot every day all year, and as a result has amassed a fairly incredible body of recipes, from classy "company" kinds of things to breakfast foods to basic staples like yogurt and cooked beans and applesauce and stuff. (She also has a cookbook about to come out...) She's inspired me to use the crockpot a lot more than I ever did before--in fact, as I type this, I have a pot full of Chicken Piccata going upstairs that'll feed us for the next 5 days as an entree and soup.

I found her site when I was hunting around for an applesauce recipe. Basic motivation: my kids would happily take applesauce for lunch every day, and I just can't justify those little disposable cup things any more--wasteful and just ridiculously expensive. My daughter's preschool (both kids were there last year) has a "waste-free lunch" policy, which freaked me out to begin with but which, once I got going and realized how much cheaper it was than the other way, and how not-difficult-at-all it was to make happen, was actually another of the good catalysts to getting me on board with the whole Green thing.

Even buying applesauce in the "big" jars at Trader Joe's, though, only gets us through maybe 2-3 days, and still leaves me with all these admittedly very nice and reusable glass jars--but there are only so many of them I can deal with, you know? And I hate to recycle even something as infinitely recyclable as glass with that kind of frequency unless utterly necessary. So I wondered how hard it would actually be to make my own applesauce in the crockpot. Not hard at all, as it turns out.

I have one of those goofy core-peel-slice apple things that my mom gave me years ago, so since the only labor-intensive part of applesauce-making is really the peeling and slicing of the apples, it's a piece of cake. And my kids enjoy the gizmo too, so it becomes fun. (Until three apples or so later when Short Attention Span Theater kicks in.) So, this is more or less what I did:

HOMEMADE APPLESAUCE:

--Core/peel/slice thinly as many apples as will fit in your crockpot reasonably well. (I have a big crockpot; I have about 7.5 lbs sliced apples in there now.)
--Add a few tbs brown sugar and/or maple syrup (opt.)
--Add spices--I used about 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp allspice, and 4 good shakes ground cloves.
--If apples are sweeter variety, add a tbs lemon juice
--Add 1 tsp vanilla extract (opt.)
--Add 1/4 cup water
--Cook in crockpot on very low heat 3 hours to overnight. (Depends on your crockpot. I'd suspect overnight would be too long for most.)

This is all an approximation--I tend to "measure" spices in the palm of my hand.

Like many recipes of this nature, your own appliances will dictate what works for you. I have a 6 quart crockpot with a not very good seal on the lid (so it loses moisture it shouldn't)...for me, the ideal cooking process is to put it on low for about 3 hours, and then turn it to "warm" for 6-7 hours or overnight. I also put a towel over the top when I do this to keep any more moisture from getting out.

You could, if you wished, also stop it after the few hours on low and you'd have a really lovely spiced apple side dish kind of thing...not applesauce, but completely delicious. Or you could just scoop some out at that point before lowering the heat and letting them sit all night. The only catch there is that you'd want to do it quickly, or leave the heat on a little after you did it, because the crockpot loses a lot of heat whenever you take off the lid.

HOMEMADE APPLE BUTTER

I discovered this recipe by accident the first time I followed someone else's directions for making applesauce: I left it to cook overnight, for about 8 hours on low, without the towel on top to hold in the moisture. Guess what? If you leave your applesauce on too long, you get apple butter. (To make it really smooth, you'd need to hit it with an immersion blender or electric mixer or something.)

Don't get me wrong--it's DELICIOUS! But you get much lower yield, and its flavor is very pronounced and strong and it may want a little extra sweetening if that's your thing. And it keeps a long time, too. Delicious in yogurt, on oatmeal, on toast, wherever you want it...

I love autumn.

--J

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I just wash and core the apples. I've never peeled them - they leave a nice natural pinkish tinge of color my kids noticed the store sauce was yellow only. They cook down and I run them through a foodmill then the skins come off. (We aren't chunky fans)

Apple butter in the crockpot makes the house smell WONDERFUL!!

utahlawyer said...

I make applesauce without peeling and coring. I only trim out bad parts and worm holes (nope, we don't spray the trees). I put my apples through a hand crank food mill after cooking them. The mill removes the peels, cores, and seeds. The peel leaves the applesauce tinted pink. Pink applesauce is one of my nieces' favorites.

Jenn the Greenmom said...

Cool! the food mill method is good to know about...I personally (blush) don't have one, so I've never gone there. Also, I confess that the only time I buy conventional (not organic) apples is when they are on really good sale, and I buy them expressly to make pies and applesauce with, so in that case I definitely would want to take the peels off. How long does the food mill part take?

(I'm so envious of y'all who have your own trees!)

Green Bean said...

Gotta love the crockpot method!! Thanks for turning me on to her great site.

I don't have a food mill either but reading the comments makes me think I really need one of those!

June said...

The Crockpot just makes supper feel like a treat, like somebody came over and made it for you (because, hey, busy mamas can't be expected what they did four or eight hours ago).

I can't wait to try the applesauce. Wonderful! Thank you!

Rosa said...

I usually can about 100 pints of applesauce every fall, and I LOVE the corer-peeler because then you dont' have to use the food mill at all.

I'm taking this year off from canning, though. I just couldnt' face the August tomatos. I'm getting tempted about applesauce again, though...

If you have the corer-peeler, and you have all those empty applesauce jars, you might want to dry apple rings. The corer-peeler makes lovely rings. The food dehydrator is currently the main source of heat at our house :)

Green Me Alison said...

Genius!

Robbie @ Going Green Mama said...

I just core the apples and dump them in unpeeled. I have a hand blender and blend it up after it's cooled.

I love doing this...I get the apples ready after dinner, turn on the crock pot, and in the morning I have applesauce! Let it cool 1/2 hr, blend and refrigerate...it takes so little time!

knittingwoman said...

I have what is called a foley mill. The only thing I use it for is making applesauce. It is so easy, I wash the apples, cut in quarters, throw in a big pot with a little water. It doesn't take long to crank all the apples into sauce, the screen on the mill keeps all the skins, seeds etc. out and leaves pink smooth applesauce. I don't have my own trees, sometimes I buy commercial apples on sale but mostly I buy bags of apples from the farmers' market for making applesauce.

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