#90: Make homemade applesauce

I almost died when I was 5 years old. True story. I woke up one morning with two tiny bumps on my forehead that looked like pimples. My mom thought it was weird, but whatever. No big deal. I went to school, came home, had a snack, played, ate dinner, got a bath, went to bed. Fine. The next morning when I woke up, the two pimples had turned into two small lumps – like I had hit my head on something, and these were the resulting ‘knots’. Again, bizarre, but oh well. Again, I went to school, came home, ate, played, bathed, and went to bed. Again, fine. The third day I woke up, covered in blisters. Holy shit. No longer fine. Time to get to the hospital.

After a run-in with a cocaine-addicted pediatrician (no lie) and an incompetent ER nurse, a compassionate and knowledgeable hospital doctor looked at me for five seconds and immediately diagnosed my malady: impetigo. A staph infection. Apparently this ailment is very common in children – but I had an extreme case of it. As in, internal organs would likely be shutting down soon if the infection was not treated immediately. Clearly, I received prompt medical attention. I spent the next two weeks laying down on the living room sofa in my underwear, covered in wet, cold washcloths, ingesting large quantities of medicine, and watching Sesame Street to my heart’s content.

I only remember a few brief snippets of this whole encounter; it was definitely more traumatic for my parents than for me. But every spring from first grade through middle school, I would get a few tiny bumps on one of my fingers – the hint that the impetigo had returned. So every spring I had to consume a week-long dose of oral antibiotics to treat the infection.

As a child I wasn’t very good about taking pills, so my mom would break open the antibiotic capsules and mix the interior medicine into a large tablespoon of applesauce. One (or two) bites later, the medicine would be in me without too much fuss. While the method worked well overall, it did have one lasting side effect: By the time I reached eighth grade, I could not stomach the taste of applesauce. Literally. I would almost gag if I had to eat the stuff.

I avoided applesauce for the next twenty years. I honestly did not have one bite of it from the time I was twelve until I was thirty-two. And I probably would have continued avoiding the stuff indefinitely if I could have gotten away with it. But, at thirty-two years old, I underwent oral surgery (a gum graft), which meant that I had to go on an all-soft-food diet for a few weeks. The recommended foods to eat included room-temperature soup, mashed potatoes, canned green beans (cooked extra-long to get them extra-soft), scrambled eggs, oatmeal, very overripe bananas – and applesauce. Ugh.

I had planned on continuing my applesauce boycott during my recovery. But. I can only eat so many pounds of mashed bananas before I begin to crave a different fruit option… so on the fourth day after surgery I caved, and had a small serving of applesauce. And I found out that I actually kind of liked it. Apparently twenty years is long enough for an aversion to become extinct.  I welcomed applesauce back into my life.

However, I’m kind of particular about the types of applesauce I will consume. My preferred sauces have a very simple ingredient list: apples, water, lemon juice (or some other acid), and perhaps a bit of fruit juice sweetener. But that’s it. No extra sugar, no preservatives, no colorings, no additives, no cinnamon or other flavorings… just apples, water, juice. Done. To complicate things further, I also like chunky applesauce (versus uniformly-smooth varieties). Not many manufacturers create chunky applesauce, and only two producers (that I have found) create a chunky, all-natural version of sauce. Of course, these two brands are very expensive ($3-$4 for a single jar of sauce), so I only buy them on occasion, and indulge in applesauce as a treat every now and again.

Then a few months ago, I had a minor epiphany: Since the ingredient list is so simple, couldn’t I just make my own applesauce? Was it really that hard? I think I had been under the impression that since the sauce I like is packaged in glass jars, that I had to learn canning techniques in order to make this food.  I remember my mom spending HOURS during my childhood summers canning a variety of produce (tomatoes, marinated cucumbers, some preserves, etc.) – and I knew I had zero interest in learning that process. However, adult logic caught up with childhood rationale, and I realized that actually, I would only have to can the applesauce if I wanted to store it indefinitely. If I just wanted to eat it in a reasonable period of time, I could make it, then store it in the fridge for a few days in any old container – no canning required. Wow! And so, the applesauce challenge was on.

I asked a few friends for their best applesauce recipes, and I searched the internet for additional applesauce guidance – but nearly every resource I tapped included ingredients beyond my “approved” list. Apples are sweet and tasty enough as-is; I don’t need to enhance them with sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, etc.  After consulting a variety of sources, I decided to “go rogue” and attempt to strike my own applesauce path. Here is the summary of what followed…

In my brief research, I learned that two primary apple-cooking methods exist: stove top, and microwave. For my first iteration of applesauce attempts, I decided to do one version of each heating option.

VERSION 1: Stove top applesauce.

Ingredients:
* 1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into a large dice
* 2 splashes of lemon juice
* 1/3 cup of water

Instructions:
* Put the ingredients in a small pot.
* Place the pot on the stove, and cook on high heat until the water is boiling (about 3 minutes).
* Once boiling, cover the pot with a lid, turn the heat down to low, and cook until the apples are soft (about 10 minutes).
* Transfer the cooked apples (and any remaining water) to a bowl, then blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired chunkiness/smoothness. (I pulsed the mixture 10-15 times.)
* Put the sauce in the refrigerator and cool for several hours. Once chilled, eat and enjoy.

VERSION 2: Microwave applesauce.

Ingredients:
* 1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into a large dice
* 2 splashes of lemon juice
* 1/4 cup of water

Instructions:
* Put the ingredients in a microwave-safe container. (Important: Ensure the container is vented.)
* Cook the mixture on high for 5 minutes (or until the apples are soft).
* Transfer the cooked apples (and any remaining water) to a bowl, then blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired chunkiness/smoothness. (Again, I pulsed the mixture 10-15 times.)
* Put the sauce in the refrigerator and cool for several hours. Once chilled, eat and enjoy.

I then conducted an applesauce line-up (only slightly different from George Costanza’s candy-bar line up), and compared the two versions I made against my favorite store brand.

From left to right: Stove top version (v1), Microwave version (v2), and the control (store brand)..

Here’s how the contenders fared:

Version 1: Wasn’t very “saucy”, but I did like the chunks of apples; they just needed to be integrated into some sauce. The flavor was good; it tasted homemade, not commercially/mass produced. (Homemade things nearly always taste better than corporately manufactured items.) I was a bit surprised at how sweet the applesauce was (since I didn’t add any sugars to the mix); but it was a nice, mellow sweet – not cloying or overwhelming. I’d give this version 3 stars.

Version 2: Pretty much “ditto” of everything I wrote in Version 1. At least it’s nice to know that the method doesn’t really matter – which means I can make applesauce any time I want!

After I sampled each version, I tasted the control (i.e., the store-purchased version) – and I was surprised at how similar the flavors of all three sauces were! But the texture of the store brand was overtly superior to my attempts. So I decided to try a third version:

VERSION 3: Microwave method, more water, different apple preparation.

Ingredients:
* 1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into thick slices
* 2 splashes of lemon juice
* 1/2 cup of water

Instructions:
* Put the ingredients in a microwave-safe container. (Continue to ensure that the container is vented.)
* Cook the mixture on high for 5 minutes (or until the apples are soft).
* Transfer the cooked apples (and the remaining water) to a bowl, then blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired chunkiness/smoothness.
* Put the sauce in the refrigerator and cool for several hours. Once chilled, eat and enjoy.

As soon as I started to blend this version, I could tell that I had used too much water – the sauce turned into more of a runny puree, even though I started with larger apple chunks. Of all the versions I made, this one was my least favorite. Hmm…. Okay, one more try…

VERSION 4: Microwave method, slightly less water, slightly larger initial apple chunks.

Ingredients:
* 1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut into quarters
* 2 splashes of lemon juice
* 1/3 cup of water

Instructions:
* Put the ingredients in a microwave-safe container.
* Vent the container appropriately.
* Cook the mixture on high for 5 minutes (or until the apples are soft).
* Transfer the cooked apples (and any remaining water) to a bowl, then blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired chunkiness/smoothness. (I pulsed the mixture 5 times.)
* Put the sauce in the refrigerator and cool for several hours. Once chilled, eat and enjoy.

This version had a good liquid-to-solid ratio, but the apple consistency still turned out too smooth. I might have to try cutting the apple just in half…

Okay, last attempt – for real. [Who says I get obsessive?]

VERSION 5: Microwave method, a titch less water, even larger initial apple chunks.

Ingredients:
* 1 apple, peeled, cored, and cut in half
* 2 splashes of lemon juice
* 1/4 cup of water

Instructions:
* Put the ingredients in a microwave-safe container.
* Vent the container appropriately.
* Cook the mixture on high for 5 minutes (or until the apples are soft).
* Transfer the cooked apples (and any remaining water) to a bowl, then blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired chunkiness/smoothness. (I pulsed the mixture 15 times.)
* Put the sauce in the refrigerator and cool for several hours. Once chilled, eat and enjoy.

This creation was thicker than Version 4 – but it was more like a compote than a “sauce”. But the flavor of this one was better than Version 4…

From left to right: Versions 3, 4, and 5.

At the end of the afternoon, I mixed all of the left-overs of each version into one big container – and I think that crazy medley was probably the closest texture-wise to the store sauce.

Versions 1-5 all integrated, living in harmony.

But I still haven’t cracked the code that will unlock applesauce perfection (“perfection” being highly subjective, and in this case defined by my personal tastes). Still, I have now made applesauce from scratch – and therefore fulfilled this list item. [And I got to use two new kitchen tools, too – a “Y” peeler and a stick blender I received for Christmas – yay!]

So, all this being said…If you have a killer applesauce recipe that you think I might like (after now knowing all of my kooky requirements and preferences), I’m all ears! I’m not giving up on making applesauce; but I might take a break from it for a little while. [Just not another 20 years…] 😉

Stef

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About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
This entry was posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to #90: Make homemade applesauce

  1. rutheh says:

    Looks like an exacting scientific experiment. I think a lot has to do with the texture(mealy, firm,soft), the sweetness/tartness, and the water content in the actual apple itself. Such a variance in McIntosh-Gala- Granny Smith-Jazz-Braeburn-Stayman Winesap- Honey Crisp. All so different.
    Texture is key here. Different apples combined might make a more satisfying mix- some sauce and some chunk.
    Scary about the impetigo. Very scary!

    Like

    • Stef says:

      It was *exactly* like a scientific experiment! And I think you are right – a variety of apples might make all the difference. Hmm…. I wonder which type(s) are best for making sauce?

      Yes, the impetigo was scary – but again, primarily for my parents. I mostly remember getting a shot in the rear at the hospital (and another at the doctor’s office a few days later [they injected me with antibiotics in addition to the oral consumption]), watching lots of TV, and missing 2 weeks of kindergarten. We were learning how to write letters, and I missed C through G…

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  2. Christine says:

    If you think you might like a doctored version I have a recipe for butterscotch applesauce. It’s not overly butterscotch-y and it is yum – interested?

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    • Stef says:

      Butterscotch applesauce? I’m interested only because it sounds kind of kooky! 😉 Yes, please do send; I’d be curious to read the recipe, if nothing else…

      Like

      • Christine says:

        Butterscotch Apple Sauce

        5 lbs. apples, peeled, cored, quartered and cut into ¼ in slices
        ½ to ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
        4 tablespoons butter
        Pinch of ground nutmeg

        Place apple slices in a large saucepan, barely cover them with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the slices are very tender, about 15 minutes. Drain off all but 2-3 tablespoons of the cooking water. Turn the apples and the remaining 2-3 tablespoons water into a food processor and process until smooth (or mash by hand with a potato masher). Scrape back into saucepan and return pan to medium heat. Stir in brown sugar until melted. Continue to cook and stir until apple sauce is fairly thick. Add the butter and stir until melted. Stir in nutmeg and serve warm or at room temp.

        Quickie version – start with three 16 oz. jars of apple sauce, cook at medium heat until thickened, then proceed with recipe from the point where you add the brown sugar.

        Recipe Credit: The Thanksgiving Cookbook by Holly Garrison

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  3. Hi there! I don’t comment very often, but found this recipe on another blog a few days ago for simple applesauce. I’m almost positive you could leave out the spices for it, and test drive this one. (I’ve not made it, as I’m a fellow aversion-to-applesauce person who hasn’t quite outgrown the aversion).

    Thanks for posting!

    Stephanie

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  4. Pingback: Chunky Applesauce | Savory Sundays

  5. Nancy Barnes says:

    Love the experiment! My mom makes homemade applesauce, cooks it down to chunky stage right on the stove with no blending required, so maybe she cooks it longer. I never thought of trying to make it in a microwave but that would be a great way to make a single serving. Thanks for the idea!

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  6. carlaat says:

    Loved the story, loved the sharing of the perfecting of the recipe, and love those cute containers that the applesauce is spooned into in the photos! 🙂

    Like

  7. The story behind this whole applesauce thing is amazing. :)) i don’t have any recipes to share as my cooking skills are abysmal — i can fry a hotdog and that’s it^_^

    I think your mom’s “technique” of mixing your meds with applesauce is sweet!

    Like

  8. Stef says:

    My mom is a pretty crafty and clever lady. She’s very good at making the best of every situation she is presented with – and finding creative solutions to problems. I like her. 🙂

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  9. Touch2Touch says:

    Obsessive?
    Who could say such a thing!
    Just know that you could work for Cook’s Illustrated in the Test Kitchen —

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  10. When you explore something, you do it properly, don’t you. 🙂

    Loved the photo story.

    Like

  11. Pingback: #87: Make ice cream in a bag | Smile, kiddo.

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