When Shakespeare summoned up “remembrance of things past,” he no doubt had loftier visions in mind than a bowl of applesauce. Well, that was his loss, but not mine. My younger days, when time seemed to proceed at a more measured pace, fall meant a heaping bowl full of just that- applesauce – freshly made steaming and fragrant.
The scent of apples as they simmered on the stove, later to be complemented with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and lemon peel, spread through the house beckoning my three brothers and I to the kitchen faster than a freshly baked pizza would today. The applesauce seldom had a chance to cool as the members of the household enjoyed slurping down the pureed apples while they remained fresh and hot to the palate. Nor was there time to fetch an individual saucer. Time was of the essence when four young children – and occasionally father, were desperately anxious to get their fair share; thus our domestic feeding frenzy became a communal affair with each of us dipping into my mother’s heavy bright orange ceramic bowl. Nor would a teaspoon suffice to get the full flavor. No sir, a tablespoon was required.
Mother’s system of making applesauce was simple. She washed the apples and quartered them before putting them in a large kettle. With a little water added, they soon cooked down to mush. Timing depended on the apple variety and the age of the fruit. Peeling the apples was not part of her routine. It was time consuming and her feeling was that important vitamins were in the skin. Besides, peeled apples gave the insipid look of a commercially made applesauce. Unpeeled apples produced the hue of the apple skin. Some references call such applesauce “rosey.” But most important, she asserted “the skin adds flavor.”
Webster’s New World Dictionary of Culinary Arts says that applesauce can be “smooth or chunky.” Ours was put through a food mill so it was always smooth, soupy almost.
Canning applesauce was another fall pastime. Mother canned it without seasonings. By sweetening it and adding fresh lemon and spices before serving, the canned sauce took on a “just made” taste. We almost always had it served with pork or ham to balance the fattiness of those meats. A bit of freshly grated horseradish made for an accompaniment to turkey during the holidays. It was a nice, although untraditional, change from cranberry sauce.
Applesauce makes a fine ingredient to have on hand to moisten a spice cake. As a strudel filling, it works well blended with nuts and raisins. Mix it with a bit of heavy cream and served warm over vanilla ice cream. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top for garnish.
Below is a recipe for unflavored applesauce using the food mill method. Amounts of sugar, lemon, cinnamon and nutmeg added depend totally on the cook’s taste and the flavor of the apple. No need to use perfect apples for applesauce Well-washed ground apples work well as does a blend of apple varieties.
Food Mill Applesauce
2 lbs apples, stems removed and quartered
½ to1 cup water
In a large pot place the quartered apples with one-half cup of water. Bring apples and water to a boil, lower heat to medium, cover pot and cook about ten minutes until apples turn to mush. Stir the apples half way through cooking and check to make sure that they are not scorching. Add additional water if necessary. Better to have a little too much than not enough water. Process with the food mill. Season with lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar to taste. Some cooks add a pinch of cloves too.
Yield: Approximately two cups of applesauce
Apple Sauce Cake
To have better consistency in the flavor of a cake, it is best to use unsweetened and unseasoned applesauce.
1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch grated nutmeg
1/2 cup butter -- softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup apple sauce, unsweetened
1 cup seedless raisins -- chopped
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour a six-seven cup mold or brownie pan.
In a bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
In a large mixing bowl cream together softened butter and sugar until fluffy.
Beat in egg and vanilla.
Add flour mixture and applesauce alternately in small quantities.
Fold in chopped raisins.
Spoon batter into pan and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let cake rest on rack in pan for five minutes before unmolding.
To serve sprinkle with confectioners sugar or ice with a simple butter cream frosting
Adapted from The State of Maine Cookbook, circa 1924
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