Last week, my kids got out of school early one day. I had spoken to a MOPs group that morning and I was beat. I had laundry to do and errands to run and found myself surrounded by all four of my children instead. Ever have one of those days when you know you have to regroup? This was that day for me.
Josiah loves apples. He would be fully content if we never processed one of the fresh picked apples from the orchard. Every day, every single day, Josiah eats an apple. (I will tell you that there must be something to be said about apples and health because the boy is rarely sick!) And while the apples we picked were meant to be eaten, I knew we were out of homemade applesauce and that our fresh picked crop needed to be canned.
Have you ever made applesauce with your kids? My friend Kristie taught me to do it about 5 years ago and honestly, I felt silly for not having done it before. It is easy, fun and healthy. Since Kristie showed us how, we have made applesauce every year and often give it as gifts at Christmas. My kids love the process and it has become a fun, family activity that helps save us money and eat more fruit!
Before I share our process, let me just encourage you. Some of you are excellent cooks who do so often. Some of you are totally intimidated by such things and I can totally understand that, too. Somewhere along the way, I found myself wanting to know how to do some home-y things that I somehow never learned to do. I was overwhelmed. I was intimidated. I was clueless! What I have found is that if I tap someone who can share some ideas or instructions with me, most things are really not that hard. Or... maybe I just like to find the easy way to do them! When I first thought about making applesauce, I really thought I would have to peel all those apples. I thought I would have to core all those apples! Just imagining the process exhausted me. Truth be told, you do not have to do either of these things... and making applesauce is easy... and it is SO good. If you have not done it before, this really is something you can do.
On that early dismissal day, I knew I would have all four kids home and we had time when we had nothing else to do. Perfect! I hunted for my canning supplies and hauled the apples in from the garage. Here is what we use for supplies:
1. Three big pots. One of these is a canning pot. You can buy one at Wal-Mart. Before I bought a canning pot, I used a big stock pot that I usually use for soup.
2. Knives for cutting the apples. One knife per person... my little ones use butter knives.
3. A saucer. Usually the box says tomato press. (It can be used to make apple or tomato sauce)You can buy them on-line, at Farm and Fleet, or other kitchen supply stores. It is TOTALLY worth buying this tool. With it, you will not have to peel or core your apples. It clamps to your counter (or has a suction cup... I prefer the clamp) and is the way that cooked apples turn into sauce.
4. Apples... lots of them!
5. Spices. Try cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice or clove... or a wonderful mixture of all of the above.
6. Canning jars, lids and rims. They are cheap and can be found at grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Target, on-line... anywhere!
7. Lots of bowls! : )
So, here is what we do:
We start by washing the apples. Rotten apples get thrown away, bruised apples stay. We toss them into the sink and fill it up with water. Eighty pounds of apples is about three sink fulls.
Next, we set up to cut the apples. I start by showing the kids how we do it. Essentially, we cut each apple into eight pieces. My older kids make the first cut, my younger ones cut the halves, which will not roll away. I help them see how to hold their fingers away from the knives and we focus on safety.
The apples then get thrown into a pot (pot 1) with a bit of water or apple cider. We keep cutting while the apples begin to simmer. The goal is to get the apples soft... the peels, cores, seeds and stems are still completely attached.
While these apples simmer, the kids are still cutting the others into eighths. As their pile of pieces grows, I get out another pot (pot 2) and fill that one, too. If I am able to step away during all of this, I get out the canning pot (pot 3) and fill it with hot water. I put that one of another burner and cover the pot to encourage it to boil. As soon as the water in pot 3 boils, I drop my jars and my lids into the water to heat. I just let this boil away until I need the jars later.
As soon as the apples in pot 1 are softened, I dump them into a bowl to begin to cool. I rinse this pot and then give it back to the kids to fill with more cut apples.
Now, with our saucer set up, I pour the apples into the top and start to turn the crank. All the kids like to have a turn helping with this part! The apples go into the top and then the crank turns them into the saucer. Applesauce falls out of the side of the saucer and all the stems, seeds, peels and cores come out the end. It is an amazing tool!
When we are done with processing the apples from pot 1, I check pot 2 for soft apples. If they are ready, we pour them into a bowl, rinse the pot and fill it with more apples. Pot 1 goes back to heat and we just keep going this way.
When the bowl with the applesauce in it is getting full, we stop what we are doing and add some spices. We use Jonagold and Fuji apples and have never needed to add any sugar at all. After we mix it, it is time to start filling jars. I pull several jars out of the boiling canning pot and use a measuring cup with a handle (two cup, glass measuring cup) to pour the sauce into the jars. I use a funnel to get the sauce in without getting it on the jars. As soon as the sauce is in, I pull a lid from the boiling water and use a rim to keep it on. We keep filling the jars this way.
Once we have processed all our apples and all our jars are full, I tighten all the rims and return them to the boiling water in the canning pot. They need to boil in the water bath for 20 minutes, completely submerged. Depending on how much applesauce you have, you might need to do this in batches.
After the time has elapsed, we pull the jars out and put them on a towel to cool. As they cool, you should hear them pop. When they pop, the canning seal is REALLY sealed. Once they are sealed, they will keep for several years. We normally make some applesauce without seasoning, some with cinnamon and clove and some with our secret ingredient that turns our applesauce pink! The pink is my favorite, by far!
We love the process and I love helping my kids to learn that hard work done together can create something so yummy. We work hard to make it fun and everyone enjoys the process. Every now and then, I will send them off to play while I process some on my own. The breaks help a ton!
We also save some apples for pies and cakes. This year, Josiah and Benjamin used my apple/peeler/corer/slicer to prepare apples for other uses. We find that one apple can make about a cup of sliced apple. My pie recipe calls for 6 cups of sliced apples so we froze sliced, peeled apples in this quantity seasoned with cinnamon and sugar in Ziploc bags. Throughout the next year, I will be able to pull a bag of fresh apples out of my deep freeze and quickly and easily make home-made apple pie.
This year, we have had two apple saucing sessions. Both lasted just a couple of hours and the jars of applesauce will last us over a year. Every time we serve the applesauce, our children talk about the process. They feel a sense of pride about what they have done together and I love to hear them remember that day. I love that we are eating food we picked and processed and is fully without preservatives.
Last week, my kids got out of school early. Though I was tired, I had my kids at home for a bit of extra time and chose to do something together. I needed to regroup. Sometimes, I need to remember that needing to regroup does not always mean spending time alone. No doubt about it, it was work. But in the end, I spent the afternoon listening to my children talk and giggle while we sought to reach a common goal. I taught them something concrete that they will have when I am no longer here. We made some memories together and created a way to remember it again and again... and all of it tasted so very sweet.