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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Canning Autumn Applesauce

At Russell Farms, 2013.
Autumn is my favorite time of year to live in the Northeast. Even though I have always lived in the Northeast, I don’t take the changing of seasons for granted. Red, yellow, and orange leaves crunching underfoot, and apple cider. We are lucky to have multiple apple orchards around us like Russell Farms, Lone Maple Farm, Apple Hills Farm, and Torto’s.
Autumn belongs to the apples: Gala, Honeycrisp, Gingergold, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Macoun, Empire, Pink Lady, Granny Smith… Through the winter, spring, and summer months, I forget what apple tastes like until I pluck one from the tree and bite my teeth into that firm and crisp flesh for the first time. I eat fresh apples daily when they’re in season, because I know it won’t last. Spiritually, I am growing an appreciation for impermanence. It makes you appreciate things when you have them more. After all, our very lives are an exercise in impermanence.
Even so, it is nice to be able to carry a bit of this season into the ones that will come after. When the apples are their ripest, I make and can applesauce to get me through till next harvest. My mother canned. My grandmother canned. I don’t do it as much as I’d like to. I do it because I know that when I open a jar this February, autumn’s harvest flavor will be there. That taste of the first bite of a ripe apple will flood my mouth. No chemicals. No preservatives. No added sugar. Just apples, and a small stick of cinnamon.

I find the prep work is the hardest. You have to wash all the jars in warm soapy water. Fill them with hot water and place them in the canning pot. Add enough water so it sits above the jars by an inch. Cover the pot and bring it towards a boil over medium-high heat. When it is almost boiling, reduce hit to a simmer. Keep it covered until you use the jars. [This part took me an hour.]
Then, in a small saucepan, pour two inches of water in the bottom. Add the lids and heat on low until it reaches a simmer. Cover the saucepan and take it off the heat. Set it aside until you’re ready to use them. Now, you’re ready to make the applesauce, which is fairly easy.

I had a small retinue of apples for this batch. Normally, I might add a splash of water for every four apples I use, but I have found that fresh apples rarely require extra moisture. I peel, core, and cut the apples into slices. Everyone does it different, I’ve found. No matter how you cut them, it’s important to keep the pieces of even size. Add as many cinnamon sticks as you desire to taste- a dash of ginger is always a nice complement, if you want a little tang.
Place everything in a saucepan, cover, and heat on medium for fifteen to twenty minutes. Use a fork to see how easily the tines pass through the fruit. If it passes through without resistance, you’re done. Turn the heat off, remove the cinnamon sticks and mash away. I have a potato masher that I use because I like to make chunky applesauce, but for smooth applesauce I whisk it after it’s been mashed. Now, you’re ready to can!

Remove the jars from the canning pot, carefully, and empty them of their water. I dry them out with a clean cloth. Fill the jars with applesauce, leaving a half-inch of headspace. When the jars are full, gently shake the jars back and forth to release air pockets. You can also slide a clean knife around the edge of the jar to help release them. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth. Use tongs to pull a lid out of the saucepan and set it on the jar. Screw a band in until it’s just tightened.
When they’re all done, place the jars back in the canner (beware of hot water). Make sure, again, that there is at least an inch of water covering the jars. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When the water starts boiling, process the jars for fifteen minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Let the pot stand for about five minutes. Remove jars onto a clean towel on a table or counter. My canning pot has a basket that I can rise to lift the cans above the water line. But before I found my canner at the thrift store (for five dollars), I used a large stock pot and heavy-grade canning tongs.

Give the jars twelve to twenty-four hours to cool, depending on their size. You may hear a strange warpy, metallic, pinging sound. That’s good. You want to hear that sound. It means the seals are locking and the canning worked. Don’t fret if you don’t hear it either, though. That’s happened to me. When the jars are cooled, press lightly on the seal. If it doesn’t give, it worked, and you can safely store them for up to a year, just in time for the new crop! If the seal gives beneath your finger, it didn’t take. That just means you can pop them in the fridge and eat them right away. 

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