With the leaves starting to turn, pumpkins showing up at produce stands, and sweaters moving forward in my closet, it’s definitely feeling like fall outside. Something about this season calls to me on a deep level – like an old man saying he feels the cold weather coming in his bones. The autumn season pulls at some essential part of me. I’ve wondered whether this has anything to do with the way our ancient ancestors lived. The autumnal equinox meant winter was approaching, and the harvest swung into full gear. The end of the harvest was celebrated with All Hallow’s Eve or some variation. I feel like cooking and baking and preserving more at this time of year than any other, and I wonder if it has something to do with a visceral, almost instinctual urge to prepare for the cold, dark months ahead.
Fall, to me, means lovely local ingredients like apples, cranberries, and pumpkins. A good soup and rustic homemade bread. A cup of tea or cider and a brisk wind outside. Pulling out the Halloween decorations and cozying up with a good book.
In the spirit of the season, I made a batch of applesauce on Tuesday night. If you’ve never had homemade applesauce, I promise if you make this, you’re in for a treat. It’s so easy to make, and it beats store-bought applesauce ten ways from Sunday. We’ve been using this recipe in my family for years, and it never lasts long. If you’d like, you can freeze it in mason jars, but I can’t help but eat mine just as soon as I make it.
Be warned: this is not a “fancy” recipe with measurements and stuff.
Step 1: Acquire apples. I’ve been way spoiled in the past and been given homegrown apples from my parents or grandparents. One big drawback about living away from home is no fresh produce. So I went and bought apples at the store – still local, and pretty affordable this time of year. I bought about 2 dozen. Normally, I have 6 or 7 dozen on hand.
Step 2: Cut the apples into quarters and remove seeds. Don’t be fussy here – be fast. Leave the peels on.
Step 3: Dump the apples into a pot – as many as it can hold. Heap them in. The more the merrier. Add about an inch to two inches of water to the bottom of the pot.
Step 4: Turn the burner on medium heat. Let the apples cook slowly. Add water as necessary, always keeping about an inch on the bottom. Stir every few minutes. This step takes awhile. Let the apples cook until softened, a good 45 minutes to an hour with a pot the size I used. You should be able to mash them with a spoon, sort of like mashed potatoes.
Step 5: Here you need one piece of specialized equipment. I call this thing a sieve, but I think it’s properly called a “food mill.” You can find these at thrift stores, antique stores, or kitchen stores. Plunk this thing over a bowl, fill it with smooshy apples, and spin the wood paddle around. Applesauce will be pushed through the little food mill holes and fill your bowl.
Step 6: Add cinnamon and sugar to your liking. I use about 3/4 cup sugar per four cups of applesauce, but it all depends on your preference.
What is your favorite fall food or tradition?