Apple a Day

Last year my mom made a batch of applesauce from some of the small tart apples on our next door neighbor’s tree, but this year the same tree didn’t show any interest in producing apples, so we bought a box of Black Jonathan apples from Palisade at the farmer’s market. They are the dark red apples in the photo above (the other is a Gala), and had a great tart flavor that translated perfectly into applesauce.

I turned that whole box (less one pie’s worth of apples) into a vat of gorgeous rosy applesauce with the help of my trusty food mill. Since I had so many to process, I opted just to simmer the washed, cored and quartered apples in batches with a little filtered water, until they were falling-apart tender, not more than 15 minutes or so. The boxful translated into two full cannerloads of applesauce, or 14 pints, with no more than 4 cups of organic sugar divided between them. The color came exclusively from the skins, which all got strained out through the food mill; I reserved the cores and all the strained matter for a second project: apple jelly!

Once the applesauce was taken care of, I filled my two largest pots with the reserved cores and food mill scraps, covering the apple bits with filtered water and letting it all simmer gently for about two hours. Then I dumped everything into our juice rig and let it drip overnight. The next morning, I had 9 cups of beautiful red juice—why can’t store-bought apple juice look this pretty?

I divided my juice in two parts, one for a batch of plain apple jelly and one to try making unsweetened pectin. The plain jelly got boiled with sugar and lemon juice until a spoonful in the freezer started to gel; I canned it in half-pint jars and moved on to the pectin. The latter reduced by about half but just kept forming ice crystals instead of gelling in the freezer, so I gave up the experiment and added some sugar and apple pie spices, figuring that I could just call it apple syrup instead. But it started setting up as I ladled it into half-pint jars, and in the end, the “spiced apple jelly” set up much more authoritatively than the plain jelly, which is still so liquidy that I am pondering whether to crack open the jars and reboil it to get a better set.

Pints of applesauce at left, half-pints of apple jelly at right

After making short work of that box of Black Jonathans, we decided that it might be a good idea to dehydrate some apples as well, and went back to the farmer’s market the next week for a dozen Galas to dry. I washed and cored my apples (and used the cores for cider vinegar), sliced them into 3/16″ rings with a mandoline (only losing two fingerprints in the process, lol!), and gave them a quick bath in acidulated water. The photo above shows a tray of plain apple rings, but I wasn’t content to leave it at that, and ended up with seven—count ’em, seven!—flavor options, if you count the plain rings, that is.

My aunt used to make dried apples and pears that were artificially flavored and colored with Jello or Koolaid powder, but I don’t keep that stuff in the house, so I sprinkled a variety of different powdered flavorings over the damp apple slices, often using a sieve to get an even coating. Above you see a ring getting a coating of lightly sweetened coconut flour.

I made three “sweet” apple varieties: From top left to bottom right, coconut flour mixed with powdered sugar, peanut butter powder, and cinnamon.

I also tried three more savory variants, since my mom wanted some dried apples to use as salad toppers. From bottom left to top right, lightly sweetened balsamic vinegar, lightly sweetened rosemary, and lightly sweetened thyme.

I thought the flavored apple chips came out great. None of the flavoring agents hit you over the head, but they do add a little subtle variety that I appreciate. I made these while Nolan was in preschool, which means I probably got them in the dehydrator about 2:30pm, and at 120F, they were fully dry by my bedtime around 11pm. With the 3/16″ thickness, they were crisp enough to break into pieces easily, but still have some chew when you eat them. I’ll give them a couple days in the air to allow their internal moisture to normalize (I like to just leave them in the unplugged, closed dehydrator for air circulation sans dust), and then store them in jars or baggies for winter snacking.

Apple Jelly

Apple cores and skins from that day’s apple projects (or saved up in the freezer)
3/4 C organic sugar per cup of juice
1 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice per cup of juice

Dump your apple scraps in your biggest pot and pour enough filtered water over them to cover (I added a little lemon juice for color preservation). Bring to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and allow to cook for at least an hour, preferably more, until the fruit is very soft. Ladle into a jelly bag mounted over a bucket or large bowl, and allow to drip through overnight; do not stir or squeeze the scraps if you want to avoid cloudy jelly.

The next day, compost the dry apple scraps (or use them to make vinegar!) and then measure your fresh apple juice and pour it into a large pot with the appropriate ratio of sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a boil and begin testing for set when it approaches 8F higher than boiling point at altitude (at sea level, this is about 220F). The gel point will depend partly on the amount of pectin in your apples (ie: how green they were) and partly on the amount of water remaining in your homemade juice, so be patient—I learned this the hard way! When your jelly is gelling, ladle it into sterilized half-pint jars, wipe the rims and seal with sterilized lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes (adding 1 minute for each 1000′ of altitude; we process for 10 minutes where we live).

Source: Loosely adapted from David Lebovitz.

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