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Canning 101: An Applesauce FAQ

pint of applesauce

When it comes to my own canning, I like to make a mix of fun things and pantry staples. That means that while I make plenty of highly spiced jams and fancy pickles, I also make a point of putting up a goodly amount of tomato puree and applesauce each year. I stir applesauce into oatmeal, bake it into cakes, and eat it straight from the jar when lunchtime pickings are slim.

One would think that applesauce would be a fairly straightforward thing to preserve, but it can be surprisingly tricky, particularly for new canners. After getting a number of questions about applesauce recently, I thought I’d put together a list of commonly asked applesauce questions and my answers, in the hopes of putting many minds at ease.

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What is the best kind of apple for sauce?
I don’t really think that there’s any one apple that makes the best sauce and truly, the best apples to use are the ones you have. I have cooked any number of apples into sauce and it has always been delicious. I would advise that you start with apples that taste good to you and that are relatively free from damage or rot (cutting around a bad spot or two is totally fine).

If you’re working with relatively sweet apples, you can always add a little lemon juice to balance the flavor. If the fruit is quite tart, a little sugar or honey will help adjust the sweetness.

apples

What is the best way to make applesauce?
Your apple saucing approach depends on the gear you have in your kitchen. For basic batches, all you really need is a peeler, a paring knife, and a potato masher. Peel, quarter, and core the apples. Dump them into a big pot with a little water to prevent burning, and cook them on low until they are soft. Use the potato masher to smash them into a chunky sauce.

If you have a food mill or a tomato press with a saucing screen, you can skip the peeling process and put the cored and quartered apples right into your pot. Add a little water, over the pot, and simmer until the apples are tender. Then, work them through the food mill or tomato press. You’ll end up with a peel-free sauce with a uniform texture.

If you want to include the skins in your finished product, core and quarter the apples. Put them in a pot with a little water and cook until soft. Once they’re tender, work the apples through a blender in batches, pureeing until the apple skins are integrated. This works best with a high speed blender, like a Vitamix, Blendtec, or Ninja, but can be accomplished in regular blenders or with an immersion blender if you’re persistent.

I personally like a chunky applesauce, so often use an approach that blends the first and second techniques. I core and quarter my apples, but leave the peels on. I simmer the sauce until it’s tender. Once the fruit flesh has started to separate from the peels, I stand over the pot with a pair of tongs and pull the skins off the fruit. I work those peels through a food mill, to catch any bits of sauce, and then mash the remaining naked apples with a potato masher. You get the color and some of the vitamins from the peels and still retain the chunky consistency.

Apple-Pear Sauce

Do I have to add anything to my applesauce to make it safe for canning?
Nope. Because apples are naturally high in acid, you don’t have to add a thing to it to make it safe for boiling water bath canning. What’s more, apples also have a goodly amount of sugar, so they keep well once canned.

Can I add things to my applesauce?
Yes! You can add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, citrus zest, citrus juice, sugar, honey, or maple syrup (though use maple syrup in conservative amounts. It is lower in acid than other sweeteners and if added in large quantities, can impact the finished acidity of the applesauce.

How long do I process applesauce in a boiling water bath canner? 
If you live under 1,000 feet in elevation, you process pints for 15 minutes and quarts for 20 minutes. If you live above 1,000 feet, your processing time adjustments can be found here. Times and pressure amounts for processing a pressure canner can be found here, though it is not necessary for safety and can often lead to product loss.

apples

I just took my jars of applesauce out of the canner and they are leaking! What did I do wrong?
First of all, know that applesauce almost always siphons like that. It’s hard to prevent it entirely, but you can do a couple of things to help minimize it.

The first is to minimize the amount of air you work into the apples during the saucing process. Apples pushed through a food mill or tomato press can take on more air than those mashed with a potato masher. The air isn’t the end of the world, but it will expand during the processing, which will then force some sauce out of the jar.

The second thing to do is to let the jars cool gradually once the processing time is up. The worst siphoning typically happens in the moments just after you pull the jars out of the canner, when they’re still really hot. Instead, let the jars sit in the canning pot for 10-15 minutes after the canning process is done. Once your timer goes off, you slide the pot off the burner and remove the lid. Let the jars cool slowly in the pot. After the 10-15 minutes are up, pull the jars out. They may start to siphon some, but it will (hopefully) be less than you’ve experienced in the past.

apples for pie filling

If my jars siphon, but the lids eventually seal, is my sauce still safe? 
Yes! No matter how much they leak, if the seals are nice and tight, they are still safely shelf stable.

The surface of my applesauce has turned brown! Is it still safe? 
It is! That is normal oxidation. You can either scrape off the brown layer or just stir it into the rest of he sauce.

If there is mold on the outside of my applesauce jars, is it still safe? 
Yes! Sometimes you end up with a little bit of residual applesauce on the outside of the jars because of the siphoning I mentioned up above. It’s that applesauce residue that is molding. As long as the seal is still good and firm, the sauce inside the jar is perfectly safe.

There are some air bubbles in my finished, sealed jar of sauce. Is it still safe? 
As long as those air bubbles aren’t moving around, they are fine. You can read more about air bubbles in finished products in this post.

If you have an applesauce question that you don’t see here, please make sure to leave a comment and I’ll update this post.

Comments { 27 }

Slow Cooker Peach Vanilla Butter

peaches on stove

Last month, when I had all those peaches from the Sweet Preservation folks, I did more than just make spiced peach jam. I also cooked up a slow cooker full of peach butter with flecks of vanilla bean and made a batch of mixed stone fruit jam.

peaches in blender

Because I’ve been running on fumes, I didn’t manage to share either of the two remaining techniques/recipes with you. However, I spent some time at various farmers markets this weekend and was reminded that there are still peaches to be had. And so, I’m trying to get them up while they still have some utility.

blending peaches

When it comes to making fruit butters, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of variables, and so it’s better to approach it as a technique than a strict recipe. Here are just some of the things that are up for grabs with slow cooker fruit butters.

Size of the slow cooker. My favorite model is a 40+ year old four quart cooker that cooks at a very low temperature. You might have a brand new one that has both a larger capacity and a higher cooking temperature.

Yield. Even if you had the exact same slow cooker as I did, chances are that your yield would still vary. That’s because ever batch of fruit is going to have different water and sugar content. If your fruit contains a lot of water, you’re going to have to cook longer to reach your desired consistency. Use your judgement and cook until you like the butter. It doesn’t matter if you have to run your slow cooker for five hours longer than I did, it is still okay.

more peaches

Time. There is just no way for me to predict how long a batch of butter will take in your slow cooker and that’s okay. Just fill the cooker up at least 3/4 the way up with puree and start cooking on low. Stir regularly. If you need to run an errand (or go to bed), turn the cooker off, put a lid on it and turn it back on in the morning. Towards the end, if you want to speed things up, turn the cooker on high and stir every ten minutes or so.

Sweeteners. Because fruit butters don’t depend on sugar for set (they become spreadable thanks to the fiber in the fruit), you can always sweeten your butter to taste. However, do remember that sugar is a preservative. That means that if you don’t use any sugar (or if you use a sugar substitute like Splenda or Stevia), the shelf life will be shorter.

propped slow cooker

Now, let’s talk about peeling peaches. Most of the time, when I work with peaches I take the time to peel them because I just don’t like the texture of the skin in the finished product. But not when I’m making butter with them. I find that if you puree the fruit before cooking in a sturdy blender, and then zap it again at the end of cooking with an immersion blender, you’re able to get a perfectly smooth butter, peels and all. This fact deeply pleases my inner lazy person.

full slow cooker

After reading all that, you might still be wondering how you make peach butter. Here’s how.

Slow Cooker Peach Vanilla Butter

Ingredients

  • Peaches
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • lemon juice (optional)
  • sugar, honey, or other sweetener, to taste

Instructions

  1. Puree enough peaches to fill your slow cooker at least 3/4 of the way up and pour them in.
  2. Scrape a vanilla bean and add the seeds to the puree.
  3. Set the cooker to low.
  4. Put a wooden spoon or chopstick across the mouth of the cooker and set the lid on top of it. This way, you vent the cooking butter.
  5. Cook for 2-3 hours and check. Stir and replace the propped lid.
  6. Keep checking and stirring every hour or two.
  7. If you need to go to bed, turn the butter off and set the lid on the cooker all the way. In the morning, prop the lid again and keep cooking.
  8. When the butter seems quite thick and spreadable, taste it and sweeten it to taste.
  9. Add some lemon juice at this time if you feel it could use a little brightening.
  10. Using an immersion blender, puree the butter so that it is smooth and emulsified.
  11. Funnel the butter into clean, hot half pint jars. Wipe the rims, apply lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.
  12. Eat on toast, stirring into yogurt, or baked into quick breads all winter long.
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Strawberry Maple Butter

strawberry puree

For weeks now, I’ve been meaning to write up my recipe for the strawberry maple butter (hinted at here) I made recently (I liked it so much, I made it twice in rapid succession). And so, I finally sat down to do so tonight, only to realize that I didn’t take any pretty finished pictures of it.

However, instead of being defeated by my lack of artful images (I’ll add one tomorrow), I decided to dig in and write the post anyway, since strawberry season is starting to wane around these parts (and is already entirely over for some of you).

cooking strawberry butter

This one is much like the other fruit butters I’ve made in the past (and is nearly identical to the blueberry butter from four years ago). You start by pureeing enough fruit to fill your slow cooker up at least 3/4 of the way. For my four quart cooker, I found that four pounds of berries did the job nicely. Then, turn the cooker on low and let it run.

If you’re going to be in and out of your kitchen, you can leave the lid off and give it a good stir every half hour or so. The reason for the stir is that if you leave the lid off and don’t stir regularly, a skin forms on the surface of the butter that makes it impossible for the steam to escape.

If you’re not going to be around, set a chopstick across the rim of the slow cooker and then put the lid on. This allows the slow cooker to vent a little, but also ends up trapping just enough moisture to prevent the growth of the skin.

maple strawberry butter

I tend to let this butter cook anywhere from 16 to 24 hours. So much depends on the volume of fruit you start with, the amount of water it contains, and how much heat your slow cooker produces when set to low (I prefer older slow cookers for this task because they cook at lower temperatures). I have been known to cook my fruit butters overnight, but I don’t recommend doing that until you understand how your particular slow cooker works with butters.

So, once your strawberries have cooked down to a dense product that doesn’t have any visible liquid on the surface, it is done. I like to hit it with an immersion blender at the end of cooking, to ensure that it’s perfectly smooth.

Once you like the texture, you add maple syrup to taste. My batches each produced about three half pints, which I sweetened with 1/3 cup of maple syrup. I also included two tablespoons of lemon juice to help keep the color, brighten the flavor, and increase the acid load just a little (strawberries are typically quite high in acid, but maple syrup is low in acid, so a little extra lemon juice makes sure that all is well, safety-wise).

You can process this butter in half pint jars for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. It’s a good one. If you can still get beautiful strawberries, I highly recommend it!

Comments { 7 }

Strawberry Lavender Caramel + Giveaway

driscolls strawberries

Spring has been slow to come this year and so the local produce has only just begun to trickle into the markets around Philadelphia. Happily, a much-welcome dose of spring arrived on my doorstep a couple weeks back, in the form of a large box of Driscoll’s strawberries.

the incredible hull

Months ago, Driscoll’s and OXO hatched a plan to gather up a gaggle of food bloggers, send them an assortment of tools and berries, and see what they created. For me, it couldn’t have come at a better time, as I was positively itching to get my hands on some fresh ingredients.

berry top

One of the tools that came in the box was OXO’s new berry huller and I am not exaggerating when I say that it’s a strawberry game changer. I’ve used their previous huller and while it was a good tool, I always defaulted to a paring knife.

berries in blender

But, now having tried this new huller, it is my go-to strawberry prep tool. It is incredibly easy to use, cleanly removes the hard white center, and makes it possible to whip through four or five pounds of berries in no time at all.

berry puree

I made three different preserves with the berries Driscoll’s sent and I’ll be sharing those recipes over the course of this week. The first one is a variation on the strawberry caramel recipe that I wrote for Simple Bites a couple weeks ago. The second is a maple sweetened strawberry butter. And the final batch was honey sweetened strawberry vanilla jam.

dried lavender

I love the basic version of the basic strawberry caramel, but I’ve long thought that it would be delicious to infuse with lavender for a more complex flavor. And since I spotted OXO’s twisting tea ball, I had a feeling it would be the perfect infusion tool (short answer: it was!).

lavender in tea ball

You start with one pound of strawberries, hull them, and puree them (just pop them raw into a blender or food processor) until smooth.

cooking sugar

Then, combine 1 1/2 cups of granulated sugar with 3/4 cup of water in a small saucepan. Measure 2 teaspoons of dried lavender buds (culinary grade) into your tea ball and add it to the pot. Place it over high heat and bring to a boil.

250 degrees F

Cook the syrup until it reaches 250°F/121°C. Remove the pot from the heat and pour in prepared strawberry puree (you should have about 2 cups) and the juice of 1 lemon. Return the pot to the heat and cook until the temperature reaches 218°F/103°C.

finished caramel sauce

Funnel the sauce into two prepared half pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rims, apply lids and rings and process in a boiling water bath canner for 10 minutes.

This sauce is amazing drizzled over ice cream, angel food cake, or a piece of crunchy, buttered toast (it is entirely decadent but ridiculously good).

finished strawberry caramel

Now for the fun part. OXO and Driscoll’s are giving away a pretty terrific prize pack. The lucky winner will get one of those fabulous strawberry hullers, a three-piece OXO berry bowl and colander set, a $70 gift card to OXO.com, and a year’s supply of Driscoll’s berries. You enter via the widget below (not by leaving a comment on this post). The giveaway will close at 5 pm eastern time on Friday, May 30, so make sure to get your entry in!

To see what the rest of the participating bloggers made, make sure to click over to their sites!

a farmgirl’s dabbles
Confessions of a Bright-Eyed Baker
Crepes of Wrath
Crunchy Creamy Sweet
Cupcakes & Kale Chips
Diethood
Eat Your Heart Out
Eats Well With Others
Food n’ Focus
Hoosier Homemade
Never Enough Thyme
Rachel Cooks
Sweet Remedy
Very Culinary

Disclosure: Driscoll’s and OXO provided the berries and tools I used and featured in this post and are also providing the prize pack. They did not compensate me for my participation and my opinions are entirely my own.

Comments { 22 }

Practical Preserving: Strawberry Applesauce

strawberries and apples

When I first started canning, each project was its own nice, neat, contained experience. I would shop for produce, make a recipe, process it in appropriate jars, photograph it, and share it here. However, over the course of the last five years, my approach has shifted a little bit.

While I do still occasionally pick out a recipe, buy the ingredients, and work my way through the steps, the bulk of my putting up these days is more utilitarian. I spend a lot of time looking at the contents of my refrigerator or fruit bowl and wondering, “What’s starting to decline*? Is there something I can breathe additional life into by applying heat, sugar, or vinegar?”

strawberry applesauce in jar

This strawberry applesauce is the result of one of those calculations. My friends at Beechwood Orchards** recently gave me bunch of apples that they’d had in storage since last fall and there were about three pounds worth in the crate that had no more than 48 hours of life left in their current state. I also had a pound of strawberries leftover from another project (more about that next week) that had been in the fridge for ages and needed to be used.

Though apples and strawberries rarely get paired together (I imagine mostly because they rarely share a season), my thought process went something like this. Apples and rhubarb have similar flavor profiles. Strawberries go beautifully with rhubarb. There’s really no reason why they shouldn’t also go well with apples.

taste of strawberry apple sauce

So I went with it. I peeled, cored, and chopped the apples. I hulled the berries and cut away any truly bad spots. And then I threw them in a pot with about 1/2 cup of water and let them cook down over very low heat for nearly two hours (mostly because I forgot about them). When I finally remembered to check the pot, the fruit had softened and all it took was a little work with a potato masher to turn it into a chunky puree.

The resulting sauce is pleasingly pink, plenty sweet without so much as a hint of sugar or honey, and just a bit tart. I’ve been eating it with a scoop of plain yogurt and some toasted walnuts for breakfast. I didn’t can it, but both apples and strawberries are high enough in acid to make them safe for canning, so one could.

How are you saving your produce from the compost pile these days?

*You will often hear that you should only use perfect produce that is in its prime for canning and preserving, but sometimes, the techniques of jamming, saucing, roasting, or pickling can also take aging produce and give it a new lease on life. That said, do steer clear of anything that is has started to turn or is truly rotten.

**The plan was that I’d make the rosemary apple jam from the new book to sample at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market a couple weeks back, but I didn’t manage to do it. Once again, my intentions were grander than my capacity to execute.

Comments { 17 }

Ten Ways to Use and Preserve Spring Rhubarb

rhubarb

I have a confession to make. As much as I’m enjoying this book tour (and truly, every step of it has been a total delight), I am ready to go home, see my husband, and cook in my little kitchen again.

To tide me over until Tuesday, when I’ll be home for a longer stretch than 12 hours, I’ve been digging back through the archives, to remind myself of what I like to cook this time of year. The thing that’s popping out at me most? Rhubarb! Here are nine ways that I’ve preserved and loved rhubarb in the past.

Cooking rhubarb

My first ever rhubarb preserve is still one of my favorites. It’s just rhubarb, vanilla and a little bit of earl grey tea for extra flavor.

rhubarb chutney

Another oldie but goodie is this recipe for rhubarb chutney. It was my first-ever chutney and is still one that I come back to about every other year.

rhubarb syrup

For summertime cocktails and vinaigrettes, cook yourself up a little bottle of rhubarb syrup. Next time I make it, I’m going to plunk a little bit of ginger in for extra zing.

rhubarb butter, from above

If you want less sugar, I find that a fruit butter is always the ticket. I’ve got both Rhubarb Butter with Orange and Strawberry Rhubarb Butter to choose from.

rhubarb/sugar/rosemary

For something slightly more herbaceous, there’s always Rosemary Rhubarb Jam.

roasted rhubarb pieces

If you can bear to turn on your oven, how about some Roasted Rhubarb Compote (this link will take you to the Mrs. Wages site, but I promise, the recipe is still all mine).

macerating fruit

And finally, the small batches! Strawberry Rhubarb Jam. With roseflower water.

cake square

And if you’re not up for preserving at all, but want something tasty, may I suggest this rhubarb cake? It uses up the last of a jar of preserves you’ve got laying around, along with runny yogurt and whole wheat pastry flour. It’s one of my favorites for spring brunches.

Comments { 16 }