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A Bushel of Apples a Day Is Better

By Caroline Clough in Food on Sep 19, 2006 2:59PM

chicagoistapplefrontpage.jpgThis past weekend Chicagoist found ourselves near Madison, Wisconsin. Well, okay, we didn't really find ourselves there as much as we drove ourselves there consciously and with purpose. Part of our purpose is no business of yours, but the other part most definitely is.

This second, knowable purpose was to enjoy the outdoors and pick some apples in order to make applesauce. And what a weekend for apple-picking! Our entire weekend was marvelously sunny and warm with pleasant breezes and all that sort of thing. It was weather that would not hesitate to bitch-slap you if you weren't out there enjoying it, especially this close to the end of the season of happy good thoughts and so close to the season of "it's fucking cold, I want to kill myself" thoughts. But we digress, it's about the apples, people, the apples and the applesauce!

chicagoistdoororchardsign.jpg We had dreams of visiting every orchard in a twenty-mile vicinity of where we were staying, but those dreams were crushed, pleasantly, by Door Creek Orchard. The other place we had been interested in seeing did seem nice too, though we'll never know for sure. Door Creek Orchard is a quick drive off of the interstate about twenty minutes east of Madison. It offers all the things one wants when going to an orchard (or at least everything we want). As an orchard it most definitely has apples. When we were there the Gala, Jonafree, Jonamac, Cortland and McIntosh apples were all ripe for the picking. We thought the prices were quite reasonable: 75 cents per pound for apples off of the tree and 40 cents per pound for windfalls (apples found on the ground, commonly a little banged up). In addition to apples, the orchard also (that weekend at least) offered the most amazing Concord grapes that we picked right off of the vine. They had other varieties of grapes but our hearts stopped with the Concords. chicagoistgrape.jpg
One of our friends was extremely pleased to learn that they still had raspberries this late into the season, and he happily picked himself silly. Our point is that this orchard had a lot going on fruitwise ... and it had sheep. Black Welsh Mountain sheep to be precise, and not only were they nice look at, you could take one home with you as well ... okay only in meat or yarn form, but still that's pretty cool, right? In their store they also had fresh eggs, cider and other countryish products to take home (we recommend a honey stick, it was amazing and only 20 cents). chicagoistsheep.jpg
In the end we picked about four pounds of windfalls (for applesauce), another two pounds of apples right off the tree (for straight-up eating), two bunches of Concord grapes, two small boxes of raspberries, a gallon of fresh-pressed cider and a honey stick, all for a little under twenty-five dollars. And if we haven't enticed you enough, perhaps the scheduled-for-next-weekend horse-and-buggy rides might do it. We missed out on that, and we're sad about it, but not sad in that overly bitter way that leads us to keep it a secret out of spite. Nope, we're sharing the love, see?

We would like to properly acknowledge the fact that there are plenty of orchards in Illinios to explore, that one doesn't have to go as far as Madison to get their "apple on," we just happened to be out that way. In fact we'd be curious to know what your favorite apple-picking spots, within Illinois, would be.

Now we'd like to share with you how we went about turning apples into applesauce.

What You Need
4 pounds (or thereabouts) apples, we had a mix of McIntosh and Gala varieties
1/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/3 cup cinnamon (this makes an intensely cinnamon-y sauce -- if you're not a raging fan of cinnamon you may want to experiment with adding a little bit at a time)

What You Do
1. Peel and core all your apples. You can leave the skin on, we guess, but we didn't.
2. Chop all your apples into, approximately, one-inch cubes/rectangles. It wouldn't hurt to make them smaller; it depends on what you want the final consistency to be ... we like a slightly chunky sauce, but perhaps you want yours as smooth as a baby's food.
3. Throw all your apples into a large pot. We used the pot we traditionally use to cook pasta.
4. Add the lemon juice, and turn the stove on to low.
5. Add the brown sugar, and stir.
6. Add the white sugar, and stir.
7. Add the cinnamon, and stir.
8. Bring up the burner temperature for a few minutes (let's say five), and stir.
9. Turn the burner back to low, and let the apples think about what they've done.
10. When the apples have lost their crunch and are soft to the bite, get a potato masher (or other large kitchen utensil), and gently mash the apples until they reach your desired consistency.
11. Cook fifteen minutes longer, and then you're done.


Thoughts on this recipe:
1. If you're really into a very smooth texture take the sauce you've finished cooking, and run it through a food processor or blender.
2. For us the cooking time was about two hours, and the prep time (peeling and coring) was, rounding up, an additional hour.
3. A little whipped cream never killed any applesauce.