Speaking of philosophical conundrums: if you have a choice in cooking, when would you prefer to do most of the work? At the beginning, or the end, of preparation?
For myself, I generally prefer making things that require most of the work at the beginning, so that when the cooking part is done, the food is essentially ready to be served. Especially when I’m trying to get a meal on the table, I find that having too much to do in the last 10-15 minutes really stresses me out.
I apparently forgot this preference this morning when I decided to make applesauce. I had a pile of apples that had seen better days, but weren’t done for yet, and I figured this was the best way to use them up. But I was also rushing around, trying to get various things done so that I could sit down at the computer and get to work. So, instead of peeling and coring them as I normally would, I convinced myself that I had read somewhere that leaving the peel on enhanced the color of the final product, and that I could remove anything I didn’t want in the mix later by putting it through a food mill.
(Please note: I was making the applesauce in a slow cooker. It was in there for hours. It came out brown. Also: my food mill is in Boston.)
When I came back to finish it off late in the afternoon, I cursed myself for my earlier decision. Then I dirtied three different perforated kitchen tools (a sieve, a frying basket, and a plastic colander) and a whole lot of utensils trying to find something that would allow me to strain through the apple mush but trap the peel, seeds, stems, and other unappetizing bits. That took a while.
On the plus side, the strained mush was much smoother than my usual lumpy applesauce, so I dumped it back in the slow cooker and cooked it down some more. I don’t know if it qualifies as apple butter, but it’s very thick. And pretty tasty.
I still have another 10 apples to use up, so I’m going to make another batch tomorrow. Which presents a further dilemma: now that I’ve cracked a method for straining out the bits, should I use the no-prep method again, or go for the traditional peel and core?
I guess I'll just have to figure out when I have the least amount of time.
Slow cooker applesauce/butter
10 apples, washed and cut into eighths
2-4 Tbsp spiced sugar*
¼ cup water or other liquid
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Put the first four ingredients in the slow cooker and cook for 4-6 hours on low, until apples have softened completely.
Force apple mush through a food mill or strainer to get rid of all the stuff you don’t want in the finished product. If desired, return strained puree to the slow cooker and cook on low for another hour or so until thickened further. Stir in the lemon juice; taste, and adjust seasonings if desired.
Makes about 2 cups.
* I used sugar seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom. I added more cinnamon and ginger at the end.