Thursday, November 03, 2016

The best applesauce - and more hipster apples

Every fall for the past several years, I had been looking for Pink Pearl apples in various grocery stores and markets. I’m pretty sure I first heard about them on The Kitchn, though a few years ago they were also mentioned on Spilled Milk and in Bon Appétit. I had to resign myself to the fact that these apples just aren’t sold in South Texas even when they are in season, and since the latter source recommended Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm for online ordering (a Google search didn’t reveal any other providers for fruit, only seeds and seedlings), I decided to take the plunge and order a case of apples. From Michigan. The apples themselves were not that expensive for heirloom apples (a little under $1.40 per apple?) plus proper packaging ($12.50 according to my itemized bill, but included in the price shown online), but the catch is that since apples are perishable, you have to pay for 2-day shipping, and *that* was a hit on the wallet. This had been bugging me for so long, though, that I decided to just take the hit this one time to cross them off my bucket list. I’m glad I did, although I won’t be placing this order annually!

Pink Pearl apples are known for their pink flesh. I’m a sucker for pink-fleshed apples (Surprise? Pendragon? Redlove Era?), though again, I can’t find them in South Texas and haven’t even tasted those varieties! Pink Pearls have a great balance of sweet and tart flavor, and I like my apples a bit tart, so these were a good fit. I saved the seeds of my Pink Pearls out of principle, though I realize that the climate here isn’t the most conducive to apple trees…

For those of you who want to make this applesauce recipe, but with more readily available apples, my favorite is still Envy, though last summer I had some great Honeycrisps and Pink Ladies. Actually, on that note, you should read this great article on the Honeycrisp and heirloom apples in general. The author got me right at the beginning with a rant about the Red Delicious, which ended with (and I quote): “Fuck the Red Delicious.” I couldn’t agree more!

Anyway, I decided to make applesauce with my Pink Pearls. I was inspired by an Instagram picture posted by Molly Wizenberg, of Orangette, who had the most beautifully pink applesauce I’d ever seen! I had tried this recipe before, and it makes perfectly fine applesauce, though I’d recommend draining it a bit before puréeing. But then I remembered I had wanted to try a recipe I found on Orangette, which seemed all the more appropriate given that that’s probably how Molly Wizenberg made the pink applesauce that looked so awesome in her Instagram feed! So I took a look, and it is Judy Rodgers’s roasted applesauce. And, well, damned if it wasn’t the best applesauce I’ve ever eaten! I’m always going to make it this way now, regardless of what kind of apple I use. Roasting the apples concentrates their flavor and makes the sugars caramelize a bit. I ended up using a bit less than 3 pounds of apples, because they didn’t all fit in my pan (so in that picture with the unpeeled apples in the pan, they didn’t all make it in, and the leftover apples are next to the pan in the next picture). The yield was probably a little over 2 cups of applesauce. I think next time, I’d just use two pans to make a big batch and freeze some (laid flat in a Ziploc bag, if you’re wondering). Anyway, this is absolutely awesome applesauce, especially if you like it a bit chunky.

3 ½ to 4 lbs. apples (Rodgers uses crisp eating apples, like Braeburns, Pippins, or Galas; I used Pink Pearls)
1 pinch of salt
1 to 2 tsp. sugar, or to taste
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter or margarine, cut into slivers

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Put them in a (ungreased) baking dish just large enough to hold them in a crowded single layer. (I used a 9”x13” pan here.)

Toss with a little salt and 1 teaspoon of the sugar (unless they are very sweet, in which case you might not need any sugar at all.) If they are tart enough to make you squint, use 2 teaspoons of sugar. Dot the apples with butter, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and bake until the apples start to soften, about 15 to 30 minutes (I needed 30 minutes for mine).

Remove the foil, increase the heat to 500 °F, and return the pan to the oven. Leave the apples to dry out and color slightly, about 10 minutes more. When the tips of the apples are golden and the fruit is tender, remove the pan from the oven, and coarsely mash the apples. (I used a potato masher for mine.) If you like, season the applesauce further with salt and sugar to taste. You can also use a splash of apple cider vinegar, but I didn’t.

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