I did not grow up in a family that did a lot of jelly making or canning of anything whatsoever. My Mom was very happy about the frozen vegetables that were newly available to her in the 50s and was quite content to go buy a bottle of Smuckers strawberry jam.
My grandmother had canned on a routine basis in her day and made lots of jams. By the time I was six, though, she was already 65 and winding down a little. But she would take me to pick wild strawberries. We would come home and put up a jar or two of strawberry jam from that very precious fruit. So I knew theoretically how it was done. In other words I knew just enough to be completely intimidated by all those huge pots of boiling water and the necessity to sterilize bottles and lids. It all seemed rather mystical and out of reach to me. But I had such fond memories of those delectable little jars of wild strawberry jam and how different they tasted from a store bought jam.
Luckily in my case, my good friend Priscilla grew up canning and jam and jelly making. Years ago when she first volunteered to show me the alchemy of preserving fruits and vegetables, it was bliss to have her capable hands and brain to lean on. It is one of those things you have to do two or three times until you start to get the hang of it. I am hoping by writing this blog post that even if you don’t know someone who cans, I can be your Priscilla, and you can lean on me.
When Anjuli and Austin were babies, I made my own baby food. They had nothing but breast milk for their first seven months and then, when I started to introduce food, I ground up whatever we were eating that was very digestible in my trusty little baby food grinder. There was one exception – baby pear sauce. I loved its silky texture and delicate flavor. Now when I am making my own applesauce I always add pears for their unbeatable texture and their unique sweetness.
I also add raspberries. I love the way the sauce looks when I add raspberry sauce to it and the special tang it provides. The raspberries are my own which I froze when we were picking two quarts a day and could not possibly consume them all fresh. You pick them, pop them in a plastic bag without washing them (if they are organic), label them and freeze them. Then you can use them in jams, cakes and pies, smoothies, ice cream or whatever else you dream up at your leisure. These berries had only been frozen for two weeks.
At this time of the year in Northwest Connecticut the orchards are teaming with apples, pears, local honey, local cider, pumpkins, mums and possibly cider donuts. It is always lovely to drive down some winding country road to some old New England barn surrounded by craggy trees, branches laden and bowed with their fall crop of juicy fruit.
Today was grey and drizzly. Not that I am complaining, God knows we need the rain. But it was not a good walking day. Priscilla and I had arranged to take a walk. So instead we went to Hayward’s Orchard to buy apples and pears and came to my house to make apple, raspberry pear sauce. Priscilla cut up fruit while I got out all the canning stuff and rounded up all the necessary bottles and lids. She loaded up a big pot with cut up apples and pears. Then she had to go home to tutor and I continued on alone. The help and companionship she gave me was just enough. It’s not hard to can, it’s just a lot of little steps, so relax and enjoy and take one little step at a time.
Apple, Raspberry, Pear Sauce made 7 pints + some healthy tastes
12 large apples (4 of which were Macintosh) cored and cut (but not peeled) in 8 pieces
12 Bartlett pears, cored and cut (but not peeled) in 8 pieces
1 1/2 cups water
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
4 cups of fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 large stainless steel pot
1 food mill
2 large glass or ceramic bowls
1 canner with rack to hold bottles
1 large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pot
8 pint canning jars with rims and lids
1 set of tongs
1 long handled spoon
1 widemouthed funnel
Note: A canner is a large enamel pot with lid used to sterilize the bottles in the beginning and can the fruit in the end. You can buy them in most hardware stores. They are not expensive. The jars and lids you can buy in the hardware store or sometimes in the super markets. The wide mouth jars are easier to use. You can also buy a set of canning tools that are not expensive to help pick up the bottles. You can manage with tongs and a ladle but the calipers they have are useful when the bottles are full.
Get the canning equipment ready. Read this through and follow these steps and you will be relaxed and organized. Making applesauce is a slow process. There is no rush. Don’t do it if you are in a rush. This whole process will take a few hours and you will hate it if you try to rush. This is an artisanal experience. Take your time and enjoy it. Ok, ready? Breath.
Put the rack in the bottom of the canner. Put the canner on the stove. Put your pint jars in the canner. The canner gets heavy when filled with water so I put it on the stove and use a saucepan to fill it with water. Fill it with water to the level of at least 1 inch above the top of the jars. Fill the jars with water too. Put your tongs, widemouth funnel and ladle in the canner as well. Put the lid on the canner, turn it to high and bring it to a boil. Once it comes to a boil turn it off and leave the lid on to maintain some heat. Once you fill the canner and turn the heat on, you can start making your applesauce and your jars and tools will be sitting there clean and waiting for you.
Put your lids and rims in a medium saucepan. Fill with water to cover them. Turn the heat to low. You want the water hot but you do not want to boil them. So when you see small bubbles in the water you can turn the heat off, put the lid on and leave them there until you need them.
Clear off the counter so you have room to lay out a kitchen towel. This is where you will place your hot bottles, tools, lids and rims when you are ready to fill the bottles with applesauce. Now you are ready to make your sauce.
Raspberry sauce. Put the raspberries in a small saucepan. Turn on to low. Once the juices start to flow you can turn it up to medium-low. When the raspberries are soft turn the heat off. Place a sieve over a medium-sized bowl and pour the raspberries into the sieve. Use a spoon to stir and press the fruit to get as much juice as you can. Discard the seeds and set the sauce aside until you make the apple/pear sauce.
Note: I do this step of making raspberry sauce separately for two reasons. I don’t want to put the raspberries in the big pot with the pears and apples because I find they tend to get lost. I want as much of the fruit as I can get. And I strain the sauce to get rid of the seeds. This is a somewhat fussy way of handling the raspberries though, I will admit. You can certainly skip it and put the raspberries in with the pears and apples and most of the seeds will come out in the food mill when you are making the apple/ pear sauce.
Cook the apples and pears. Put you big big stainless steel pot on the stove. Add the water and lemon juice. Cut and core your fruit directly into the pot. Remember, you don’t have to peel it. Turn the heat to medium low. Stir quite frequently so it doesn’t stick. Cook until very tender. When it starts to bubble, you may have to turn the heat down a little or you will be stirring constantly. Depending on the types of apples and pears and their degree of ripeness, this could take an hour to an hour and one half.
Mill the sauce. Now you are ready to mill the sauce. Place your food mill over a large bowl on another area of the counter, not on your nice clean kitchen towel. Using your long handled spoon, put the cooked fruit in the mill and turn the crank. The applesauce will start to fill the bowl. Once in a while crank backwards to clear the holes in the mill. You don’t have to keep cleaning it out each time you add fruit, just keep adding fruit and cranking. Once that bowl if full switch to the next bowl. Once you have milled all the fruit you can throw away what is left in your mill (in your compost if you have one).
Make the apple/raspberry/pear sauce. If you had to use two bowls, then pour half your raspberry sauce into each bowl of apple/pear sauce and add half the sugar and half the cardamom to each bowl. Stir until completely combined. Otherwise, combine all together.
Can the sauce. Your applesauce is finished and I’m sure it is beautiful. Now is the time to preserve it so it will last until you want to use it – even a year from now. Fish all your jars out of the canner, draining the water out of each one. Set them on your clean kitchen towel. Fish out your tools and your lids. Place them on your kitchen towel as well.
Now put your widemouth funnel on your first jar and use a ladle or spoon to fill the jar. Leave 1/2 inch of air space at the top of the jar. Try not to get applesauce on the rim of the jar. If you do, clean it off with a clean paper towel. Place a lid on the jar and then screw on a rim, tight but not super tight. Move onto the next jar until all your jars are full. If there is a jar not completely full you can save it, put it in the fridge and enjoy it – but don’t can it.
Once all the jars are filled, check your lids and make sure they are tight. You should also check the temperature of the water in the canner. You don’t want it higher than 180 F while you are adding the bottles of applesauce to the canner. If it is higher than 180 F, add some ice to cool it down and check the temperature again. If it is lower, that is fine. Add your bottles to the canner. Make sure they are covered by one inch of water. Put on the lid and bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat to maintain a steady simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the lid. Very carefully remove the bottles one at a time. Leave the bottles on the counter to cool. One at a time you will hear a small pop as they seal. There is a little dimple in the middle of the lid that will depress slightly. That is what makes the sound.
It is possible that some may not seal. If they don’t just keep those bottles in the fridge and use within one month. Welcome to the special process of preservation.