Turn the heat up to high and bring the pan to a simmer.
Have you ever made warm, silky, cinnamon-spiked applesauce? It's the simplest thing in the world, and it's a good way to use up windfall apples, or ones with brown spots on the edge of going bad.
If you've never tried this simple cooking DIY, then why not celebrate fall with a little pot of applesauce this week? You only need apples, water, a bit of citrus peel (if you want) and cinnamon (if you're so inclined). You don't need a huge pan or a whole weekend; a small, quick batch of applesauce takes less than half an hour from start to finish, and you don't even have to stir the pot.
I grew up miles away from the city in Ohio farmland, and I went to school every morning on a bus that stopped before sunrise at an apple orchard. In the wintertime you crest a hill, the cornfields break, and black branches on stubby trees emerge from the darkness as far as the eye can see. In the summer these branches are a waving cloud of green leaves, and in the fall they turn polka-dotted with bright red apples.
So I grew up knowing the taste of good apples, how they snap in your mouth and let out a cascade of juice. I wait all year for my favorite, the Rome apple, so crisp and sweet, good for eating, baking, and everything in between. I know not to settle for mealy apples; they're not worth a snap.
I also know the value of windfalls — apples dropped under trees and stomped on by crowds of weekend fruit-pickers, cast to the side and left to rot out their bruises. These apples are some of the sweetest and the cheapest, sold for pennies on the pound. They're not so pretty, but they make good eating of another sort. So when my mother-in-law brought me a big box of windfall apples, I knew exactly what to do with them: Homemade applesauce.
I like mine warm and smooth, flavored with both lemon and orange peels, sweetened with nothing but the apples themselves, and dusted with cinnamon. How do you like yours?
How To Make a Small, Quick Batch of Applesauce
What You Need
About 2 pounds of apples, peeled and cored
2 long strips lemon peel
2 long strips orange peel
3-inch piece fresh ginger, cut into coins
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Ground cinnamon, to garnish
3-quart (or larger) saucepan or sauté pan
Potato masher, stick blender, or regular blender
1. Chop the peeled and cored apples into small chunks. The size of these chunks is completely up to you; the smaller and thinner they are, the faster they will cook. I usually chop mine into wedges about 1-inch wide.
2. Put the apple chunks into the saucepan. Put the lemon peel, orange peel, cinnamon stick and fresh ginger on top. Pour in the water, and stir in the salt. (Some folks don't add any water at all to the apples. I like to add a little bit because I find that makes the cooking more hands-off; there's less danger of the apples scorching, especially at the beginning.)
3. Turn the heat up to high and bring the pan to a simmer.
4. Turn the heat down to low and cover the pan. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the apples are very soft. Turn off the heat. Remove the citrus peels, cinnamon stick, and ginger pieces.
5. What you do with the apples now is up to you. If you want a chunky sauce, smash them with a potato masher. Or you can run the sauce through a blender or food mill, or puree it with a stick blender, as I did here.
• Serving and Storage: I love warm applesauce, so I ate a bowl of this right out of the pan, sprinkled with a little extra cinnamon. The applesauce will keep well in the fridge for several days, and it can also be frozen.
(Images: Faith Durand)