September is for apples. It’s also Virgo season, Andrew and grandma Mary Jeanne’s birthday month, the time for newly sharpened pencils, the time for the first sightings of mustard leaves among emerald giants in general. It’s that sacred in-between stretch of days where summer and autumn slow dance, a time of transition. September is the month we go to the orchard and fill our market baskets with as many tiny tart apples as we can carry. There is apple cider doughnuts of course, as well as apple cider slushies for the parched, and mammoth bags of expensive kettle corn one must procure. It’s all part of the experience.
And while we have pumpkins growing, with some gracing window ledges both inside and out (this marks my first year pretending to be a miniature pumpkin farmer) September is for malus domenstica, the apples. “The Botany of Desire”, Michael Pollan’s new book about the plant’s-eye view of the world, is teaching me all about the origins of the humble yet iconic fruit, referencing Johnny Appleseed in the first section, a courageous man I knew next to nothing about outside of the songs and childhood stories attributed to his lore. It’s a wonderful audiobook to listen to when walking amongst the trees.
Back to this past weekend, when we did all the apply things and came home to make our first batch of homemade applesauce. We unloaded the car, dug out the big crockpot from the back cupboard, and washed off the apple peeler. The next morning our home smelled like September should smell, of sweet apples and maple syrup, of spicy cinnamon, and herbal rosemary. Our first batch of sauce was well on its way to becoming a butter had the temperature of the crockpot been higher, a treat I am sure to prepare and preserve this week. My recipe for homemade applesauce could not be easier, as the ingredients are both minimal and variable. I must mention that I feel very strongly that one can toss nearly anything into a crockpot and not mess it up, for the slowness is what creates the depth of flavor here.
Spiced Rosemary Maple Apple Sauce
Ingredients & Preparation
- Fill your crockpot to the top with fresh peeled and sliced apples. We happened to be picking golden delicious variety but use whatever local apple variety you are able to get.
- Add 1 cup of water to your crockpot.
- Take several sprigs of fresh rosemary and tie it up in cheesecloth. You could simply mix the fresh rosemary sprigs into the apples, but I prefer to not eat the stems. The sachet method offers the same amount of flavor without having to pick anything out at the end of the cooking process.
- Add ½ cup of good maple syrup and ½ cup of sugar. You can use granulated cane or brown sugar here, whichever you prefer.
- Add 2 tablespoons of ground cinnamon or 2 cinnamon sticks to your rosemary sachet.
- Set your crockpot on low for 4-6 hours, and when it becomes the consistency you like, set it to warm for several more hours. I recommend stirring your apples every hour or so. This particular batch of applesauce cooked for 7 hours and then I set it to warm before we all headed to bed. While it continued to slowly cook, it wasn’t so hot that it would turn to butter. I could have easily stopped the cooking process at 4 ½ hours and even pureed the sauce with a handheld immersion blender, but I like the small apply bits in there. As mentioned above, this recipe is one you really cannot mess up. Just be sure to keep your crockpot on low, and to keep an eye on things from time to time.
- Before serving, taste. Add more sugar if needed, maybe a pinch of sea salt to balance things out, or maybe, just maybe, more cinnamon. Because each apple variety has its’ own wonderful flavor profile, you will need to adjust things. This is the fun part! Get your kids involved and see what they recommend. You cannot screw this up, just taste and keep tasting until it is exactly how you want it to be.
- I freeze my applesauce in small, freezer-safe jars and thaw as needed, but you could preserve them as well. If you choose to go the canning, water-bath route, you’ll have to add fresh lemon juice to the mixture.