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Healing Kitchen

Recipe Basics: Applesauce
Apples deserve their reputation as one of the basics of a healthful diet. They supply fiber, vitamin C, and quercetin (an antioxidant). The fiber of particular interest in apples is a soluble fiber called pectin, the substance that makes jelly jell. Pectin helps regulate digestion, and also reduces the amount of cholesterol in your body--especially LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. (Pectin may also have some cancer-fighting properties.)

When pectin-rich fruits, such as apples, are cooked, the pectic substances that hold cell walls together dissolve, and the fruit loses its shape. So although raw apples have pectin potential in them, it's the cooked apples that make the most of this cholesterol-lowering benefit. Which brings us to applesauce. A rich source of pectin, but also a fruit sauce with an almost lush texture. So we decided to explore the world of applesauce, first pinning down the basic techniques for making it, and then seeing if we could use the applesauce as an ingredient in other recipes.

Applesauce Basics
To begin with, just about any apple you like to eat can be used to make sauce. Firmer apples may take a bit longer to break down, and softer apples may make a more liquidy sauce but all apples make applesauce. You can make applesauce from a single variety, or use a combination of apples to fine-tune the flavor.

Start by cutting the apples into chunks. We left the peels on because we feel it adds more pectin (and in the case of red apples it also adds a nice rosy color). Place the apples in a covered pan and cook over very low heat to "sweat" the fruit, or let it release some of its own juices. (If you are concerned that the apples might stick--which won't happen if the heat is low enough--you can add just a splash of water, apple juice, or some other fruit juice.)

As the apples give up their juices, the applesauce mixture will begin to bubble. If you are using apples that break down easily, this can happen fairly quickly, five to 10 minutes. For the style of applesauce we make (with peels on), once the apples are softened, you will need to push them through a coarse-mesh sieve or a food mill to eliminate the pieces of peel. (Therefore, if you would prefer a chunky applesauce, you should probably peel the apples before cooking so that you don't have to strain the sauce.)

We favor applesauce with no added sweetener, because apples are sweet enough on their own. (Do you know anyone who sprinkles sugar on a raw apple before eating it?) But if you absolutely must have sweet applesauce, stir in a bit of honey or maple syrup after you've cooked--and tasted--the applesauce.

Applesauce Variations
Once you've mastered basic applesauce (really not much of a challenge), you can play around with some additions. Add other fruit to the apples while they're cooking: cranberries, pears, minced dried apricots, for example. Add seasonings: lemon zest, orange zest, ginger, cinnamon, white pepper. Stir things in after the applesauce is cooked: fresh raspberries, blueberries, vanilla extract, raisins. Just play around.

The Recipes
After we made our Basic Homemade Applesauce, we explored ways that the lushness of applesauce could benefit other recipes. The first, most obvious, choice was cake. Our Applesauce Cake, with walnuts and cinnamon, was moist and extremely satisfying. We can't claim that using our own homemade applesauce made a difference, but the cake certainly seemed richer than other applesauce cakes of our acquaintance.

Next was a pureed Apple Winter Squash Soup. We figured the sweetness of the apple would underscore the natural sweetness of the squash. What we didn't figure on, and were surprised to discover, was that the pectin in the applesauce gave the soup a rich and creamy texture that made it taste as though it had had cream stirred into it.

Encouraged by this, we decided to try a frozen dessert to see if we could get the same mileage out of the pectin. We started with a variation on the basic applesauce, Cranberry Ginger Applesauce, and froze it in an ice cream maker to make Cranberry Ginger Sorbet. While technically a sorbet, the resulting dessert had the mouth-feel of ice cream or sherbet.

Whether you actually try the cake, or the soup, or the sorbet, at the very least, try making your own applesauce. It's incredibly easy to make, it's incredibly good for you, and you can win hearts with the fact that it's homemade.

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Author: the Healing Kitchen staff
Date Published: 04/02/2000
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