What kind of apples are best for homemade applesauce?
December 19, 2023 11:39 AM   Subscribe

Our go-to applesauce (Musselman's chunky) is suddenly unavailable in jars in my area, so we're going to give homemade a shot. Process looks easy; apple choice is more complicated. Specs inside.

I checked the Musselman's website and the varieties they say they use aren't much help (I don't like Red Delicious, think Golden Delicious might be too bland, and don't know where to get Rome or York at short notice). I usually use Granny Smiths in my apple pie and I'm fond of those; I also like tangier varieties like Sweetango or Cosmic Crisp as eating apples.

I will definitely want a chunkier texture rather than the baby-food puree version--we'll be mashing by hand. If it makes any difference, we're not canning it--we're just making it to eat with latkes (on the side!) on one night. Anyone with experience, a good recipe, or variety recommendations, please help!
posted by dlugoczaj to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Growing up, we had a gravenstein apple tree that produced sweet but tart apples and can confirm mom's homemade applesauce far outstripped anything you can buy. But that's also with a heavy dash of nostalgia, so grain of salt. I've never seen them in stores, but I have seen in them in apple picking orchards from time to time, so maybe better luck at a farmer's market?
posted by smirkette at 12:01 PM on December 19, 2023

Best answer: My husband makes this recipe whenever we have apples hanging around that are starting to get soft. We leave out the sugar... and usually the cinnamon as well.
posted by jabes at 12:10 PM on December 19, 2023

We make applesauce of that type regularly when we have some iffy apples of any type, and the results are always good. I’d probably avoid a sturdy pie apple lest it stay too chunky. Since you want some chunkiness, I’d also avoid Macintosh or other softer-textured varieties.

We just peel and chop, toss the apples in a pot, and set it to low, covered, with a little water and butter while cooking. They are usually thoroughly cooked by the time I’m done making latkes or whatever the main dish is, and at that point you can mash them up and flavor to taste. If the result is too watery, let them cook a few minutes longer with the lid off. Applesauce is pretty well behaved in my experience.
posted by tchemgrrl at 12:20 PM on December 19, 2023

I don't know how it works in the US, but here in the UK we have 'eating apples' and 'cooking apples', and the apple pretty much everybody cooks with is the Bramley. They're huge apples, too sour to eat on their own, but with the right amount of sugar they're hands-down the best apple for desserts and sauces.
posted by pipeski at 12:21 PM on December 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am a strong believer that the best applesauce is made with a variety of apples. At least 3 different kinds. You get a richer, apple-y flavor.
posted by tangosnail at 12:40 PM on December 19, 2023 [16 favorites]

Best answer: Use any apples that are tart, cut to taste with whatever's cheap. I like a more tart flavor so I prefer crabapples sweetened to taste. Apples are relatively regional; you're northeast enough that you can probably get Rome, Envy, or Cortland which are good eating or cooked. Jonagolds or Gravenstein are also good for this. I would probably just use Granny Smith and sweeten to taste. A little lemon juice will also punch up the apple flavor.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

echoing tangosnail; the only from-scratch applesauce I every made was in a classroom where the homework was "oh, shoot, yeah, everybody bring in a couple apples tomorrow." So it was a bunch of different kinds, and it was phenomonal :)
posted by adekllny at 12:45 PM on December 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Gravensteins are traditionally among the best for sauce.

But I think you can make a delicious very chunky sauce out of almost any variety by chopping six or seven apples into chunks of slightly less than an inch, broiling or air frying chunks of two of the apples into a sauce/syrup then adding the rest to that sauce and broiling the mixture until you reach the texture you prefer. I always add walnuts to mine relatively late in the process, but it doesn’t sound like that would suit your needs.
posted by jamjam at 1:03 PM on December 19, 2023

I've found applesauce is also friendly to certain other fruits. As alternatives to cranberries, I've added pears during the cooking stage and also sometimes mash in a banana after the cooking is done. To me, pears and/or bananas deepen the flavor while still being mild overall.
posted by beaning at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2023

Homemade applesauce will be way better than commercial applesauce no matter what kind of apples you use. I've made it many times and have just used whatever apples I've had on hand. It's always amazing and so unlike commercial applesauce they don't even seem like the same thing.

So if you want to figure out the best apples for it, that's great, but in the end, it's going to be good no matter what you do.

Also, I just use a wire whisk rather than mashing it.
posted by FencingGal at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2023 [5 favorites]

I agree that a variety of apples is good, but that you can make decent applesauce with whatever you've got on hand. The game changer for me was the recipe for Judy Rodgers' Roasted Applesauce, because the roasting really brings out the sweetness even in more tart apples. Can vouch that it goes wonderfully with latkes. :)
posted by Pandora Kouti at 1:37 PM on December 19, 2023 [5 favorites]

I've made applesauce with a variety of different apples, alone and in combination. I haven't noticed a textural difference between cooking / baking varieties and ones for eating raw, so I'd say use the ones you like raw because that'll be the closest match for your sweet / tart preference. I like apples on the tart side, so I tend to lean towards the Granny Smith side of things and I leave out any sugar or honey from the recipe.

If you cook yours in the electric pressure cooker, my hot tip is to add a handful of dried fruit to help absorb the extra water. Anything unsweetened and unsulfured works, so try dried apple or pear if you want it to stay pretty apple-y, and craisins or dried mango if you want some interesting flavor notes.
posted by fifthpocket at 1:40 PM on December 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

I never considered so much thought to making applesauce before. It’s literally always just whatever apples in the house have gone a bit soft, peeled, cored, chunked and thrown into the pot. Boil them until soft like potatoes. Drain off the water (but save it for a lovely apple tea) and then just mash them. Taste, if too sour/tart add some sugar and some cinnamon if you’d like.

I think Granny Smiths are the only kind I’ve never used in applesauce.
posted by raccoon409 at 1:45 PM on December 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Old school McIntosh or Jonathan apples will give you the most apple saucey apple sauce, if you can find them. You barely need to break them down manually so you might want to add a Braeburn or similar for chunkiness and a little added tartness.
posted by Mizu at 2:07 PM on December 19, 2023

Best answer: I put large lengths of peel in with the apples while they cook. They add a depth of flavor you won't taste with only peeled apples. You can just fish them out with a fork at the end. (If you want an easier method, put your peels in a length of cheesecloth, tie it off and add it to your chunked apples and water. Adding a branch of fresh thyme is lovely, too.) If you have used red peel the sauce will have a mild jewel-tone hue which I find beautiful.
posted by citygirl at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

If your applesauce is a bit bland, a little lemon with perk it up. Latkes & applesauce - yum.
posted by theora55 at 2:24 PM on December 19, 2023 [1 favorite]

Good idea on the peels! They contain pectin, which will naturally thicken your applesauce and improve its texture.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:20 PM on December 19, 2023

Best answer: I use Granny Smith, and have never been disappointed. (That said, the best apple pie I ever tasted called for a mix of apple varieties and was otherwise a completely standard apple pie recipe, so if you want be extra, get a mix.) I would recommend you err on the side of tarter apples. I peel and chop up the apples, put them in a pot with a little water (maybe a quarter cup per five apples?)--just enough water that I don't worry about the apples scorching before they start to break down and release their own juice. I sprinkle in some white sugar (maybe 2 tablespoons per five apples) and a tiny pinch of salt, and then simmer the pot on low until the apple chunks are tender, then mash them into a chunky applesauce texture. I think the sugar and salt are key--you don't need much, but they'll enhance the apples' flavor as they cook. This is the applesauce I make for latkes.
posted by theotherdurassister at 4:32 PM on December 19, 2023

I use a combo of Granny Smith and honeycrisp, peeled and diced in a bit of water, but I peel them in one continuous peel and add that to the pot while they cook. I'll add a spoonful of sugar if the grannies are super sour but you don't have to. You can also just add sugar to taste at the end. I do add cinnamon and cardamom but that's not strictly necessary, especially for latkes.

I boil until it's fork tender, fish out the peels, and then mash it a bit.
posted by ananci at 5:34 PM on December 19, 2023

I've always used a variety of tart apples, cut in chunks with the skin on. Sometimes I add a red delicious (which I'd never eat raw) for color and a bit of sweetness. Put in a pot with water, bring to a boil and simmer for about 45 minutes. Since my family prefers smooth, I remove apples with a slotted spoon and finish in a food processor.
posted by Scout405 at 6:51 PM on December 19, 2023

Definitely granny smiths.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:06 PM on December 19, 2023

Pink lady apples. Just cut them up - not small either, maybe 4-5 chunks per apple - and cook them over low heat until they're the consistency you want. The mashing takes care of itself. Peels optional. I have used this on latkes before.

Seriously: cut up pink lady apples, put in pot, cook. You're done.

If you want: have lemon juice, cinnamon, cardamom, and fresh nutmeg available to add at whim. No need to have those added when you cook the apples: just mix in the lemon juice if you want a little more tartness, and sprinkle the spices on when served.
posted by amtho at 7:23 PM on December 19, 2023

Oooh, I upped my applesauce game this year - went single-variety when I got my hands on one day of 'all you can pick' from heirloom trees. If you can get your hands on 'cider apples' or "baking apples" use/mix those in! If you can get crab apples, that's even better! (Caution on 100% crab apples - those were delicious but they have a lot of pectin and the texture was very firm - fine with me but ymmv).

My takeaway is use the whole apple (other than cores), aim for tart apples of any var, sweeten to taste, and blenderize/immersion blend/food mill the peels in once they're cooked most of the way to mush. Pie apples will take longer to break down but add delightful texture and flavor if you prefer unblended.

Don't sweeten until you're done cooking and have reduced them to your final volume (ask me how I learned this....!). Add a pat of butter to reduce foaming, salt for flavor and go heavy on lemon juice for balance (don't be afraid of too much - you'll be surprised at how well it works with apples).

I canned mine so I can give as gifts and eat all year, but there's always the underfilled jars that end up in the fridge.

I prefer it with granola/dried fruit and nuts/chia seeds and yougart. The tart yougart is a wonderful foil to the sweeter apples, plus crunch.
posted by esoteric things at 12:21 AM on December 21, 2023

Response by poster: Thanks to all for your input. The recipe that jabes linked to was the one I intended to use in the first place, and did use for procedure. Ended up with four Granny Smiths, a McIntosh, a Braeburn (I think) and an Opal, and I did add some peel for texture/pectin (removed after cooking) as a couple folks recommended. I did wait until the end to add sugar because I suspected I'd want less than the recipe stated, and that was true; we like cinnamon so I added that too.

It turned out quite good, we all marveled at how easy it was, and I doubt we'll ever buy jarred applesauce again for latkes.
posted by dlugoczaj at 10:21 AM on January 2

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