Applesauce!

Only one ingredient matters when making applesauce. Pick sweet apples like Gala Fuji, McIntosh or Honeycrisp – forget Granny Smith's. They make great pie but sour applesauce. Use at least two different varieties. I have McIntosh apples and Bartlett pears from our own trees so I add a pear or two instead of a second variety of apple to enhance taste. I didn't need to add any sugar.

You can pick your own, or buy them at an orchard or grocery store. Here in western Massachusetts, the UMass Cold Spring Orchard reasearch and education facility sells all kinds of apples. If you are buying your apples from a commercial orchard, ask for "seconds" or "drops". Apples with a bruise or odd shape make great sauce and cost less than perfect apples. Not all orchards sell "seconds", but they're a bargain when you can get them. A half bushel of apples will yield about 12 pints of sauce.

Get the jars ready before you start cooking the apples. The dishwasher is fine for the jars. Leave the jars in the dishwasher on "heated dry" until you are ready to use them. If you don't have a dishwasher, wash the jars in hot, soapy water and rinse, then dip the jars in boiling water. Keep the jars in hot water until they are used. Keeping them hot will prevent the jars from breaking when you fill them with the hot applesauce.

Put the lids into a pan of hot, but not boiling water (manufacturer's recommendation) for 5 minutes, and use a magnetic "lid lifter wand" or a slotted spoon to pull them out.

Wash the apples in plain cold water. Chopping them is much faster if you use an apple cutter - you just push it down on a peeled apple and it cuts it into segments. Apples get brown edges fast so as you cut them, drop them in a bowl of lemon water (1 whole lemon squeezed into a quart of water) until you have enough to begin cooking.

Cooking the apples is pretty simple. Put 1/4 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice and 1/4 cup of store-bought apple juice into a 4 or 5 quart, thick-bottomed pot. Drop in the chopped apples until the pot is 3/4 filled. Put the lid on, and the heat on medium-high. When it starts to boil turn the burner down to medium and cook, stirring often, until your apples (and in my case a pear or two) are soft. Use a potato masher to squash the apples into a slightly chunky sauce and take a taste – if your sauce is a little too tart or too bland, you can add sugar one teaspoon at a time until you like the flavor. Go easy on the sugar, as a little goes a long way when it comes to applesauce. You can add cinnamon if you like. Again, start with a sprinkle because, like the sugar, a little goes a long way.

The applesauce does not need any further cooking; just keep it hot until you get enough made to fill the jars you will put into the canner Canners hold seven jars at once. Fill the canning pot 1/2 way with water and set to boil.

Fill the prepared jars to within 1/4 inch of the top. Using a clean damp cloth, wipe any spilled applesauce off the top, seat the lid and gently tighten the ring around the lid. Put the jars in the canner and add enough hot water to keep them covered with no less than 1 inch of water. Get the canner back to a full boil and begin timing. Boil pint jars for 15 minutes and quart jars for 20 minutes. (If you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level, check recommended canning time.)

Lift the jars out of the water and let them cool without touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight). Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed by pressing in the center gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down (often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. Refrigerate unsealed sauce promptly for use within a day or two. Some folks reprocess successfully but I don't recommend it.

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