What are crab apples? Little, tart apples that seem to grow everywhere in Utah. Jayce has a crab apple tree growing in his backyard, and it provides him with an excess of crab apples. They fall everywhere, and if one doesn't collect them and get rid of them, they just sit there and rot and ferment. But what does one do with their over-abundance of crab apples? In Jayce's case, one finds his local chef and asks if he wants them. Why not, I thought? I'll see what kinds of dishes I can make from them before I get sick of them too. So yesterday, Jayce plopped down a big old bag of crab apples on my desk. He was even nice enough to sort through them and throw out any that looked like they had worms.
Now, the ones he gave me were small, perhaps a little bigger than a large cherry. And yes, they were tart, like sour apple candy. I spent the day thinking about what kinds of culinary creations I would concoct from these gems. I decided to start with the basics: apple sauce.
Of course, one problem with crab apples is that not only are they small, they have seeds too. Just a couple per apple, but since apple seeds are poisonous, they've got to go. There's also stems and the like. But did I want to go through a whole bag of cherry-sized apples and core them individually? I think not. So I turned to my trusty steamer basket. Having rinsed off the apples, I put two or three inches of water in the bottom of a large pot and added the apples. I set the heat to high and covered the pot. After about 15 minutes, the apples were starting to get soft. By 25 minutes, the skins had started to pop and peel away. Perfect.
I moved the apples to a bowl and started mashing them with my potato masher. I held onto the steaming liquid, which had taken on a candy red color. When the apples were sufficiently mashed, I moved them to a strainer with holes just smaller than the apple seeds, put that over a bowl and started working them with a rubber spatula. After a few minutes, I switched to a wooden spoon, which was much more effective. After a while, the only things left in the strainer were the seeds, stems and some of the apple cores. I tossed all of those, and focused on the pulp remaining in the bowl. I added that back to the pot, along with the steaming liquid. Why not? It still had all that apple flavor in it, and it would be a shame to lose that.
I put the pot back over the heat, this time to medium, and gave the apple sauce a taste. It wasn't as tart as before, but it needed help. I poured in some maple syrup and tried it again. Better, but still not there. It did taste a little brighter though. A few shakes of cinnamon added to that brightness. I decided to try adding a little molasses to see if I could deepen the flavor a little too. After all, molasses is a key ingredient in brown sugar, and brown sugar goes great with apples. Unfortunately, it did not deepen the flavor, it deadened it. No more of that, I guess. A little more maple syrup and cinnamon brightened it some more, and helped counter that tartness a little more. By the time I was done, there was still a good bit of tart there, but the applesauce tasted dang good.
As you'll see in the , it was not the regular light-brown color that we generally associate with applesauce. In fact, even before I added that candy red steaming water, the apple pulp was a really nice red color. I'm guessing this is mostly because I didn't bother removing the skins, which apparently have a lot of pigment. Don't worry, you can't tell that the skins are there. They just kind of blended in with the rest of the pulp. This ended up being a really nice applesauce.