It looks like something from the dark ages, I suppose, but I couldn’t be without it. It is a hand-cranked device that purees vegetables and fruits that have been chopped and cooked down along with their skins, seeds and other parts of their natural state. Cooked tomatoes can be pureed in a food mill and used as a base for fresh marinara sauce. My mother would do this every year and freeze the summer’s bounty for the winter.
Mostly, I use mine to make fresh applesauce, which, as the holidays fast approach, would make a lovely addition to Thanksgiving dinner (especially for those guests not particularly fond of cranberries, jellied or otherwise).
I love my applesauce. It is tart and sweet at the same time and is fragrant with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. I cook the apples in apple cider rather than water, which gives the sauce a deep, rich flavor. A splash of fresh lemon juice brightens the flavor. Nothing that comes in a jar comes close to homemade applesauce. I’ve tried them all.
We are fortunate to live in an area with abundant apple harvests from the local orchards near Harrisburg all the way to the apple paradise of Adams County. The Adams County Apple website lists close to 80 apple varieties that are available from early summer to mid-November. In a way, apples are like wine, each with subtle differences in sweetness, tartness, color and texture.
I love sauce made from the first transparent green apples of early summer, like Lodi. Lodi sauce is pale green and fairly tart, requiring a good amount of sugar. Golden Delicious apples of mid-summer make a sweet, slightly yellow sauce, while the Winesaps, as their name suggests, are tart and fragrant with a hint of rich, red wine.
Making applesauce is not hard, although it can be a little messy. If you don’t want to invest in a food mill, you can peel and core the apples, remove the seeds, cut into chunks and simmer on the stove until they are tender. This results in a chunky sauce and, oh, is it good!
- 8 large apples that are used for cooking, as well as eating (some, like Red Delicious, are sold as “eating apples”)
- At least a pint of apple cider or unfiltered apple juice (the amount of liquid you use will influence how thick or thin your sauce will be)
- Anywhere from ½ to 1 cup of sugar depending on the tartness of the apples and your taste
- Cinnamon and nutmeg (I use a lot but let your taste guide you)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 fresh lemon, cut in quarters
- Thoroughly scrub the apples with a stiff brush and running water.
- On a cutting board, slice the apples into quarters. If you are using a food mill, there is no need to peel them or remove the cores and seeds.
- Place the apples in a large saucepan or Dutch oven and pour enough apple cider to partially cover the apples.
- Bring the apples and cider to a boil, and then reduce the heat to medium/medium low. The mixture should be bubbling. Cooking time will depend on the firmness of the apples.
- Cook until the apples are very soft, almost “dissolving.”
- Remove from the heat and let cool slightly as the apples will be very hot.
- Place the food mill over a bowl large enough to hold the applesauce. There is a bit of trial and error here. The food mill has small hooks, and you must find a good fit with a bowl.
- When the apples are not too hot to handle, take a large ladle and scoop the apples with some cider into the food mill. Turn the handle until the apples are pureed and all that remains in the mill are skins and seeds. Repeat the process until all the apples are strained into your bowl. Use less cooking liquid if you like a thicker sauce.
Finishing the Sauce
- While the sauce is still warm, add the sugar and some fresh squeezed lemon juice. Immediately stir to dissolve the sugar. Keep tasting and adjusting the sugar and lemon juice to your taste.
- Add several teaspoons of cinnamon and about 1 teaspoon of nutmeg, along with a big splash of pure vanilla extract. There is no need to stick to precise measurements. You might even try a little cardamom or coriander if you like those spices.
- Stir the mixture very well and sprinkle extra cinnamon on top.
- Serve warm or chilled with chicken, turkey or pork chops and even for a snack. And applesauce cake is wonderful in the fall.
There are still food mills being sold out there, although, I suspect, not very many. I was happy to see a great New York Times article recently about a man who used his food mill to make his own designer gin and bitters. That sounded wonderful!
I am willing mine to my younger son, the cook. But, in the meantime, there’s lots of applesauce still ahead.
Happy Thanksgiving to all TheBurg readers!