There are so many great culinary fall flavors, but one of my favorites has to be apples. (You thought I was going to say pumpkin spice, didn’t you?)

No, I can live without the pervasive pumpkin-spice lattes, beers, and candles.  However, I don’t think I could get through an Autumn season without apples. There’s something so therapeutic (and nostalgic) about the combination of fresh orchard apples with the aromatic spices of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. And what better way to bring the smells and tastes of the season into your home than with a beautiful batch of homemade applesauce!

The trick to really good applesauce is in the apples.  A disclaimer here – if you’re planning on going to the grocery store to buy waxy, year-old, cold-stored apples, you’re wasting your time. A truly authentic, rustic applesauce should be made with fresh-from-the-season apples.  If you have apple orchards near you, pack up the family and spend an afternoon at the farm.

Here in the Charlotte area, apple-picking seasons generally closes by the end of September, but thankfully our neighborhood farmer’s market, Josh’s Farmers Market, has an abundant supply of North Carolina mountain apples, in every variety imaginable!

Josh's Farmers Market apples
Josh's Farmers Market apples

 For a complex sauce, I chose a variety of mountain apples including Stayman Winesaps, Courtlands, Honeycrisps, Macintoshes Jonagolds, Galas, and a few Granny Smiths (for a little tartness).  No exact science here – really whatever looked good as Caleb and I was perusing the barrels at Josh’s.  Caleb was especially excited to help me make the sauce as his class just made apple butter at school recently.

Josh's Farmers Market apples

The combination of rustic mountain apples made for a beautiful arrangement in my dining room for a few days before I made the sauce.

Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce
Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce

Making homemade applesauce is actually quite easy. That hardest part is taking the time to peel all of the apples. If you own a food mill, this is the perfect time to dig it out and let it do the work for you.  You can leave the apple skins on, then just run the cooked mixture through the mill to remove the skins  If not, peel the apples, cut them into bite-sized chunks, and add to a heavy-bottomed stockpot.  If not, it will probably take about a half hour or so to skin all of those beauties.  And save those skins for a sweet snack!

Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce

Next, add all of those warm and comforting fall spices. Another trick to really rustic applesauce – use the freshest spices available if you can. Instead of ground cinnamon, throw in a whole stick; and freshly ground nutmeg tastes dramatically better than the ground stuff.  I do use ground allspice and a dash of cardamom (my all-around secret spice ingredient) and a little brown sugar, too!

Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce
Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce

Once the apples and spices are ready for the stovetop, they’ll need some steaming liquid. You could use apple juice or just plain water but I love adding a cup of fresh-pressed apple cider.  And since I had the cider out anyway, I whipped up this tasty cider-whiskey cocktail to quench my thirst. (Peeling apples is tough work!) I mean the rosemary garnish was leftover from that evening’s grilled chicken, and my bar cart is right around the corner…what else is a girl to do??

Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce

Homemade applesauce is an awesome accompaniment to grilled pork, such as chops or a tenderloin. Here, I served the sauce directly over pork chops and paired it with an arugula, radicchio, and roasted carrot salad. (For a how-to on roasting any vegetable to perfection, check out this post.) It would also be amazing with vanilla bean ice cream or frozen yogurt and a dash of cinnamon!

Personally, I like my applesauce a bit chunky, but my boys prefer it smoother, so this batch got a final spin in a food processor.  Get the entire ingredient list and instructions for both smooth and chunky versions below.

Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce
Fall Flvaors 101: Homemade Applesauce

Ingredients

  • 6 pounds fresh orchard apples – Mine included a variety of North Carolina mountain apples including Stayman Winesaps, Courtlands, Macintoshes, Honeycrisps, and a few Granny Smiths (for tartness).
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • Dash of cardamom
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup Sugar in the Raw or Stevia in the Raw
  • 1 cup fresh-pressed apple cider
  • Juice from one lemon

Instructions

  1. Wash and peel the apples. (If you have a food mill you can leave the apple skins on during cooking, then run the mixture through the food mill to remove the skins later.)
  2. Core and cut the apples into bite-sized chunks. Add apples to a heavy-bottomed stockpot.
  3. Add remaining ingredients to the apples.
  4. Simmer on low for 25-30 minutes, stirring several times during the cooking to prevent sticking or burning. Remove mixture from heat.
  5. For chunky more rustic applesauce, use a potato masher and smash to desired consistency.
  6. For smooth applesauce, transfer mixture to a large-bowled food processor; process to desired consistency.
  7. Transfer sauce to a container, store in the fridge for up to a week.