Now, about that applesauce.
This recipe works its way into our repertoire every year as an afterthought. We’ll be looking for something or other to go with whatever meal we’ve got planned, paging through recipe files, knocking around in the cupboards, when one of us will ask, “Hey, what about that apple sauce?” Then, we'll smack our hands against our foreheads, say, “Oh, right,” and remember how very special “that applesauce” is. After the first pot, it sticks with us for the rest of the season, as a light, tart, Thanksgiving dessert; at our annual Chanukah party, atop Eli’s famous latkes; and on New Year’s Eve, blushing hotly alongside a cool glass of champagne. We got started a little earlier than usual this season thanks to a bag of last year’s cranberries that was tucked away in our freezer. Wait, have I mentioned that part yet? That it’s cranberry applesauce? I told you it’s special.
Way back in September, on the Tuesday before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Eli and I got into our pajamas early, and stretched out on the bed with a few favorite cookbooks, a stack of old Gourmet magazines, a notepad, and a fresh pack of sticky tabs. We would be hosting a couple of holiday meals that weekend, and we were looking for inspiration. At the risk of sounding completely geeky, I’ll share with you that bedtime, pre-holiday meal planning is something I adore. I love the soft light of the nightstand lamp against the glossy magazine pages, the smell of the pillows, Judy Rodgers’s and Suzanne Goin’s familiar prose, and the curve of Eli’s back as he leans into a new recipe, and thinks it through. We talk in quiet voices about flavors and oils and what this one or the other of our dinner guests might particularly enjoy. We read aloud to each other from the recipe notes, mark pages, and make lists. And somewhere along the way, our conversation shifts to the new year, to where we’ve been and where we’re going, to what we believe in, and who we want to be for ourselves, for each other, and out there in the world. This year, I learned something new about Eli, which is that he will follow Tom Colicchio anywhere. Even if it means making a stock to make a stock (yes, you read that correctly) in which to braise one very lucky hunk of meat. Once Eli set his eyes on that recipe, he barely glanced at another cookbook. The next night, after work, he got started.
The thing about stock is that it has a way of eating up an entire evening. Between the prepping, and the simmering, and the cooling so that it doesn’t spoil the fridge, it would be two or three in the morning before Eli would finally come to bed. This situation may not seem especially hospitable to the making of applesauce, but just stick with me, if you would. I meant it when I said that we tend to get to this recipe in a roundabout way. The thing to remember is that a lot of stock-making time is downtime, and when Eli noticed the apples remaining from our Labor Day orchard excursion, he said – true to form – “Hey, why don’t I make that applesauce? I might as well.” Any man who, when faced with a few hours of late-night, mid-stock downtime makes applesauce because he “might as well” is dreamy, and that’s that. I knew I liked him.
If ever you find yourself in a similar situation, about to go to bed, when someone pipes up with an offer to make this applesauce, resist the pillow for just a few minutes, if you can. When the pot is filled with fruit and sugar and beginning to heat up, volunteer to stir so that you can watch the cranberries melt a little into the apples, split open with the occasional pop, and release their tart, rosy juices. Then, go on to bed, and in the morning, taking care not to wake the still-sleeping, late-night cook beside you, step out into your cinnamon-smelling apartment, poke a spoon into the fridge, and steal a puckery little bite. I don’t know why, but I got a little nervous this year that maybe it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered it, but sure enough, there was that zing.
If you skip all of the making and taking stock, and dive right into the recipe, you’ll find that this applesauce comes together in a snap. It takes only about fifteen minutes to prep the apples and throw everything into the pot, and then you just let the fruit, sugar, and heat do their thing. I know that I promised you this recipe almost two months ago, and I’m sorry I’m late. I hope you’ll find it was worth the wait.
(p.s. Hi, November. What?)
Adapted from Gourmet, December, 2007
The original recipe calls for just 1 ½ c. cranberries, but I upped the amount to 2 full cups. I like tart. I enjoy this sauce warm, anointed with a small (or not-so-small, as you can see from the photograph) dollop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche.
4 pounds apples (about 8 medium-small apples), peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces. We like to use a mix of whatever we have around. Our last batch included Jonagold, Honeycrisp, McIntosh, and Golden Delicious.
2 c. fresh or thawed frozen cranberries
½ c. sugar
1 cinnamon stick
Place the apples, cranberries, sugar, and cinnamon stick in a large heavy pot. Cover, and turn the heat to medium-low. Stirring every now and then, let cook for about 45 minutes, until the fruit is very tender, and begins to break down into a sauce. Discard the cinnamon stick. The original recipe indicates that you can force the applesauce through a sieve for a smoother texture, but I prefer it thick and chunky. I think it is best when made at least one day ahead, chilled, and then reheated. The applesauce can be prepared up to one week in advance. Keep covered and chilled.