My goal for this week was to post something fun, easy and seasonal. The result? Canned Strawberry Applesauce!
This is a lovely recipe that results in a sort of cross between applesauce as we know it and mashed, sugared dessert strawberries like you probably ate on pie crust growing up. My dad spreads this on toast, I like it with whipped cream, yet it’s just as comfortable riding side-saddle with dinner, or with cereal and yogurt for breakfast.
The flavor from late-season strawberries (which should also be pretty cheap this time of year) really preserves nicely, giving your winter pantry a burst of sunshine just waiting for you inside these jars. Just make it and see. 🙂
Chef’s Note: I will confess up front that this is yet another canning recipe that, to save time for busy folks, uses a base of already-made applesauce. If you make your own, bully for you! If you don’t own food milling equipment, or there’s no orchard in your backyard, or if you’re simply trying to fit a fun project into a short weekend (without going crazy), you can do what I did and buy ready-made, sweetened applesauce in bulk.
A 50-ounce jar of store-bought applesauce, in addition to shaving considerable time off this project, can be had for $1.50 or less this time of year. I can’t make it for that price, so that’s why I cop out and buy it pre-made. Price matters!
And really, while it sounds fancy to be able to tell everyone you made the applesauce from scratch, the truth is, people don’t really care. Anyone who receives a gifted jar of this wündersauce is going to enjoy it because it is AWESOME, and if they have any complaints, just cross them off future treat lists, ‘coz they can be expected get off their own lazy butts and make it themselves, right? Right.
Canned, sweetened applesauce makes life easier. :)You’ll need a slow-cooker and a blender for this lovely project, –multiple slow cookers if you want to do a whole bunch at once. The increments in the recipe listed below fit perfectly in a 4-quart (average-sized) Crock Pot, and yield somewhere around 6-7 pints per recipe. Also good to remember — warm sauce seems thinner (and more sour!) than cooled sauce. Good wisdom. Don’t go overboard with the sugar because it will always come out thicker and sweeter than it seems in the slow cooker.
Also, do note that using sweetened applesauce (NOT unsweetened) as your base will speed up cook time as well as save you a little bit of money and hassle because you won’t have to wait for amounts of applesauce to cook down to add additional (costly!) sugar, and be faced with the worry of it carmelizing before you get all the sauce you bought worked into the crocks. In short, pre-sweetened is just easier.
What You’ll Do:
Remove the green tops from 1.5 lbs. fresh, very ripe strawberries. Halve or quarter berries into a large bowl. If you’re making multiple batches at once, be sure to have a large pitcher on hand as well.
Fill the blender with cut berries and puree; if more berries remain, dump the pureed ones from the blender into the large pitcher and blend remaining ones. You should get about 3 cups of strawberry puree from every pound-and-a-half of strawberries.
(I made 4 batches, which used a total of 6 [1-lb.] packs of strawberries and 8 [50-ounce] jars of premade applesauce, if you follow.)
Into each slow cooker, dump 2 [50-ounce] jars of sweetened applesauce and 3 cups strawberry puree. Mix well with a long spoon (wooden ones work well).
The puree will have a tendency to float on the surface of the applesauce so you have to really work it in as best you can, spooning from the bottom to the top in a circular motion rather than a regular round stirring pattern.
To the mixture, add 1 cup granulated sugar and mix again. Into the center of the mixture, drop about a 3-tablespoon chunk of frozen orange juice concentrate. (You don’t really have to measure it precisely.)
If the frozen OJ is tough, don’t worry about blending it well with the other ingredients at this point because it’s going to melt and break down later anyway.
Cover mixture with slow cooker lid and turn Crock Pot to HIGH.
If desired, you can prop the lid of the slowcooker up on one side by angling it against the base or by laying breadknives width-wise across the top of the cooker before covering (see photo).
Doing this helps some of the excess liquid escape to give you a thicker consistency, but every slow cooker is different. Some may prefer to wait until mixture has gotten very hot before propping the top, some may prefer to just leave the lid all the way on the whole time. Your choice.
Let the mixture cook for about 5-6 hours, reducing to LOW if scorching is occuring or problems with heat arise — otherwise keep at HIGH as long as possible, stirring whenever you think of it or walk past.
If a gummy layer forms around the top ring of the slow-cooker, and doesn’t look like it can be easily re-incorporated, use a regular metal spoon to gently remove it from the sides without it falling in the mixture. You don’t want scorched chunks in your sauce later! (Removing it cleanly is easier than it sounds.)
Chef’s Note: If your applesauce carmelizes a bit too much, or you are doing multiple batches that appear different in color by the end, you can always put a couple drops of food coloring paste (like Wilton) in the pot. Seriously, a drop or two of Wilton Pink is all it takes to standardize the batches and take them back in time an hour to the beautiful pink they were before you let them go too long. 🙂
Meanwhile, sanitize your jars (again, 1 batch size makes about 6 or 7 pints), lids and rings. For lots & lots of advice on home canning apple-based preserves, see my tutorial on homemade apple butter here.
When mixture is ready to be canned, keep Crock Pot on WARM or LOW if possible while transferring it to the clean, hot jars. You want everything (the applesauce, the glass, the pot of water) to be uniformly hot as much as possible to avoid jar breakage.
Process jars in hot water bath for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove, allow to cool, and wait for those satisfying “PLINK!” noises to occur. Once cool, remove rings, rinse any residue from outside of jar and lid, and replace rings if desired for storage. Use within 12-16 months.