Here in our part of Upstate New York, we have a lot of wild apple trees. They are along the roads, they ring farmer’s fields, and sit at the edges of yards all over the countryside. Most years, their offerings are not very impressive – lots of little green, sour apples, and often even the larger types got hit by a late frost that stunted the yield. In this year of one nasty kind of weather problem after another, the fact that our last frost occurred on May 6th, was almost forgotten. The normal last frost date for our area is around June 1st, so that was quite a boost to fruit production of all kinds, with the wild apple trees benefiting right along with the rest.
Last year, and then again this spring, Larry tried pruning this one tree right across from our driveway – we just started a small orchard of our own, so he wanted to practice on a tree that didn’t cost us any money. Because there were two new variables entered in the experiment – the pruning, and the early end to frost – we can’t be entirely sure what caused that tree to bear so well this year, but bear well, it did! Nice, big, tasty apples – see:
I made an apple crisp from the first bunch Larry picked, and asked if he could reach any more. The next thing I knew, he had his pickup truck backed under the tree, with a ladder in the back, leaning on the upper trunk. I refuse to watch this kind of activity, because if he breaks his neck [or sets himself on fire, or blows himself up, or cuts off a body part, or falls, or whatever], I don’t want to witness the event. In any case, there were no unfortunate misadventures, and I had a nice big bucket of wild apples to play with. Apple sauce was my first thought, since I hadn’t made any yet, and I love having a good supply in the freezer for breakfasts, snacking and baking over the winter.
If you are starting with wild apples, you want to make extra sure that they are clean – soak them for a bit in clean water, swish them around well, and drain the water. Wash again, adding a tablespoon of bleach to the water, and finally rinse well. This tree is along the road, which doesn’t get a lot of traffic, but I wanted to be sure I got them clean. Cut in quarters, or sixths if they are very large apples, and pile into a big, heavy pot- this one is 8 quarts. I have seen applesauce recipes lately with directions for peeling and coring, but neither is necessary – so long as you have a food mill that is. It is a handy item, with many uses – this is the one I have: MIU Stainless Steel Food Mill You can still make the sauce, even without a mill, but you will need to peel and core the apples, and then mash them with a potato masher or some such, once they are cooked.
Wild apples are a little drier than most cultivated types, so I added 1/4 cup of water to get them going without sticking. Throw in a teaspoon or so of salt as well – salt really brings out the flavor of apples. Cook the apples until they are completely soft and broken down.If you aren’t in a terrible hurry to get done, it is not a bad idea to let the apples cool for a bit before going on to this next step – it helps eliminate the risk of splashing hot apples on yourself, which have the same approximate temperature as that of the magma at the core of the earth. Still, if you are careful, you will probably be fine. [I’m not going to watch you though, since as stated earlier in this post, I don’t want to see it if something bad happens] There is a little more detail about making applesauce in these two posts: Homemade Apple Sauce and Pomegranate Apple Sauce Because wild apples are both a little more sour, and a sometimes, a little less flavorful than their cultivated relatives, I spiced this batch up a little more than usual, starting with a little freshly grated cinnamon.I also put in a few tablespoons of brown sugar, some nutmeg and a little allspice. You could try a little freshly grated ginger in there, a splash of pure vanilla extract, or whatever else strikes your fancy – it is all to taste, so keep fiddling with it until it tastes the say you want it to. And then – taste it! Taste it some more, and then even more. Give some to your family to taste, and then your friends.They will all thank you. And crazy as it may sound, you will notice a difference – there will be a wild tang in the background of the flavor that you just don’t have with cultivated apples. And any homemade applesauce puts store bought sauce to shame. I am not sure what they do to apples to turn out that mealy, bland, nasty stuff in jars at the supermarket, but I want no part of it, and neither will you once you make your own.