Get a Head Start on Thanksgiving
It’s November! Guess what? Thanksgiving is coming soon. Does this send you into a panic? Hopefully not. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays and I think it is the husband’s favorite. It’s all about being grateful for what we have and counting our blessings and taking a little time to think about or be with those we love.
And let’s not forget the food. It’s also the single most looked-forward to meal of the year. I really love to prepare Thanksgiving food and even though we have gone to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving for the past 10+ years, I almost always find time to make our own Thanksgiving feast at home. After all, when you go to someone’s house, you don’t get leftovers and part of the fun of Thanksgiving is the huge amount of leftovers you have at the end. Leftovers to last a week or more are the reward for days of planning, cooking and baking.
But, even though there is a lot of work involved, much of it can be done weeks in advance. I have actually already started to prepare for Thanksgiving and I thought you might be interested in seeing what I have done and what I will be doing.
Of course, the first thing I did had to do with apples. Were you surprised? Ha! Believe it or not, we still have about one basket’s worth of apples left, but most of them are in the fridge, so they’ll be alright for awhile. Considering that most apples sold in grocery stores are, on average, eight (can you believe it?) months old, I think month-old apples are just fine.
Anyway, one thing I have found that works really well is to freeze apple pie filling. This is handy to have around for pies, crisps, and even tarts. I started doing this a few years ago and in our freezer, they last for about a year. All you have to do is thaw it, dump it, and bake it. It’s awesome! You do all that peeling, coring, slicing, and cooking all at once.
Yes, you read that right. I precook the apples. Not completely, or they would be applesauce. The trick here is to use a variety of different kinds of apples. Some apples will turn mushy really quickly and others will stay pretty firm after they are cooked.
The reason why I cook ahead of time is twofold. First, cooked apples take up a lot less space than uncooked apples. This saves space in the freezer and eliminates that huge gap you sometimes get between your pie filling and the top crust. That gap always used to annoy me.
Secondly, I cannot stand a pie or crisp with crunchy apples. If you like crunchy apples in your pies, you’ll have to bite the bullet and prepare your pie on the day you want to serve it. If you’re alright with softly cooked apples, then try this recipe.
You will probably notice that there is no cornstarch or other thickener in this recipe. That’s because you drain the apples and cook down all the juices that would normally accumulate in your pie. Then, you add that concentrated apple juice back into the filling to create an apple pie filling that is just the pure essence of apple flavor. It’s Yummy!
Freezer Apple Pie Filling
Like I said earlier, use a variety of apples. I used Jonagolds, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith in equal quantities this year. You will also need a really big pot or you can divide the recipe into two large pots. I used a 9 quart pot. Also, I used my apple peeler corer slicer to prep the apples and it was a breeze. Can I just say again how much I Love this tool?
10 pounds of apples
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Peel, core and slice the apples into 1/4-1/3 inch slices. Toss the slices in the pot with the lemon juice and zest as you go along to keep the apples from browning.
Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and toss gently. Place the pot over medium heat and cook, undisturbed until you start to see a little steam.
Cover the pot, turn the heat down to low, and let steam for about 10-15 minutes. Do not stir. You don’t want to break up your apple slices. Also, the apples should steam, not boil. The apples should cook down significantly. Here is a picture of my pot after the apples have cooked. Before, the apples filled the pot right up to the top. Also, notice how some of the apples have mushed a little and some are still solid.
Next, you need to drain the apples over a large bowl. You want to catch all the juices that the apples released. Handle them gently to keep from breaking up the apples more than necessary. Let them drain for 10 minutes or so.
Spread the apples out onto a sheet pan to cool and then pack them into your containers. I used quart sized plastic containers. Leave some space on top for the apple syrup and for expansion.
Now, return all the juice you collected back to your pot. Put it over medium heat and boil until reduced and syrupy.
I had a little over a cup of the syrup when mine finished boiling. It will be a little thick. Pour the syrup into a glass measuring cup and let it cool. When it is cool, evenly distribute them on top of your filling containers. Don’t worry about mixing them. That will all happen later when you thaw and bake. You can gently tap the containers on the counter to get the liquid to settle down into the cracks.
After they are cool, I put the lids on and put them in the fridge. Once they are as cool as the fridge, I transfer them to the freezer. I got 3 quarts of pie filling from 10 pounds of apples-enough for three pies.