Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Applesauce on the Wood Cookstove

I would like to admit right away that while the vast majority of the cooking that I have done since I left my parents' home has been on one wood cookstove or another, while I was growing up, everyone in my family had electric stoves, so that was what I was accustomed to until I purchased the Qualified Range in 1997.

If you read my last post, you know that we purchased the modern propane stove which is going to be our summer cooking alternative in the house kitchen.  Before I say anything else, let me just also admit that for the Monday Market summer baking, the convection oven on this new stove has been wonderful.  When we are baking on such a large scale for the market, the new stove has made things much easier on us.  (We are able to bake ten loaves of bread or nine pans of cinnamon rolls at a time using the propane stove.)

However, I have discovered two large-scale cooking activities that I much prefer using the wood cookstove for: applesauce and jelly making.

I'll talk more about making jelly on a wood cookstove in a later post.  The main cooking project that has been going on around here (other than the baking for the Monday Markets) is the production of a boat load of applesauce.  The apples from our Yellow Transparent apple tree--along with everything else--are late this year due to the interminable winter weather that we had this spring, but the tree is loaded with them, and they are beautiful.  We do not spray the trees, so in some years we spend hours and hours paring away damaged spots and worm holes, but this year the apples are gorgeous.

The tree was planted many years ago by my grandparents, and we have enjoyed applesauce and apple pies from it for as long as I can remember.  Using apples from this tree, my sister won Grand Champion Apple Pie at our county fair with the recipe that is featured in my post about apple pie.  We also consider applesauce from this tree to be far superior to any other applesauce.  My grandmother on my dad's side, whom we all called "Granny," spearheaded the applesauce making days when I was young, and we carry on the tradition today.  At our house, we've had three large applesauce making days so far this summer, and I doubt that we are done yet.  Here is what we do:

We start by quartering the apples, removing the stem, and paring out any bad spots.  I also tend to cut out the blossom end of the apple, but I don't think that this step is really necessary.  We do not peel the apples.  Granny always believed that the most nutritious part of the apple was right under the skin and thought that it was best not to peel them.  I don't know whether this is really true, but I can still hear her saying it as we made applesauce.

Put the apples into a heavy bottomed-kettle.  I have several Chef-Mate stock pots that were given to us as wedding presents.  I think that these are the perfect kettles to use for applesauce making because the bottoms are about a 1/2 inch thick and they are fitted with glass lids.  Add only enough water to have it rise about an inch from the bottom of the kettle while it is full of apples.  Place the kettle directly over the fire to begin with, but watch it carefully!  Once the apples begin to soften, it can easily scorch.
A 16-quart kettle of Yellow Transparent apples
beginning to cook directly over the firebox.
On the day that I was making the batch of applesauce in the pictures, I was also planning on doing some other cooking, so my fire was pretty brisk because I needed higher heat for the other tasks.  You will see a picture at the end of this post that was taken on a different day when the only cooking project was applesauce.  On that day, I kept only a small, slow fire going because the apples do not need a high heat in order to cook down.  Therefore, because the fire was brisk in the first set of pictures, I had to move the apples away from the fire once they began to cook.

Here the same kettle of apples had been moved to
the middle of the cooktop because they have begun
to cook.
The apples need to cook long enough that each chunk has become soft enough that it breaks apart when you press it against the side of the kettle with your stirring spoon.  Frequent stirring is a must during this time because the apples can scorch so easily.

As I said, I was taking advantage of the fire on this cool summer day and accomplishing several tasks.  I made and water-bath canned strawberry jelly and baked a chocolate zucchini cake.  The strawberries were from our own patch, but the zucchini came from my sister-in-law.  The zucchini cake recipe is from my friend Tanya's friend Crystal's boyfriend's Grandpa Ollie (or Ali?).  Tanya, if you read this, would you let me know if I can share that recipe here?  I will understand if the answer is no.  I don't share unpublished recipes on my blog that are not mine unless I have permission from my source.  At any rate, the applesauce had to eventually be moved to the coolest part of the stove because my fire was fairly hot.

Marjory working hard.  The jelly is directly over the fire, the
canner is in the middle, and the applesauce from has been moved
all the way to the right.
Once the apples are completely cooked, they will look as they do in the picture below.

The same kettle of apples that was in the first picture after cooking.

The next thing that we do is run the apples through a food mill.  Granny always called this machine a ricer, but I think that term is supposed to be only used to describe the hand-held potato ricers.  The food mill that you see in the picture below is not Granny's.  My sister has that one, but this one is exactly like it.  I purchased it at Templeman's, a second-hand store in Atlantic, Iowa, for twenty dollars.  I consider it money very well spent.

Perhaps someday I'll learn not to photograph the
camera strap!  The vintage Sunbeam mixer that
you see behind the applesauce was an early1950's
gift from my grandparents on Mom's side to my
great-great aunt Meme who taught me to cook.
I used it to make the zucchini cake. 
Once the apples have been put through the food mill, we sweeten the applesauce with sugar--quite a bit of sugar to be truthful.  People outside of the family have accused our applesauce of being candy.  However, if they knew how sour Yellow Transparent apples are, they would understand the need for the sugar.  The applesauce is then put into various plastic containers (Cool Whip, margarine, yogurt, sour cream, etc.  We believe in recycling at home.) and then frozen.  I have canned applesauce, but our preference is for freezing it.

So why do I think that the wood cookstove is the best way to make applesauce?   Well, on the first day that we worked on applesauce, we used the gas stove and the same kettles that you see in the pictures here in this post.  Remember that I told you that they have heavy bottoms?  I think that we were watching things pretty closely, but EVERY pot of applesauce scorched that day.  And I don't mean a little bit.  Using a trick that my mother-in-law taught me about how to get the gas flames even lower than the low setting on each dial did not even help.  The scorched place was always right above the burner.  It was exceptionally frustrating.  I don't have nearly that much trouble with scorching when making applesauce on a wood cookstove.  Admittedly, we did have a tiny bit of minor scorching in one of the kettles in the picture below, but you could not taste it like you could in the applesauce made on the gas stove, and it was such a light scorch that it was much easier to clean off the bottom of the kettle than that which had been scorched over the gas flame.  Furthermore, the whole bottom of the kettle was in contact with the heat, rather than having a central place of more intense heat and the rest of the bottom of the kettle just receiving the "leftover" heat as it traveled to the outside of the kettle.

Also, the vast cooktop of the woodburning range accommodates multiple large kettles so much more conveniently than the cooktop of a 30" range.  Yes, you have to move them around to get the desired level of heat, but you have the room to do it.

Three kettles of apples (2 12-quart and 1 16-quart) cooking over
a low fire in the Margin Gem on the third applesauce making session.
If our weather remains cool, I'll be able to make more applesauce on the Margin Gem in the house.  Otherwise, I'll probably fire up the Riverside Bakewell in the summer kitchen.  I should probably give it another try just to be fair, but I'm afraid that making applesauce on the propane stove will be a last resort from now on.


  1. I cook on an electric stove and scorching is always an issue. I have to stir, stir, stir and watch, watch watch. I'm pleased [and surprised] to know that there is less scorching on a wood stove. Yet another reason to get one.

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