Okay, so I guess this apple pie filling isn't from scratch. But it's close. And if you use ripe, blushing apples and grate your own cinnamon and nutmeg, it almost tastes as if you could spin around and glimpse the Garden of Eden.
So here's the apple skinny: this project is perfect for new cooks and first-time canners. Really. If you follow this recipe, you'll end up with the equivalent of six heaping quart jars of apple pie filling. Make it with a friend and split the difference. Make it by yourself and hoard it for potlucks and July Fourth and pretty weekends. Give it as gifts. This stuff goes far, I'm telling you.
Besides, the benefits of pre-made pie filling are many. Convenience is one. This July when it's too hot to boil water? Simply dump your filling in a crust and bake. Brilliant. Plus, this smooth filling is pre-shrunk, meaning your pies will make lovely, towering slices which could even boast a lattice top or decorative, fluted pastry covers.
Here's what you do:
1. Take 20 apples - any varieties you like. I like Gala and Granny Smith because that's what I get down in Texas, but Jonagolds or Winesap or any local variety you love will likely work. Wash your apples and peel, core, and slice them. Dump the slices in a large bowl (or bowls) filled with water and a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to prevent them from browning.
2. Next, in a large saucepan, combine: 10 cups water, 5 cups sugar, 1 cup corn starch, 2 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil and stir it until it makes a thick, caramel colored sauce that pours slowly from your spoon. (It takes about 12 minutes. Maybe 15 if your stove is cranky.) Remove pan from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of lemon juice.
3. Spoon apple slices into sterilized quart canning jars until they almost reach the lip. Ladle your caramel sauce over the apples to about 1/2 inch of the jar top. Seal jar and process in a boiling water bath for about 20 minutes. (If you are new to canning, grab a copy of this book: Ball Blue Book Guide to Canning. It taught me how to can everything from apple pie filling to green beans to soup and is an invaluable resource for any home gardener or cook. Your local library or grocery store may even have a copy. You might also check out freshpreserving.com, a Ball-hosted website that boasts answers to any canning question and some fabulous recipes to boot.)
Of course, you don't have to can your filling. Use it right then, between homemade or ready-made pie crusts, to make six apples pies. (Or reduce the recipe to make just one.) You could try freezing your filling in quart-sized bags, but know that you'll likely need to cook your apples first, or plan to simmer them later, before you assemble your pie. However you choose to go about this, I promise you one delicious, straight-forward American apple pie. And truly, what could be better?
I'll admit: I love this recipe. The idea came from a MaryJane article I found a few years ago, and I've made it every year since. I love these apples spooned over ice cream. I love them baked under shortbread for a sort-of Apple Betty. I like to eat them straight out of a cold, refrigerated jar. In short, it's worth the effort.
Hope you enjoy, and of course, if anyone tries this please hurry on back and give us any tips or tricks you discovered to making or serving this! -Brin