Snack Attack: Lemon-Vanilla Applesauce

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

For as long as I can recall, this has been one of my slightly guilty snack pleasures (guilty only because I have passed it on to my kids): applesauce, with a dollop of sour cream, and Ritz crackers to dip.

I know where this began: Sunday mornings, in the church nursery, snack time. In my memory, we always, always had Ritz crackers and applesauce. Surely there was some variation, but this is the only snack to stick with me, sparking cozy memories of the mildly musty house on the church grounds, where we giddyupped our rocking horses in the old dining room.

At some long-lost point, I added sour cream to the mix, and then this snack fired on all my cravings cylinders: slightly sweet, creamy and salty. My only modification to it in the past 30 years has been to swap out the sour cream in favor of Greek yogurt, so now I can feel almost virtuous when I eat.

I hoped all summer to make some zapplesauce (applesauce made with those baseball-bat overgrown zucchini), but I had a total zucchini failure, much to my kids’ disappointment. We’re all happy to have my first fall batch of applesauce on the shelves, and I’ve gone right back to this snack (OK, it was lunch today).

Applesauce doesn’t have to be anything more than apples cooked to a mush and crushed a bit. But I can rarely resist adding other flavors. My first taste some years ago of  a Honeycrisp apple that we picked in Hendersonville, N.C., told my tongue this was a perfect match for vanilla, and I still think Honeycrisps work best in this combo. But taste for yourself: We’ve started an annual apple tasting, because the farmers’ market each year adds more varieties, and I can never keep straight which we like best.

When you use vanilla, have a heavy hand: I almost always pour in more than a recipe calls for. For applesauce, I add it to taste, knowing that the flavor becomes less intense as it cools. Often I spark this further by adding lemon, either cooking a little zest in with the apples or just squeezing in some lemon juice at the end.

I do always add a little sugar, but again, do this to taste, and re-check it if serving cold. I like to add just as little as I can get away with, but some apples simply need a bit more.

I always have two questions when I start in on my sauce: To peel or not? And blender or not?

If I don’t peel my apples first, I get the pectin and nutrients from the skin into my sauce . . . but because I can’t often find organic apples, I know I’m likely getting some pesticides, too. Also, this means putting the sauce through a food mill or strainer (I use the attachment on my KitchenAid mixer). I usually end up peeling and coring the apples first, and putting the sauce into the blender for a perfectly smooth result. (If I’m after a chunky applesauce, I just press with my potato masher on the cooked apples, still in the pot.

How else can you flavor your applesauce? Try brown sugar, a strong honey, maple syrup or cranberries cooked with the apples until they burst. And check out your spice drawer: Cinnamon, of course, but also cardamom, a pinch of nutmeg or allspice. If you still have herbs growing, try lemon verbena, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, a touch of orange mint, even rosemary, lemon thyme or winter savory (don’t chop the rosemary, thyme or savory into the final sauce; instead, place one small herb branch in with the apples while they cook, then remove before pureeing). Get fancy with those flavors: No matter what, this will always be pure comfort food to take you back to the nursery.

Recipe: Lemon-Vanilla Applesauce

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