I follow the NCHFP recipe for apple pie filling. The ingredients are charted out for a 1 quart batch and a 7 quart batch of pie filling making it easy to adapt ingredients to the quantity of apples you have to work with. I followed the 7 quart batch instructions. For single quart batches or multiples of quarts less than seven, click on the NCHFP link. The tips I provide can be applied to any size batch.
I like using a combination of different varieties of apples for a more complex apple flavor. Overall I try for a 50-50 mix of tart and sweet. This year I used Granny Smith (tart), Golden Delicious (sweet), and Maggie Bowen (an eating apple with floral overtones that falls between the two). The recipe calls for apple juice and you can use commercial juice that's 100% apple without added sugar or a local apple cider. I prefer a locally pressed fresh cider because a good cider is itself a blend of different apples and lends even more complexity to the overall apple flavor.
You'll also see that the recipe calls for an ingredient called "Clear Jel". Clear Jel is modified cornstarch that is recommended for use in home canning. It doesn't break down in acid food mixtures nor thicken enough to interfere with thorough heating of the pie filling during boiling water bath processing. It used to be a little difficult to find but many grocery stores now carry it during canning season and I've been able to find it year round at the Bread Basket.
Ingredients for 7 quart batch
Blanched, sliced fresh apples 6 quarts
Granulated sugar 5-1/2 cups
Clear Jel® 1-1/2 cup
Cinnamon OR Quatre Epices 1 tbsp
Generous pinch of cayenne if using cinnamon (optional)
Cold Water 2-1/2 cups
Apple juice 5 cups
Bottled lemon juice 3/4 cup
Nutmeg (optional) 1 tsp none if using Quatre Epices
1 teaspoon vanilla extract if using Quatre Epices (optional)
1/2 teaspoon maple extract if using cinnamon (optional)
* * I used my peeler-corer-slicer gadget to prepare the apples. Because it slices them thinly I found I had to prepare 8 quarts of apples which wound up yielding 6 full quarts of finished filling and about 3/4 of another quart left over, not enough to process the additional quart jar. If you're using one of these gadgets you may want to prepare 9 quarts of apples to ensure 7 quarts of finished filling.
* * Safe high acid foods preservation relies on acid and temperature alone. Sugar is not a preservative in this method. I always prefer more of the fruit flavor as opposed to sweet so I cut back the sugar to 4 cups.
* * Apples are a very high acid food but, like tomatoes, they vary in their acidity not only between varieties but between individual apples of the same variety. Since I increased the amount of apples I used I increased the bottled lemon juice to a cup.
On to the process...
Start the water heating in your canner. Set up another large pot half full of water and bring it to a boil for blanching the apples. When I filled my 2 quart measuring bowl with prepared apples I blanched them for a minute in the boiling water, drained them, and then dumped them in another large bowl covered with a towel to keep warm. Blanching the apples stops enzymatic activity that makes them turn brown.
When all the apples have been blanched clean the pot out and return it to the stove. In a medium bowl combine the sugar, Clear Jel, and spice of your choosing and whisk well. When I did the more traditional cinnamon batch I added a generous pinch of cayenne in addition to the cinnamon. I find the cayenne warms and enhances the cinnamon without being assertive itself. Since spices (and extracts) do not interfere with the acidic balance, the blends you choose to use will turn the pie filling into one of your signature products!
|Clear Jel is grainier, less poofy/powdery than cornstarch|
Clear Jel by itself has an alarming tendency to form large lumps when it first hits liquid. These will disappear during heating and whisking. I find that combining the Clear Jel with the sugar first cuts down on this tendency. It doesn't eliminate it entirely but the lumps are much finer and easier to stir out.
Combine the water and the apple juice/cider in the pot and add the sugar mixture. Stir well and then turn the heat on to medium-high.
|The white specks are Clear Jel. These will stir out.|
Cook and stir until the mixture just begins to bubble. Use a long-handled spoon or whisk and be careful because the thick mixture bloops and spits more than bubbles. Add the lemon juice and boil 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in extract if using. If you like, at this point you could add a little apple brandy, cognac, or Calvados.
Immediately fold in the apples a quarter bowl at a time to make sure they are thoroughly incorporated into the jel.
Quickly fill the jars with the hot mixture. Tap the jars on a padded surface and push the apples down with a spoon while filling to remove air bubbles.
Leave 1" of head space.
As each jar is capped move it immediately into the boiling water bath. Keeping the contents as hot as possible while filling the jars helps to be sure of thorough heating in the center of the filled jars during processing.
Process the jars for 25 minutes at sea level. Adjust the processing time for your altitude.