Cookin' with the Kids
Simple Sides: Cinnamon Pear Applesauce
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child some basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever.
Here’s a very basic recipe, perfect for a young beginner cook, that takes advantage of the wide selection of new crop apple and pear varieties that dominate retail displays at this time of year. To make preparation a bit more interesting as well as providing some culinary experience beyond just cooking down apples into a sauce, this recipe combines both apples and pears plus a few supporting flavor enhancers that require measuring out and then blending in. There are many apple sauce recipes that call for simply cooking the fruit to soft, adding a pinch of cinnamon and finishing the apples off with a flip of the switch on a food processor. Speedy quick, no doubt, but where’s the fun and culinary experience in that? Instead, teach your aspiring cooks the old-fashioned way to prepare a real American classic that probably goes back to days of Johnny Appleseed. Besides, applesauce making can be a lot more fun and rewarding than just flipping a switch.
To peel or not to peel? Actually both. Cooking the apples with their skins on imparts an attractive rosy hue to the sauce as the skin color leaches into the mixture as it cooks. On the other hand, I find the skin of pears a bit gritty, so I choose to peel them; however, this is definitely a matter of personal preference. Of course, both the apples and pears should be cored and seeds removed with a sharp paring knife. Depending upon the age of your helpers, this could be a Band-Aid waiting to happen, so it might be a job better suited for the supervising adult in the room. Note: be sure that all the seeds are removed as they are tannic; cooking them will impart a bitter flavor to the sauce.
Choice of fruit varieties is also a personal preference. For that aforementioned rosy hue, choose a red apple variety with either a sweet or tart flavor, like a Gala or maybe a McIntosh if in the eastern states. For the pear, I prefer a Bartlett that is just starting to ripen so the pear holds some of its shape during the cooking process. A fully ripe, yellow Bartlett will blend in too much with the applesauce and its unique flavor characteristic will be lost in the mix.
Fruit, especially apples, lose flavor rapidly when cooked too long. Encourage your young sous chefs to taste test for doneness throughout the short cooking process. The fruit is done when the texture is firm-soft but still chunky. Let your helpers decide when that is – a great confidence builder opportunity. Also, the key to cooking time depends on the size and uniformity of the chopped fruit pieces. Supervise to make sure that the pieces are no larger than two-inches and no smaller than one-inch. Place a bowl of lemon-water (apart from the cooking water in the recipe) next to cutting board to prevent the pieces of fruit from browning during the prep from exposure to air. This sauce is not the all-day simmer kind – 15 to 20 minutes max. If the fruit needs longer, then the pieces were cut too large and there’s a chance some flavor will be lost before the fruit has a chance to cook through.
Once the mixture is cooked, the fun part of mashing down the fruit could even be done by a child who is not old enough to have helped with the rest of the preparation. The finished texture should have some chunks of fruit left in the blend, so no precision is necessary. Once your kitchen helpers have mastered this basic recipe, they can get more creative with the next batch by adding raisins or dried cranberries to the mix. Note that this recipe will serve four but feel free to increase the ingredient measures to make a much larger batch, as the sauce will keep in the refrigerator for more than a week; or separate into several smaller containers and freeze for up to a year without losing quality.
By the way, ground cinnamon should not be substituted for the cinnamon sticks called for in this recipe. Ground cinnamon is not as flavorful or fragrant as a stick because of the depletion of essential oils that happens during the grinding process. You may have just purchased the ground cinnamon yesterday, but who knows when it was produced and the decline in potency starts to happen immediately. Stick with the sticks and enjoy!
Cinnamon Pear Applesauce
½ cup water
3 Gala apples, cored and chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 ripe Bartlett pears, cored and chopped into 1-inch pieces
A pinch of salt
¼ cup Melissa’s Organic Blue Agave Syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3-4 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
What the kids can do:
Prepare apples and pears under adult supervision.
Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the apples and pears are very soft but still a bit chunky, 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove the sauce from the heat and the cinnamon sticks from the pan. Then smash up the pears and apples with a potato masher or meat mallet until the sauce is well mixed with small chunks. Cool to room temperature and serve.