Football weather at our house is also Apple Pie Filling weather! It is a rite of passage to gather the family to survey the plentiful and delicious local apples, choose a good Saturday, and mass produce enough apple pie filling for the year. We have been home-canning Apple Pie Filling for over 25 years now, as early adopters when the USDA came out with recipes that were tested and recommended for the home canner using the modified food starch Clearjel. This recipe has been adapted to use Ultra Gel®, as it is easily available and far more versatile than Clearjel.
- 6 quarts peeled apples (tart) sliced to 1/4"
- 2 1/2 c. water
- 5 c. apple juice
- 3/4 c. bottled lemon juice
- 5 1/2 c. sugar
- 3 c. Ultra Gel®
- 1 T. cinnamon
- 1 t. nutmeg (opt)
- 7 drops yellow food coloring (opt)
- Peel, core, and slice apples (1/4 inch thickness for even cooking). Place in water containing ascorbic acid or other anti-browning agent.
- Blanch apple slices in boiling water for 1 minute in batches, then keep warm (I use a 6 qt slow cooker on warm). Also see notes below.
- Start 4-5 inches of water boiling in the water bath canner.
- Combine water, apple juice, and lemon juice in a large heavy pan (I use a 12 qt magnalite--oldie but goodie!)
- Combine sugar, Ultra Gel®, and spices in a bowl, mix together, and reserve for later use.
- Bring the liquids to a boil
- Remove from the heat and add the sugar mixture while stirring with a heavy wire whisk or spoon. This will result in a heavy paste. Remember, you will be adding more juice with the apples, so it needs to be thick.
- Return to a medium heat and bring back to a boil, stirring constantly. It will pop and spit, so be careful! Boil for 1 minutes.
- Add the warm apples to the liquid mixture and stir gently to avoid breaking the apple slices. Bring back to a boil, then start filling the prepared bottles. Keep the mixture warm. It is important that the mixture in the jars be very hot when added to the water bath canner.
- Fill the bottles to 1/2 inch from the top. It is important to leave enough headspace for the filling to expand as it cooks.
- Clean the bottle rims well, then add the lids per manufacturer directions.
- Add the filled bottles to the boiling water in the water bath canner. The water should cover the bottles.
- Adjust the heat to keep a slow boil. Process for 35 minutes.
A word about apples: There are an explosion of apples that work well for pie filling. Look for the attributes you like in a fresh apple pie--some people like an apple with a firm texture and substantial "bite" where others like a softer, sweeter apple. I've used a wide variety of apples--I started with Golden Delicious fresh off the tree while they still had a natural tartness and liked that they held their shape well. Johnathans had great tartness, but the slices seemed to break up more in handling. I used Jonagolds last year and found them delightful, and this year I'm using Fujis, which are also nice and a little firmer than others I've tried. The moral of the story is--use whatever you like in your fresh pies! When you're purchasing, plan about 1 1/2 lbs fresh apples per quart.
As for peeling apples--6 quarts seems like an overwhelming amount, but just put on a decent movie and get started. We often use an apple peeler/slicer and during a decent football game my husband plus one son can peel enough apples for 3 batches. If the game is really exciting, though, the apple peeling efficiency goes right down the drain! But I never have to beg for help--this is one product nobody wants to run out of!
My personal feeling (coming from a foods manufacturing background) is that if you're going to get out all the equipment necessary to can apple pie filling, you benefit from making multiple batches. So staff the project with pie-loving participants and set up an assembly line. Most of the equipment doesn't need to be washed between batches, saving a ton of time!
On blanching the apples: The theory of blanching (or parboiling) apples is that cooking them quickly inactivates enzymes which cause browning and reduced quality and also to heat the apples in preparation for canning. It is critical that the apples are cooked until a fork can be inserted, and that they be kept warm to ensure that they don't cool down the apple mixture before packing in the bottles. Apple pie filling is very thick, and requires that the mixture be packed at boiling temperatures and immediately be transferred to a boiling water bath canner to guarantee proper heat conduction throughout the jar.