If you're looking for something to do this weekend, head up to Russian River Valley in western Sonoma County and grab the end of the season Gravenstein apples. Look for farmstands along HWY 116-Gravenstein Highway near the towns of Sebastopol, Graton and Forestville. They'll be gone by next week.
I bought two 30# boxes (50 cents/lb) on Thursday. The heady floral aromas in the car were nearly intoxicating. One box went to Aunty Ruby, and the other was for my mom.
Mom made an apple cake yesterday, and used some of the ripest ones to make applesauce. Sauce is a snap her way - just peel and core the apples, cut into big chunks, microwave for 5 mins., take out and mash a bit, microwave for another 5 to 10 mins. depending on power, add a bit of cinnamon and sugar to taste. Don't add any water. So much character and intensity, great texture too. Tomorrow we're making pies and more applesauce.
While you're in the area, check out Wildflour bakery in Freestone on the Bohemian Highway (only open on weekends). These people are great, great breadmakers. Last week I had a chocolate apple bread which had bits of apple and a few shavings of dark chocolate in a firm country loaf - a unique taste, only for the season.
Gravenstein treks are an institution in my family. My mom and her best friend have been making annual August trips to Sebastopol to buy Gravensteins for around 25 years. My mom then cans applesauce. (When I was a kid, she did a lot of canning--jam, apple butter, chutney, bread-and-butter pickles--but she gave it up long ago, save for the applesauce.) So homemade, unsweetened Gravenstein applesauce is my absolute (and very high) standard. I really wish she could ship it to me here in NY, but the postage costs and packing would be a little crazy.
This won't work for Melanie's mom's kind of applesauce, but if you're doing the stovetop and food-mill kind, do as my mom does and leave the skins on (they don't make it through the food mill); they add all kinds of flavor and apply nuances. One year the skins had reddened more than usual, due to weather, I assume, and the applesauce came out slightly pink-tinged, and with a really rich, sort of buttery flavor. Gravensteins are definitely the ultimate for applesauce.
Dear Caitlin, sometimes it feels like every word out of my mouth must be making you horribly homesick. I'm lucky to be with my mom this weekend, I wish you could be with yours too.
Leaving the skins on during cooking is a great suggestion. Volatile scent compounds are in the skin, and Gravensteins have these in boatloads. The floral apple blossom aromas, ripe appley fruit and crisp acidity of Russian River Valley Chardonnays are the essence of Gravenstein apples. And, I've often wondered whether local Chardonnay can taste the same as the number of orchards declines.
Mom's apple pie was great, both with and without French vanilla ice cream. Is Trader Joe's in NY yet? The current crop Gravenstein apple juice has just come out. Not the same as fresh, but still gives you a taste of this special fruit.
re: Melanie Wong
My mother's is consistently the most flavorful applesauce I've ever had, including other Gravenstein sauces, and I came to the conclusion some years ago that her skins-on cooking must be the reason (she doesn't add any sugar or spices, either).
Gravensteins actually keep quite well in sealed bags in the fridge; naturally, they soften and are not as fresh, but this isn't a problem if you're cooking them, and they keep for a month or so without losing their perfume or flavor. In long past years when my mom couldn't get around to making applesauce right away, I remember being hit with that (as you note) very floral Gravenstein aroma each time I opened her fridge.
There are a few companies that make Gravenstein applesauce, for those of us without access to the fresh apples or my mom's pantry; Santa Cruz Naturals is one. Of course, it's not as good as homemade, but it sure beats Mott's et al.