With the availability of fresh apples all year long, I never saw much reason to freeze apple pie filling. However, I have had several requests for a frozen apple pie filling. So last fall I experimented with several recipes and was pleasantly surprised with the results. Because I used a sweeter apple in this recipe, I used the lesser amount of sugar. You can adjust seasonings to your taste. I chose this recipe because the thickening ingredient is tapioca that has greater stability to freezing than flour or cornstarch. You will also need to choose an apple variety that retains its shape when cooked.
Frozen Apple Pie Filling
18 large baking apples (about 6 pounds) (gala is a good one to hold its shape)
1½-2 cups sugar
1/3 cup quick-cooking tapioca
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1½-2 teaspoons cinnamon
Peel and core apples. Slice apples into a color preserver solution.* Drain. In a 6-8 quart saucepan, combine apples and remaining ingredients. Let stand for 15-20 minutes until sugar dissolves and liquid begins to form. Cook over medium heat for 10-20 minutes or until mixture thickens and apple wedges are tender. Stir frequently, but gently so that pieces do not break up. Place pan in cold water to cool mixture. Stir mixture occasionally and change water around the pan to hasten chilling. Fill clean, wide-mouth freezer jars or food-grade plastic freezer containers with mixture, allowing 1½-inch headspace. Crushed food-safe plastic wrap may be put on top of mixture to reduce air space in jar. Place in refrigerator to completely cool and then immediately put in freezer. Makes 4 quarts.
*Prevent the apples from turning brown by placing in a solution of 2 quarts water and 5 finely crushed vitamin C tablets or 1 teaspoon ascorbic acid or 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice. Commercial color preservers such as Fruit Fresh may also be used.
To use the mixture, completely thaw filling in the refrigerator. For a 9-inch pie, pour 1 quart of thawed filling into a prepared pie shell, dot with butter, top with top crust, lattice or crumb topping. Bake in pre-heated oven at 425° for 20 minutes, reduce heat and continue baking at 350° until crust is lightly browned and apples are tender. If rim of crust browns too quickly, cover with pie rim protector or create your own by shaping foil over the rim leaving center of pie uncovered.
Apples are available year round, but peak season for getting the best is in September and October so you might consider preserving some specialties that will add variety to menus throughout the year. Apples can be dried, made into applesauce or apple butter, or even made into a delicious apple/pear jam. Apples do not make the highest quality canned or frozen slices but they can be preserved by those methods, also.
Whether you are buying apples by visiting the nearby orchard, the grocery store or market, or even picking apples from your own backyard, choose the preservation method that is best for your apple variety. Varieties that are good for freezing include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gala and Granny Smith. Varieties that are good for making applesauce and apple butter include: Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Stayman, Jonathan, Gravenstein and McIntosh. Red Delicious apples are best eaten fresh. They do not freeze or cook well.
When selecting your apples, remember their flavor is best when they are at the peak of maturity. To judge the maturity of apples, do not go by size. Different varieties have different typical diameters. Choose apples that are free of defects such as bruises, skin breaks and decayed spots. Little brown spots appearing solely on the skin of the apple, called "russeting," do not affect quality. Beware and be on the lookout for browning or broken skins that are evidence of actual spoilage such as rotting or mold. Also look for firm (hard) apples since soft apples tend to have a mealy texture and overripe flavor.
If making applesauce, apple butter or dried slices with your apples, use them as soon as possible after harvest. If any apples must be stored, keep them in a cool, dark place. They should not be tightly covered or wrapped up; a perforated plastic or open paper bag, basket or wooden crate is a good choice. If kept in the refrigerator, apples should be placed in the humidifier compartment or in a plastic bag with several holes punched in it (or in a zipper-type vegetable bag). This prevents loss of moisture and crispness. Apples should not be placed close to foods with strong odors since the odor may be picked up by the apples.
Angela Treadaway is a Regional Extension Agent in Food Safety. For any questions on food safety or preparation of vegetables, contact her at 205-410-3696 or your local county Extension office.