This spiced, not-too-sweet version of a comforting old-time favorite is one of my children’s preferred accompaniments to dinner any time of the year. By far, Macintosh apples make the best applesauce, so they make up the majority of this mixture. But, because I prefer a textural applesauce, I add some coarsely chopped Golden Delicious apples, since they hold their shape better through cooking. If desired, Anjou or Bosc pears may be substituted for the Golden Delicious apples. Choose apples that are smooth, deeply colored and free of holes. And since they are cooked with their skins on, apples with a good amount of red will give the sauce a beautiful rosy color. The amount of sugar you’ll need will ultimately depend on the sweetness of the apples and on the type of apple juice you use. And, don’t worry about the brandy used to plump the raisins since, once it fully simmers, the alcohol will quickly evaporate and all that will be left is its wonderful flavor. If this concerns you, however, simply substitute apple juice or cider. This recipe makes a lot of applesauce, but, for me, that’s always been strategic since it keeps for up to three weeks in the refrigerator—though it rarely lasts that long!
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Place raisins and brandy into a small saucepan and heat gently until brandy comes just to a full simmer. Remove from heat and set aside.
Place unpeeled Macintosh apple wedges, 1 1/3 cups of the apple cider and the cinnamon stick(s) in an 8-quart nonreactive, heavy-bottomed pot and stir. Cover and bring the mixture to a full simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer the apples until very tender, stirring and mashing frequently, about 15 minutes.
Place the coarsely chopped apples or pears and remaining 1/3 cup cider in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer (uncovered) and cook just until tender but still textural, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Position a medium-mesh wire strainer or a food mill over a large bowl. Transfer the contents of the large pot in batches to strainer or food mill and force apples through into the bowl, leaving the skins and any seeds behind. (A wooden spatula works perfectly when pushing apples through a strainer.) Discard skins and repeat with the remaining cooked apples. Stir in the sugar (to taste), cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, vanilla and the macerated raisins, along with the brandy. Fold in the cooked chopped apples (along with any remaining juice). Cool the applesauce to room temperature, divide among three 1-quart jars or plastic containers and secure them with lids. The applesauce will keep perfectly for up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.