When it came time to decide what type of food I wanted to feed my son I put a lot of thought into it. I knew I didn't want to go the route of commercial baby food in a jar or pouch and my experience with a guessing game played at my baby shower only cemented that. If you haven't played this game before, several unlabeled jars of food are passed around and the point of the game is to taste it and guess what flavor food was in the jar. This game was a real eye opener because very rarely did the food taste like what the label claimed it was. At this point I began making lists of what I wanted or didn't want when it came to baby food. Outside of making home made baby food to avoid additives, preservatives, or artificial colors I wanted to introduce recipes that were well-balanced nutritionally, could be made in bulk, and could be served not just to the baby, but the whole family.
I think out of all my requirements for baby food the last was most important to me. Rather than make a separate meal for my son I wanted to include him in family mealtime by giving him versions of what we ate on a regular basis. One of the signs of being ready for solids was that he was showing an interest in food by reaching for my plate, so rather than turning him away I began to allow him to sample what I was eating. This forced me to make sure the foods on my plate were healthy choices not loaded down with fat or salt, which was a win-win since I was making healthier choices for myself at the same time. We started with unadorned mashed sweet potatoes, which I make to accompany many of our meals, and soon moved on to applesauce.
I've never really enjoyed commercially prepared applesauce. It's always tasted overly sweet to me, which is a result of having High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) added to it. I swear that stuff is everywhere, even in the foods we would least expect it to be in. I asked around for a good recipe and while the first batch of applesauce I made wasn't the best I'd ever had, it was edible, just incredibly tart. Eventually I modified an old family recipe which was given to my grandmother by one of the owners of a neighboring farm. I posted my recipe for Easy Crock-Pot Applesauce last fall during apple season and it's been one of the most frequently viewed recipes on this site.
Today's recipe slowly grew from my original Easy Crock-Pot Applesauce recipe. Over the past few years it has become a staple in our household, eaten plain as a snack or on top of yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast. It has been my son's favorite fruit sauce recipe since he was 6 months old. If you take a close look at the ingredient list you'll notice it's quite different than what we're accustomed to feeding our babies. When I was originally researching recommendations for first foods I decided to look at what other countries fed their children. One thing I noticed was that many parents in other cultures introduce herbs and spices right along with their first foods. This is a completely different approach than we take in the United States. I started with vanilla bean and moved on to lemon zest, chili peppers, lemongrass, ginger, cardamom, allspice, ground and cloves; you'll find several of these in today's recipe.
My son's doctor suggested waiting until he was 8 months old to introduce herbs and spices to his diet, but this is yet another time I decided to deviate from the suggested guidelines. Most herbs and spices have a relatively low risk of allergic reaction so I felt confident in introducing them from the start, although I avoided cassia cinnamon because I have severe allergy to it. If you're concerned about introducing herbs and spices at a younger age make sure to discuss it with your doctor or pediatrician first. If you're uncomfortable with the thought of introducing herbs and spices at all, feel free to leave them out, this will still leave you with a very tasty blueberry applesauce that your baby is sure to love.
Of all of the decisions I've had to make over the years with my son those pertaining to food are the ones I have struggled with the most. I disagreed with many of the guidelines I was given and many times opted to cautiously deviate from them. I'm happy to say that my son, now almost three, is much more adventurous with food than his friends. I feel that including my son in family meal time with the same foods everyone else was enjoying was the first step in fostering his love of food. It will be fun to see how his tastes develop over the next few years.
OXO has invited me to participate in OXO Tot #FirstBites as part of their blogger outreach program. They have provided me with a set of tools from OXO and OXO Tot, but no other compensation was given for this post. OXO Tot is also hosting a giveaway this week so see below for more information on how to enter for a chance to win your own OXO Tot #FirstBites set and a Seedling High Chair!
Crock-Pot Spiced Blueberry Applesauce
makes roughly 8 half pints or 4 pints
8 large organic Gala apples or any other sweet variety (approximately 5lbs)
16 ounces organic blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ginger, ground
½ teaspoon cardamom, ground
¼ teaspoon allspice, ground
¼ teaspoon cloves, ground
This recipe can be scaled to produce a smaller amount that can be frozen for baby
2 large organic Gala apples or any other sweet variety
4 ounces organic blueberries, fresh or frozen
1.5 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ teaspoon ginger, ground
2 pinches cardamom, ground
1 pinch allspice, ground
1 pinch cloves, ground
potato masher, food mill, or food processor
If freezing for baby food:
Ice cube tray or freezer containers
ziploc storage bags
If canning for the whole family:
water-bath canner or stock pot with lifter
8 - 10 half pint canning jars with lids and rings
magnetic lid lifter
clean dish towels and cloths
- Thoroughly wash all fruit before beginning, cut away any brown areas, then slice and peel apples. Cover peeled with lemon juice to prevent browning. Keep in mind that thin apples will cook much faster. This is where an apple peeler/corer/slicer comes in handy, it will also cut your time peeling apples in half. Beg or borrow one if you can, you won't regret it.
- Combine all ingredients in the Crock-Pot and cook on high for 3 - 4 hours, or until apples mash easily. You can also puree the applesauce in with a food mill, blender, or food processor for a finer sauce.If you have scaled this recipe down to freeze, check sauce after 1 hour to see if it has cooked down far enough to mash or run through a food mill. Cooking time for the smaller amount varies widely depending on the size of the crock pot, if it is not ready after 1 hour continue to check ever 30 minutes so the sauce does not overcook.
Boiling Water Canning, including instructions for canning food for baby
North Dakota State University - Fargo Extension Service has a great PDF file for home canning fruit and fruit products. It even supplies processing times for fruit-based baby foods which require a longer processing time than standard fruit sauce recipes. Keep in mind that not all fruits and vegetables are safe for canning when making purees for babies. With the exception of apple and pears sauces it is recommended you not puree the food before canning because processing times have not been determined for safe canning of these items.
Processing times for this recipe when canning for baby
are 20 minutes for elevations of 0-1,000 ft and 25 minutes for elevations of 1,001-6,000 ft. If you are not canning this recipe with the intention of making baby food the processing times are 15 minutes for elevations of 0-2,001 and 20 minutes for elevations of 2,000 ft. 4,000 ft. These times are for half-pints and pints only.
- While waiting for applesauce to cook, sterilize your canning jars, rings, potato masher, and any other equipment that will come into contact with the applesauce. You can do this easily by putting everything in the dishwasher and running it. Just don't put your equipment in with dirty dishes.
- While your jars are sterilizing fill your stock pot with water and let it boil. It takes awhile for a large pot of water to boil, so keep this in mind. You don't want to fill your jars before your water is ready.
- Once you're ready to fill your jars, place a sauce pan on the stove. Add your canning lids and fill pan with several inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer and allow the sealing wax on the lids to soften for several minutes.
- Fill sterilized jars with hot applesauce leaving 1/2 inch head space at the top. Remove air bubbles with a knife, wipe the rims with a clean damp rag, place lids on top and fasten ring until ﬁngertip tight.
- Place sealed jars on a rack in the canner or stock pot. Make sure jars are covered with water and that the waterline is about an inch over the top of the jars, then cover pot with lid.
You do not want the jars coming into contact with the bottom of the canner or stock pot because they will bounce around and likely break.
- Process half pints and pints for 15 minutes, quarts for 20 minutes, adjusting for altitude. See above for processing times for baby food, they are different than standard canning processing times. Time starts once the water has come to a complete boil again. You may need to add boiling water to keep the water level up as the jars are processing.
- Remove jars from canner, set on a clean dish towel and let them rest for several hours until cool. You should hear a popping sound as the lids seal.
- To check the seals of your jars press the center gently with your finger. If it moves up and down the jar is not sealed. You can either reprocess using a new lid never reuse an old lid or once the jar is cool, eat the applesauce. You know you want to and you deserve the treat after such hard work!
- Label with detailed contents and date, then store in a cool, dark, and dry place.
Freezing for Baby
- Once you have pureed your applesauce, spoon it into an ice cube tray and cover with plastic wrap then place trays into the freezer.
- If using ice cube trays transfer frozen cubes to a ziplock bag once they have frozen solid. This will ensure more sanitary storage and help prevent freezer burn.
- Your frozen baby food will remain fresh for up to 3 months.
Make sure to experiment with the flavors different types of apples will produce. I used organic Galla apples for this batch because they were on sale at Whole Foods, but many varieties make a good sauce.
Both blueberries and apples are on the dirty dozen list. You may want to consider selecting organic varieties of both for this recipe, especially if you will be making baby food.
Garden-Robinson, Julie and Joan Hegerfeld-Baker. "Home Canning Fruit and Fruit Products." North Dakota State University Extension Service. PDF file.