Pros: Easy to use, mostly easy to clean, excellent results
Cons: Expensive, limited utility
If the way to a man's heart is his stomach, then the way to his stomach is his mom. If you shuddered when you read that, fear not: I shuddered when I typed it. I'm no June Cleaver; in our egalitarian kitchen, my husband cooks (and cleans) as much as I do. His mom actually is June Cleaver, though, and she makes apple sauce. Every fall, she buys pounds of Gravensteins, cooks them, passes them through an antique food mill, and then freezes apple sauce for her grown children and their families. I love this. Apple sauce is the perfect comfort food: it's sweet, it's wholesome, and it's actually fun to make.
In its most basic version, apple sauce is nothing more than simmered, pureed apples. You cut the apples into chunks, put them in a large pot with some water and sugar, simmer until the apples are soft, and then puree them. But how do you puree them? The best way is with a food mill, and according to Cook's Illustrated magazine, the best food mill available today is the Cuisipro Stainless Steel Food Mill.
The Specs (from Amazon.com)
Made of durable 18/10 stainless steel
Three disks included for different needs: 2 mm, 3 mm, 4 mm
Two handles facilitate lifting and hanging for storage
Dishwasher-safe for easy cleaning; 9 inches in diameter by 4-3/4 inches high
The Cuisipro Stainless Steel Food Mill is a very simple gadget, with two basic parts-- the large, 4 quart bowl with a handle, and a crank with a rotating blade. Three interchangeable disks fit into the base of the bowl. There's a rigid spring in the handle; it requires some force to get the handle fitted into the bowl, but once you do, you'd never know the food mill isn't one large, soldered piece of metal.
The food mill's two handles make it easy to set the food mill over a bowl. To puree food, you simply dump the food into the bowl, rotate the crank, and the blade forces the food through the coarse, medium, or fine sieve, depending on which disk you put in the food mill.
Food mills were very common a hundred years ago, but blenders and food processors rendered them almost obsolete decades ago. For some foods, like apple sauce and tomato sauce, a food mill is still the best tool for the job. A food mill has two advantages over a blender or food processor:
1. A food mill does not incorporate air into your food. Tomato sauce shouldn't be frothy.
2. A food mill's disk separates skin and seeds from your food, so you don't need a separate sieve.
When I make apple sauce, I leave the skin on the apples while they're cooking. This gives my apple sauce a very nice, pink color. The Cuisipro food mill removes every bit of skin from the apples.
Apple sauce is messy stuff, but everything rinses right off the bowl and handle with soap and water. The disks are a little harder to clean. As with any sieve, pulp gets caught in the little openings. I usually try to get as much of the pulp out with hot water and a sponge before I put it in the dishwasher, but it doesn't seem to matter: it all comes off in the dishwasher.
Unless you make apple sauce, tomato sauce, or baby food, you probably don't need a food mill. If you do, though, Cuisipro makes the best one out there. At $70, it's not cheap, but when your grandchildren inherit it, it will still be in great shape.
Applesauce, adapted from Cook's Illustrated.
8 large apples, I prefer pink lady, but Jonagolds work well too. My mother in law only uses Gravensteins, but they're unavailable most of the year.
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
a teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
Core the apples and cut them into medium size chunks. You don't have to peel them-- in fact, my apple sauce gets a nice blush color from Pink Lady peel. Toss the apples with the water and sugar in a large pot, cover tightly, and cook over medium high heat for 15-20 minutes until the apples are soft.
Remove them from heat, and toss them with the lemon juice. The lemon juice cuts the sweetness a bit and gives the sauce a very bright flavor. If you prefer more traditional sauce, skip the lemon juice and use a little cinnamon and nutmeg instead.
Place your food mill over a large bowl, and puree the apples with the medium disk. My kids love the applesauce while it's still hot, but you can put it in the fridge once it cools to room temperature.