Cinnamon apples for Thanksgiving

Williams family holiday dinner 1952; I"m on the left next to my mother and baby brother.

My Grandmother Williams made cinnamon apples for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and served them chilled in syrup. The translucent cooked apples were sugary sweet, super cinnamony, and beautifully red.  They were a perfect foil to savory turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, and I looked forward to them every holiday when I was growing up in Indiana. 

I’ve never seen them outside our family, and haven’t known anyone else to make them. Have you ever had them? There are a number of recipes for them on the internet, so someone must make them.

The recipe was simple. Peel and core a half-dozen whole cooking apples. Put them in a pan with an 8 oz. bag of cinnamon Redhots (made by the Ferrara Pan Company–may also be called cinnamon imperials by other companies) and enough water to cover the apples half way up. Simmer until done, turning the apples gently to coat and color both sides while they’re cooking. Chill the apples in the syrup and serve the next day.

MacIntosh apples

I haven’t made cinnamon apples for years because neither my husband or my son care for them. But I’m feeling nostagic this year and wanted to make them. At the grocery, I looked for cinnamon redhots and couldn’t find them. I was surprised. Redhots are an old candy that dates back to the 1930s. I wondered if the company had gone out of business.

A quick Google search turned up the company alive and functioning in Illinois. They still make redhots, but their store locator didn’t turn up any stores in Orange County, CA (where I live) that sell redhots. Maybe they are more of a Midwest thing.

I did find this fascinating video showing how the redhot candies are made.

The ingredients are simple enough–sugar, corn syrup, red food coloring, and probably cinnamon oil. No worries, I think I can recreate the cinnamon apples using sugar to make a simple syrup, plus cinnamon sticks and red food coloring.

I bought a half dozen MacIntosh apples and am going to give it a try. I’m assuming that either MacIntosh or Rome Beauty were the types of apples that my grandmother used, because those were the types of cooking apples available then.

There is a larger variety of apples to chose from at grocery stores today than when I was growing up, but they’re mainly for eating fresh. I learned the hard way to use only cooking apples for cooking. In my younger years, I foolishly tried cooking with Red Delicious apples, but they just fall apart and their flavor doesn’t hold up to cooking.

Granny Smiths would have been another good choice. I’m down to my last few Granny Smiths from our semi-dwarf tree in back, but they’re going into a crumb-topped apple pie that I’ll make later today. Most of my Thanksgiving cooking is going to get done tonight, as I’m leaving shortly for our Thanksgiving dinner for Corps Members at the Orange County Conservation Corps (

I’ll update this post later to add photos and let you know how the cinnamon apples turned out. One thing is for sure. The house is going to smell great while those apples are cooking!

I made a syrup from 2C water, 3/4 C sugar, one sliced Meyer lemon, 1 stick cinnamon and 2 tsp whole allspice.

OK, here’s the scoop on my cinnamon apples. I peeled and cored the six apples while cooking 2 C of water and 3/4C sugar in a deep skillet. Woe is me, I had only one cinnamon stick in the pantry, so I put that into the skillet along with 2 tsp whole allspice. I think that box of allspice had belonged to my mother, so they’re probably as old as the La Brea tar pits. I tasted the syrup and it seemed to lack something (flavor?), so I picked a Meyer lemon from the backyard, the first of the season, sliced it, and added it to the syrup along with 12 drops of red food coloring. Then I added the apples and simmered them for about 15-20 minutes.

Apples are supposed to cook in the sugar syrup until tender--these turned to mush

Well, four out of six MacIntosh apples fell apart. Undaunted, I just mashed them all up with a spoon. I thought I’d make chunky, spicy applesauce instead. It tasted pretty good, but then I decided that the addition of a cup of cranberries would make it even better.

Cranberries need oranges, so I picked a navel orange from my backyard, again the first of the season, and grated the peel into the sauce. I just finished cooking the cranberry/applesauce and WOW. I’ll probably never be able to duplicate it, but I think I have a hit.

Add grated orange peel and cook the cranberries, apples, and syrup together after removing the spices and lemon.

Here are the ingredients. While the content of this blog is copyrighted, feel free to copy this recipe for personal use.

Holiday Spiced Cranberry/applesauce

6 cooking apples, peeled and cored

1 stick cinnamon

2 tsp whole allspice

2 C water

3/4 C sugar

1 Meyer lemon, sliced

12 drops red food coloring (optional)

1 C whole cranberries

grated peel of one orange

Put the spices and lemon into a cheesecloth bag to make removal easier (sure wish I’d thought of that BEFORE I started). Cook until the fruit sauce is thick, remove cheesecloth bag, and pour into a hot canning jar. Let stand until it reaches room temperature, then chill overnight. Serve with turkey or pork roast. Makes 5 cups.

Finished cranberry applesauce

Process this in a water bath if you want to store a batch on the shelf, but we’ll be eating all of ours tomorrow.

About Lou Murray, Ph.D.

I'm a retired medical researcher, retired professional writer/photographer, avid gardener, and active environmentalist living in southern California. I wrote a weekly newspaper column on environmental topics in the Huntington Beach Independent for many years. I also supervised environmental restoration projects and taught at the Orange County Conservation Corps before retiring in the summer of 2016. This blog chronicles my efforts to live a green life growing as much food as possible for my husband and myself on a 4,500 sq ft yard that is covered mainly by house, garage, driveway, and sidewalks. I am also dedicated to combatting global climate change.
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7 Responses to Cinnamon apples for Thanksgiving

  1. Thomas says:

    Happy Thanksgiving, Lou!

    Thomas, Marc and Jonathan


  2. Pamela says:

    Hi, Lou,
    Just stopped by to let you know there’s an award waiting for you on my blog. Enjoy! Pam


  3. Dan says:

    The apple sauce recipe looks excellent. I will have to give it a try, thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Dan. It really was good, but you might want to cut the allspice to 1 tsp since mine was really old. Some people might like it with less sugar too, maybe 1/2C instead of 3/4 cup. Thanks for stopping by.


  4. Bonny Ellinger says:

    My mother-in-law used to make these for every holiday (because I requested them). They are my favorite holiday dish. One thing she added- She thinned cream cheese with a little milk, and piped this into the middles- YUM!

    I have had trouble finding Red Hots, too. Every fall, I swear I am going to mail order them!


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