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Apple butter: Sweet, slow-cooked goodness

Oct 6th, 2012 | By | Category: Cooking

by Laura Boynton

When local trails are littered with leaves and the air is sweetly redolent of overripe blackberries, when spider webs appear overnight, shimmering in the dawn air and when long-abandoned trees drop apples on sidewalks, in underbrush and backyards – well, that’s one of the few times you can get something for nothing.

Apple butter in jars with handmade tags. PHOTO BY LAURA BOYNTON

With windfall apples everywhere and the only other ingredients necessary a pinch of spice, apple butter may become one of your favorite foods to can and give as holiday gifts. It is also an excellent introduction to canning, since preparation is simple and success guaranteed. The only special equipment required is a crockpot. My favorite tool – an apple peeler/slicer/corer – while not essential, makes quick work of prepping the apples. (If you’re not familiar with this particular piece of kitchen machinery – imagine a drill mounted on its side with a dangerous pronged tip.) If you choose to invest in one of these, I can almost promise that your kids will want to get in on the act – it’s that magical! After the apple butter factory is closed, my children enjoy using the peeler and snacking on apple rings dipped in caramel or peanut butter.

You can select any variety of apples for this project – even bruised or mealy apples are transformed through the process of all-night cooking, resulting in a thick, rich brown sauce you can slather on toast, pancakes or sandwiches (but will likely end up eating by the spoonful).

My “recipe” is imprecise – mostly because I’m a kitchen tinkerer. If you are more comfortable using exact measurements, many recipes for slow-cook apple butter can be found online. The only ingredient to be wary of is powdered ginger – use a heavy hand at your own peril!

One of the benefits to making slow-cooked apple butter is that the cooking time is very flexible and can be adjusted so that the product is ready to can when you are. Even if you need to refrigerate the sauce for a day, you merely need to heat it up in the cooker when ready to commence canning. And the smell – oh, my word! The heavenly smell that fills your house overnight will cause you to wake with a smile on your face and a song in your heart! Small children will cluster under your open windows! (Okay, I exaggerate – but not much!!)

Apples prepared for the slow cooker. PHOTO BY LAURA BOYNTON

Prior to canning, put your canning jars in the dishwasher and run them through a cycle – this saves the step of washing and keeping the jars warm; just leave the dishwasher closed until you are ready for them.  Fill your canning kettle about a third of the way full with water and bring to a boil.  Lids and rings should be washed, then heated in a small saucepan (never boiled) and kept warm over low heat. Have on hand a couple of clean, damp tea towels, potholders, tongs and lifters (for removing hot jars and lids), and a butter knife or spatula.

Once clean, hot pint jars and lids are waiting, you are ready to can. Fill jars with apple butter (it should still be hot – you’re working directly from the crock pot), leaving a half inch of headroom. Slide the butter knife around the inside edges of the jar to remove bubbles. Clean the rim and threads of the jar with a tea towel, center the lid on the top of the jar and screw the ring on – just finger tight – you can tighten later, after the jar has sealed.

All the filled jars are now ready for processing – you can use a water bath canner – a kettle made specifically for this purpose – or any pot large enough for the jars to sit in with at least two inches of space between them. (If you are using a pot without a canning rack, you will need something under the jars to keep them from touching the bottom of the pot, such as a tea towel or a strip of wood.)

Jars should be surrounded and covered by two inches of water.  Maintaining the water level throughout processing may require adding boiling water – I like to keep my tea kettle full on the back burner at a low boil.  Boil the jars for 10 minutes. (Check online for specific times if you are using larger jars.)

Now comes the second best part of the process: remove the jars, setting upright on a clean, dry towel. Settle in next to them with a good book and listen. As the jar cools, the lids pull down and seal, making a tiny popping sound. Each pop signals a success! When jars are cool, if you are able to depress any of the seals with your finger, well, then, just put that jar in the refrigerator and use within a couple of weeks.

What’s the best part, you ask?  MMMmmmmmmmm. .  . I’ll tell you when I stop chewing. . .

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

As mentioned before – measurements are approximate and may be tinkered with to your taste.  With the spices, start small – you can always taste the apple butter in the morning and add more before canning. This recipe makes 4 pints.

Directions

For a 3-4 quart slow cooker:

Peel, core and slice enough apples to reach to the inside rim of the crock – about 5 pounds.

In a large bowl, mix apples with

2 c. sugar

2 tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground cloves

¼ tsp. ground ginger

¼ tsp. nutmeg

Now, turn the apples into the crockpot.  I set mine on high for about an hour, then turn to low.  Leave it on low all night.  In the morning, you can use a stick blender or a good, old-fashioned potato masher to break down any remaining chunks of apple.  If you prefer a smooth puree, you can always use your blender; I like mine chunky.  Now is a good time to taste and add more spices or sugar if desired.  (The amount of sugar depends on both your personal preference and the sweetness of your apples).  Sometimes I continue to cook mine throughout the morning on low until I’m ready to begin canning.

When the sauce is dark brown, you can either proceed to canning or simply refrigerate and use.

Remember to label your jars with both the product and October 2012 produced – especially if you plan to give as gifts. Simple tags can be made out of brown paper bags and tied on with twine – homey and sweet.

Laura Boynton is a teacher, artist, cook, quilter and aspiring adult who has lived in Bellingham – off and on – since 1983. Her most important work is being a single mother to two kind and funny children!

Published in the October 2012 issue of Grow Northwest

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