One of the things I’ve been trying to do while we’re still here is to preserve all this free fruit coming out our ears. The blackberries have been producing madly for months (and still going, in some spots), and the apple trees in the yard started dropping their fruit a few weeks ago. I made blackberry applesauce a couple of times and even turned it into fruit leather, but I knew I wanted to make some apple butter: I’ve got the time and the ingredients, so why not?
Apple butter is more of a process than a recipe, and I first attempted it after reading a few different recipes online. I figured I could just pull the best of everyone else’s methods together to make my own delicious apple-y spread. Basically, you make applesauce and then add some spices and then cook it for a long time until it’s thick and rich-tasting. Not too difficult, right?
Well, my first go-round sat in the pot for hours and hours, and I stirred and stirred, and it got to the point where it was hardly moveable and I was afraid it would burn on the bottom. But it never got to where it looked or tasted like the apple butter my mom used to make. It tasted good, sure, but just wasn’t right. I asked my mom to send me the recipe she always used and I immediately saw why mine hadn’t come out the same: I didn’t add any sugar; I didn’t add nearly as many spices; and I didn’t add any lemon juice or zest. Time to try it again, only this time I followed the 1970s-era recipe exactly as written.
Step 1: Process the apples
For most people, this would be the easiest part of the recipe. With store-bought apples, all you need to do is cut them into quarters and toss them in a pot, cores, peels, and all. But these are the apples that come from a tree that doesn’t get sprayed with pesticides.
Cores were completely out of the question (a drawback, also, to trying to make one’s own pectin, another semi-failed experiment) as nearly every apple from the trees in the yard has, um, creatures living inside the core. I also had to cut out the bad spots, bruises, and other nasties from either apples having fallen and been on the ground or just from being on a tree that’s organic. I’m not entirely sure what kinds of apples these are – mostly, I think, golden delicious, but one of the trees has about four different varieties grafted on and I have no idea what some of them are.
I ended up with 14 cups of de-bugged, de-bruised, and de-bad spotted apple pieces and a huge pile of crud.
The recipe calls for four pounds of apples, but I didn’t have a kitchen scale. I knew I wanted to make as much as I had apples, and so I just threw everything I had in the pot. I added 2 cups of real apple juice (ingredient: apple juice) and let it cook until the apples were mushy.
Now comes the part I remember best about processing apples: the food mill. This food mill, borrowed from my mom, dates back to sometime in the 1940s. It has a bakelite handle. It was used to make my baby food, and probably used to make my mom’s baby food. It has seen many an apple over the years, and still works exactly the way it’s supposed to.
A cup or so at a time, I ran the apple mush through the food mill to get all the applesauce separated from the skins. When it was all finished, I measured the amount of applesauce I had (6.5 cups. From two cups of juice and 14 cups of apple pieces. YES.) and followed the recipe to add half a cup of brown sugar for every cup of applesauce. (I rounded down and only added 3 cups, since that’s all we had!). The recipe also said to add 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, a teaspoon of cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon of allspice. We were out of ground cloves so I did cinnamon, 3/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and a full teaspoon of allspice. I then added the zest and juice of our last lemon from the yard. After this stuff was all stirred into the applesauce, I moved the pot to the small burner and set the heat to the lowest flame, stirring occasionally.
It sounded like kind of obscene.
The recipe said to cook the apple butter down until “very thick” (which it was) and was ready when a teaspoon of it on a plate stuck to the plate when turned upside down.
Apple butter is super delicious but probably not best to be preserved in large quantities; mostly because it would be difficult to eat it all from a large jar before it went bad. I’d bought some 8 ounce jelly jars at the hardware store because they were having a sale (and because now that Dan is working and getting paid actual money I don’t have to be QUITE so frugal) and sterilized them, so that they were hot and ready to go when the apple butter was done.
My friend Carissa had suggested to me on twitter that I try a salted caramel version of the apple butter by adding salt to an already caramel-like apple butter (brown sugar instead of white sugar) and so I did a few taste tests and added some to about two jars’ worth. The recipe itself made 7 full jars and one nearly-full one that is now half-empty in the fridge, having been spread liberally and gleefully over some sourdough toast over the weekend by my husband who loves apple butter on sourdough toast.