Just days before the blizzard hit, I went out to Sekapp Orchard one more time, ready for another couple of bags of "deer apples." Alas, with December's very cold weather and their limited storage space, the only bags of these mixed windfalls and smalls had frozen. Still okay for the deer, but no longer good for applesauce or apple butter, and that was what I had on my mind.
Those over-sized bags are great not just for the bargain price but also because they mix up every variety of apple available at the orchard, a perfect mix for great apple desserts. So I had to settle for my second choice, picking up three half bushel bags of three different varieties of "seconds." I chose Harrelson, Honey Gold and Regent, all varieties that are good for many uses.
So now my garage "root cellar" is well supplied again with apples. This snowy weather is perfect for cooking up a batch of apple butter that will go nicely as small gifts along with the coffee cakes that will need to start coming out of the oven this week. Christmas carols on Pandora, the tree lighted in the corner and snow outside every window--what more bucolic time to have the spicy scent of simmering apple butter drift through the house. Now, if I could only get the motivation to finish the Christmas letters!
My sister Merry has had the luxury of an orchard of apple trees right in her back yard, and she has made wonderful use of the fruits in her trademark apple slices as well as this recipe for apple butter.
I use my 8 quart wide sauce pot and fill it to the brim with apples, with the usual yield just a little larger than the amount of pulp in her original recipe, so the amounts of each ingredient are scaled up a little; other than that, I have made few changes--kind of unusual for my free-style cooking I know.
Earlier this fall, I made a smaller batch, to fit into my 3 1/2 quart slow cooker. I used the same proportion of ingredients in Merry's recipe and tried to follow the slow cooker recipe methods I found on-line. However, it became clear that this really wasn't the wisest choice for that method of cooking, since foods prepared in these earthen pots rarely cook down very much, and that's what I was aiming for to get apple butter. Maybe I was just too impatient, but I ended up taking the mixture out of the crock, putting it in a 12 inch, deep and straight-sided, frying pan and simmering it for another hour or so on the stove top until it was just the right consistency. Today's batch is cooked from start to finish on the range. Sometimes the old ways are still the best.
Merry's Apple Butter
8 quarts apples, cut in chunks but not peeled or cored; 13 cups pulp when finished
1 3/4 c sugar
1 c light brown sugar, packed
4 1/2 t cinnamon
2 1/4 t cloves
1 3/4 t allspice
3 1/2 T lemon juice (I use reconstituted juice like ReaLemon)
Put just a small amount of water in with the apples, only enough to keep them from sticking, cover, and bring to a slow boil. Cook until very, very soft, about an hour or so depending on the variety of apples used.
When the apples are cooked, press them through a food mill. You should have about 13 cups of pureed apple pulp and juice when done.
Put the pureed apples in a large, broad pan and add remaining ingredients.* Simmer on the stove top for about an hour and a half or until the mixture has thickened. Test for proper consistency by putting a small amount on a cold plate. When watery juices no longer separate from the mixture around the edges, the butter is done. The yield is about six to eight pints.
*You may want to taste the mixture at this point and add a bit more sugar if the apples you are using are quite tart. Do remember that the mixture will cook down and become sweeter, but apples vary a great deal in their sweetness, both from variety to variety and even season to season, so the taste can vary. Because sugar does provide some preservative value, you won't want to reduce the sugar very much if you are planning to can the apple butter or keep it in the refrigerator for several weeks.
This can be processed as for any jams or stored in the freezer (or refrigerator for several weeks). In a hot water bath canner, process half pint and pint jars for 15 minutes or quarts for 20 minutes.
Now, what to do with your apple butter? Probably the very best way is to spread it over warm from the oven home-baked bread or dinner rolls, but it also makes great peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches.
Waffles, pancakes, baking powder biscuits and French toast also take well to apple butter, but there is more. I like to use it when making cinnamon rolls or coffee cake where I would have otherwise spread the dough with butter before sprinkling with sugar and cinnamon and rolling up. It adds a wonderful moisture and added flavor to any such recipe.
If you have a filled or bar cookie recipe that calls for applesauce to be cooked down with raisins and/or spices, just substitute apple butter for the mixture, adding raisins, dried cranberries, or nuts as called for in the original recipe. No need to cook down that applesauce; it's already been done when you made th apple butter. Lots of ways to experiment here!