Monday, January 19, 2009

Apple Butter

If you have been reading this blog, you know this has been the Year of the Apple for me. I talk about how delicious the apples were this year every chance I get, with everyone who will listen. Apples have also formed a thread connecting me to many of my friends. Tuesday night we had dinner with old friends; the dessert was apple crisp, made from their own Arkansas Blacks. While eating it, we talked about Pippins- a kind of apple they remembered from childhood. My friend Pam and her husband gifted us with some Granny Smiths from their farm, Lady Orchards, that had a blush on their cheeks, and tasted better than any Granny Smiths I've eaten before. And I sent apple butter back to Missouri for the families of each of my sons.

Growing up, we never ate store bought jellies or jams. My Grandmother Cleo kept us well supplied with strawberry preserves, peach jam, plum jelly, and plum and apple butter. (Plum butter- not my favorite!)

When we first moved to the St. Louis area, the suburb where we purchased our house had a Fall Festival where they made apple butter over a wood fire in a huge cauldron. It took days and required many volunteers to stir, but was a terrific community event.

I never tried the wood fire method, but I did make it on the stove top, and it there was a lot of stirring required. Burnt apple butter is not the tastiest thing ever, and I ruined my share of batches over the years.

My friend Gale Dollar (another apple thread!) taught me to make apple butter in the crock pot 10 or 15 years ago, and I have never looked back! It is so easy, and I've had no burnt batches since I started doing it this way.

There really isn't a recipe for this. After dinner, I wash and cut the apples into eighths- without coring or peeling. I like a mixture of varieties of apples- this one contains about half Gold Rush, a Yellow Delicious varietal, and the rest about 1/3 each Granny Smith, Arkansas Blacks and Rome. I don't add anything else- no liquid or sugar. I put the lid on the crock pot, put it on high and let it cook over night.

By the next morning, the volume is reduced by about half, and the apples are dark. Somehow I missed taking a picture of this stage- sorry.

While you can use other tools like the food processor or blender, I like the food mill the best. This one belonged to my grandmother. The plate rotates when the handle is cranked, and pushes the apple through the holes on the bottom.

There is very little wasted- the seeds and skins all remain in the food mill, and the apple butter is all in the bowl. At this point, I add ground cinnamon and cloves. Go easy on the cloves! If you would like to sweeten the apple butter, do it to taste at this point, and cook a little while longer.

This time, I made 3 batches, keeping them covered in the refrigerator until all three were ready to can. I filled 8 pint jars and 6 half pints. I would probably have pressure canned this because there was no added sugar, but an unexpected canning incident resulted in my blowing up the pressure canner this summer (That was something!) so I used waterbath processing for a longer period of time than usual. I processed these for 20 minutes. I removed the lid for the picture, but during the processing time the lid was in place.

My son Bart tells me he loves apple butter so much he would eat it every day. He got the pints. My daughter-in-law Jen, on the other side of the state, got the half pints because she declined to eat it every day. You snooze, you lose!

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