Friday, September 18, 2009

On Making Apple Butter

Well last week it was applesauce; this week it is apple butter. I had a mix of about 11 pounds of Ginger Gold, McIntosh, Cortland, and some other forgotten apple. I found the poor forgotten apples in the back of the fridge. I had bought them at the farmers' market several weeks ago when the apples first came out. They had been ignored once the Ginger Gold apples started showing up. I think they might be Paula Red but I'm really not sure. When making applesauce or apple butter my motto is the more varieties the merrier even if you can't remember all their names.

I started chopping up my apples at 11am yesterday. When I chop up the apples I don't chop much out of the apple. I just take the little bit out that has the seeds. I probably don't even have to take the seeds out but I figure that apple seeds have amygdalin in them which is a cyanide compound. Though the amount is probably too low to do anything to me, I figure there is no reason to add such a thing to my diet. The rest of the core and the peels always go into the pot. The cores actually hold a lot of the pectin in the apple. So the more of the core you use, the better the apple butter will set. Many people add the whole core, seeds and all.

I added about a quart of water to all these apples to get them boiling. My 9 quart stock pot was a bit small for them all, but it didn't take long for them to mush down. I cooked them for about half an hour in their pot.

Then they were sent through the strainer to get out all the little bits and peels. You can see the rejected bits coming out in the bowl. My strainer doesn't do a good job in just one pass. I keep sending those rejected bits back through until there is no more sauce coming out the other end. In the end there was about 7 quarts of apple sauce left in my pot. To this I added 2 cups of sugar, 2T of cinnamon, 3/8t allspice, and 1/4t cloves.

It all sounds so simple doesn't it? The reality is that it wasn't. It never is. Recipes make things sound so easy. Nowhere does it tell you that you need a second huge pot as a holding pot for the applesauce. Nothing fits 7 quarts of apple sauce but a huge stock pot (of which I own exactly one) or my canning pot. So the canning pot came out to hold the applesauce until the stock pot was free. I couldn't cook in the canning pot because the bottom is to thin. The apples would burn. The worst part is that everything is still hot as I'm doing this. So when I dropped the bowl of applesauce from the strainer into canning pot, I got splashed with hot sauce. Then it turns out the bowl and the pot are just about the same width. Getting the hot bowl out was quite a feat. Then of course the bowl was boiling hot and covered in applesauce. Recipes never tell you what to do then do they?

Then came the day long stirring. I used the stove turned down low and just stirred it every 15 minutes or so. I wanted to keep it as hot as I could without it burning. Many people use the crock pot. I have a small crock pot. It is only about 3-4 quarts, which just isn't big enough for this batch of apple butter. I think next time I should go for a smaller batch and stick with the crock pot method.

I told you I started at 11am. Well I had a function last night and had to leave around 5pm. There is no way there is time to make apple butter in six hours. I suppose if you stood over it with higher heat and stirred it would work, but who wants to stand over a pot for hours? Not me. After 4pm I filled the crock pot with as much sauce as would fit. The rest went in the fridge. When I got back I added the rest and went to bed.

This morning my apple butter was ready. The old way of telling when it was ready was by using a wooden spoon. If the spoon could stand by itself it was done. I hope the plastic spoon method works just as well. Some people use the plate method. If you put a little on a plate and the liquid doesn't separate around the edges then it is done. I also made sure that it would hold it's shape when spooned up.

I put the contents back into a pot to bring to a good boil. This time it was my smaller pot which is much more manageable. Apple butter boils down to approximately half of its original amount. I did a taste test to see how it was. It needed more sugar and more cinnamon. I added a half cup more of sugar and another tablespoon of cinnamon. Then I let it cook for another 10 minutes are so to see if I got it right. It seemed pretty tasty. Most people use a lot more sugar than I do. Twice as much as I add is probably more normal. I don't like it that sweet. I like to do a taste test instead of following a recipe blindly. What apples you use really makes a big difference in the amount of sugar that needs to be added.

Then it was canning time. I had a nice new gadget for my lids. I had been just throwing them in a little sauce pan to boil but they tend to get all stuck together then they don't seal well. So I now have an extravagence in canning. This time every last one of my jars sealed - all eleven jars. I have almost 7 pints of apple butter. Hmm I wonder if I can eat it all before next apple season. I'm guessing it makes a really good snack with a nice Vermont cheedar.


  1. Oh you lucky thing. Yes, I know all about the burns from hot jam - hot sticky jam, and the bizarre fact that when you are trying to clean the kitchen it seems like you have enough pots for an army, but when making jam there is just never enough.
    But still apple butter - how scrummy. When I lived in Oregon I would have my 2 crock pots on all day and all night, waking up to the smell of apples and cinnamon, yum.
    Have you ever tried pumpkin butter?

  2. Birch got me a second big pot for these instances. But then he ruined it maple syruping. I do rely on the Crockpot a lot. Also, with tomato sauce, in a pinch, I have resorted to the microwave to cook it down. It is amazingly fast and much simpler somehow. We don't use our microwave for much, but cooking down the sauce in a hurry makes me a little less grudging about the space I give it in my kitchen.

    And I love that you know -- of course you know! -- exactly the substance in the apple seed that isn't good for us. I learn something every time I visit you, Daphne!

  3. Ouch. I'm always losing my spoons in hot pots, but I've never dropped in the whole bowl! I had a bad start to my strawberry jam, too. I had it all measured and in the pan, when I discovered I had only 3 lids left. I had to can three jars and put used lids on another three and refrigerate them.

    I used to cook my apple butter in the oven, in my big roasting pan. I do it by crock pot now.

  4. My "word verification" word is "brave"
    Anyway, I'd love to make apple butter, but can't make myself go and buy any. Instead, I just use what I grow on the property.

  5. I want to be you when I grow up. Ok, so I'm grown, but I still have a ton of years left in me and I want to be you with your cool canning and flowers and seed saving and...well, you get the point.

  6. Such a good point about standing over the stove (gasp) and adjusting seasonings and sweeteners as you go, Daphne! I had one Crock-Pot and, like you, found that it just couldn't handle enough to make a full batch of tomato sauce, apple butter, or the like. So I got another perfectly functional one from a thrift store for a dollar or so and now I'm in business! Go for it. And enjoy your yummy apple butter! When I first moved to PA, I was appalled to find that the loacls put apple butter on their cottage cheese (a savory food for us Southerners eaten with tomatoes and salt). But someone finally persuaded me to try it and, guess what, it's good! Try it, you'll like it.

  7. We thought about apple butter this fall but I'm not sure we'll get to it. I'm having a hard time finding time to make the quince jelly from the juice we cooked down earlier this week.

    If we do make it, we'll think in smaller batches and try the crock pot.

    Glad you survived getting the bowl out of the pot.

  8. Oh, that gadget! Makes me a little weak in the knees, that does. So very very nice.

    I love the way things get smaller and smaller and smaller. Sorry about the splash. I did some weird bandleader move and threw applesauce around yesterday, and that hurt. I didn't have to retrieve a bowl, though. Tough you are!

  9. Ouch! The apple butter looks good - well done!

  10. Ancel, I too woke up to the smell of apples and cinnamon. It was wonderful. In fact the whole day it smelled of it even though the butter was already canned.

    June, the microwave is a novel idea. I think this amount would overwhelm it though. I guess you could do a little at a time.

    Annie's Granny, I used a spoon that was long enough so it couldn't get lost in the pot. I love having a couple of really long spoons. Oh dear no lids? You ought to buy lids by the case with all the canning you do. I heard about apple butter in the oven, but I've never seen any instructions for it. It sounded like an interesting idea.

    Engineeredgarden, well you get enough fruit. You must have a ton of jam canned up by now. Sadly I have my raspberries only. Well I have blueberries too, but they didn't produce this year.

    Ribbit, the canning is work, but a lot of the seed saving is really, really easy. You just have to pick the right things to save your seed from.

    our friend Ben, (though from the comment I'm guessing it is really Silence), I would really love another crock pot. One that is like a friends - wide and short. Mine is tall and narrow and terrible for doing sauces. It is great for keeping chilis and the like hot without evaporating all the water. I love cottage cheese, but rarely buy it (lactose intolerant and the lactose free brand isn't sold in the stores I usually go to). I'm guessing it would be good too. I'm also thinking it would be good in oatmeal.

    Emily, I heartily recommend the crock pot method. No standing around all day stirring a pot.

    Stefaneener, lol isn't it funny that a little $10 gadget can be so exciting. I bought a canning funnel at the same time and I'm swooning over it. It makes my life so much easier. Ouch. Hot sweet things really burn. Luckily I didn't get any real burns yesterday. Just a lot of hot, hot, ouch, ouch.

    kitsapFG, I noticed you did pears the same time I was doing apple butter. Your pears look wonderful.

  11. The apple butter looks excellent, I have not had any in ages. I like your food strainer thing. I almost picked one up on kijiji last month but they had already sold, at 20 bucks it would have been a bargain.

  12. I can almost smell them.

  13. I would love to know what it tastes like, as I have never eaten it. It sounds delicious - does it go caramel-like?

  14. Dan, I love my strainer too. It makes my life so easy. If you do a lot of processing it takes a lot less time.

    mothernaturesgarden, :>

    ReapWhatYouGrow, it doesn't taste like caramel, but I'm guessing it does caramelize a little bit. Apple butter is always a pretty reddish brown when it is finished. It has its own unique taste. I wish I could describe it to you.

  15. Wow, Daphne, you have gone all out to make this wonderful condiment. I have only ever used the crock pot method, having a giant, way too big for everyday use but perfect for company or apple butter one. Your lid gadget sounds ingenious. I believe you are a gadget lover at heart, along with the produce loving and garden loving. :-)

  16. Great photos of this process! Interesting about the cyanide. I just read a book called Babylon Rolling and a character - as she's going nutty - starts to collect apple seeds to grind up and spike her husband's food. I'd been wondering if it was a completely made up thing or not. Thanks for the answer. The first photo of the apple seeds/core cut up is really pretty.

    We went apple picking today. I'll have photos up on my blog sometime soon...