When Fall first hits the apples are fresh and crisp and I can’t get enough of eating them whole. Then Winter rolls around and apples and oranges are the best and freshest winter fruits available. Lovely apple pies and hot mulled apple cider are my favorites. And then the end of Winter drags on, and Spring may have sprung, but the Spring fruits and vegetables aren’t quite out yet. There are still loads of apples around, but by now they are looking a little worse for wear. What to do with the rest of the bounty? With almost a case of bruised apples to contend with, apple butter seemed like the natural course to take. I won’t lie and tell you this is no work at all, but it is just tedious, not difficult. If you have an automatic apple peeler, this would be the time to pull it out, but I did it all by hand. It took a few hours to process the apples, and almost a full day to cook them down, but the rewards are so worth it!
This is more of a technique than a recipe. I can’t really give you amounts because it will vary so much on the amount of apples you start with, the size of your pots, the natural sweetness of the apples, and your family’s personal tastes. I would never start this project out by saying: “Gee, I think I’ll go to the store and buy all of the ingredients I need to make apple butter”. But knowing what to do with a rapidly aging batch of apples on your hands is a very handy thing.
Crock Pot or Slow Cooker
Large stock pot
Knife and peeler, or an apple peeling/coring gadget
Start by peeling your apples. Truthfully, this project isn’t worth doing for a few apples. You might as well wait until you have a bunch. I had an unexpected windfall of not-perfect apples, so it made sense for me at this time. When I got done peeling them, I had a sink-full of apples. As I said, you can use an automatic peeler, or practice your knife skills and peel away. Once you have them peeled, quarter and core them, then cut them into rough chunks. No need to get too fancy, it will all cook down into a chunky mush so your fine knife skills will not be appreciated here!
Place all of the chunked apples into the large pot with enough water to float them, but no more. You will eventually be cooking all of the water out, so no need to start with more than is necessary. Don’t add anything else at this stage. Let the apples cook on low heat until the volume has been reduced by 1/3 – 1/2. Transfer the apples to your Crock Pot or Slow Cooker. Use the low heat setting and allow the apple mass to cook down by 1/4.
Add sweetener and spices to taste. For a 3 quart cooker, I used:
2 tbsp. of ground cinnamon
1 tbsp. fresh ground nutmeg
1 tsp. ground allspice
3 tbsp. freshly grated ginger (‘grate’ use for your microplane!)
1 -2 cups sugar or 1 1/4 cup honey
This is not a lot of sugar compared to other apple butter recipes. By waiting until the apple mass has cooked down and started to concentrate its own natural sugars, you can add a more modest amount. Adding the sugar will speed up the process toward the deep rich brown color you’re looking for. Cook the whole thing for another few hours, ultimately you will probably cook it down to 2/3 of the original volume of the cooker. Taste it and adjust the level of sweetness and spices to your liking. Remember that you can always add more and cook it a bit longer if you need to. Total cooking time will vary depending on how much you are cooking at once, but you can let it go overnight in the slow cooker. My last batch from start to finish (not counting peeling time) cooked for about 18 hours. Allow it to cool.
I recycle all of my jars, so I bottled up my apple butter into old peanut butter jars. I think I have enough to get me through until next winter when the apples will be plentiful again!
This same process can be used to cook down other vegetable bounty such as peaches (Peach Butter with Cloves), pumpkin (Pumpkin Pie Butter), pears (Red Wine Pear Butter), and more. If you are a canner, this is a fantastic product to seal and keep on a shelf. I keep mine refrigerated where it keeps well for many months, and don’t plan on having it around too long.
Keep an eye out for bruised or ugly fruit and vegetables. With techniques like this one you can make some fantastic dishes for very low cost and make your taste buds happy too!