Preserve a Peck of Apples – Part 2
Over the summer I happened to purchase 3 lbs of peaches at the grocery store because it was peach season, and they were on sale. An instant messenger conversation with my friend Ryan regarding said peaches:
Me: What should I make with all these peaches I just bought?
Ryan: You should wash them and eat them.
Me: Yes, but I bought like 3 lbs!
Ryan: You should wash them and then eat them in one long peachy binge.
Me: Maybe I will make a crisp.
Ryan: So, uh, how’d you end up with 3 lbs of peaches with no plans for them?
I guess I just get a little too excited about produce sometimes. Every once in a while stuff will go bad before I get the chance to use it – and buying produce without a plan is especially dangerous in the summer when it is already really ripe and you should really use it NOW. So this summer I taught myself how to can, and learned a little bit about freezing stuff, too. I’d like to think the canning bug is hereditary, as my Grandma Jean (who I never really knew) was one badass canning lady and even wrote a cookbook about pickling and preserving. As it turns out making jams & fruit butters is kind of fun. And they taste really, really good.
So what exactly is apple butter? Basically you start with apple sauce and cook it over low heat for many hours with some sugar and spices. When the sugars start to caramelize, your sauce will darken and becomes very thick and spreadable. Apple butter is sweet, spicy and just a little tangy. To me, the final product tastes like a mug of mulled cider in a spreadable form that is best enjoyed on a toasted, buttered English muffin. In addition to breads and muffins, you might try apple butter alongside a pork roast or with some soft cheese.
I made the apple sauce the night before I was going to make the apple butter, and stashed it in the fridge until morning. The apple sauce was surprisingly easy to make – the apples are cored and roughly chopped, and cooked with apple cider until soft and smooshy. When my apples were ready to go, I used my Grandma Jean’s food mill (for the first time since my mom “bequeathed” it upon me years ago) to remove the skins and make the apples into a smooth sauce.
The food mill was really, really slick, and I processed about 11 cups of applesauce in less than 15 minutes. The clips on the edge of the mill fit exactly around the diameter of my KitchenAid stand mixer bowl. If you don’t have a food mill, you could also use a fine-mesh sieve or chinoise to process the apples. If you don’t have any of these things (and don’t feel like taking a trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond), you could also peel the apples beforehand and use a fork, potato masher, or other kitchen implement to make a smooth sauce (although I wouldn’t recommend a blender or food processor, that may break down the fruit a little too much). The apple sauce was pink since I’d left the skins on, and so pretty I almost felt bad about cooking it again.
Now to make our sauce into butter. There are a few ways to go about this: 1. Stovetop cooking, which requires a stir every 15-20 minutes for 3-4 hours on the stove (see here), 2. Adding vinegar to the mix and cooking for a little less time (see here), or 3. Hauling your slow cooker over to your boyfriend’s house which is only a few block from work so you can let it cook all day but stop by at lunch time and give it a stir. I opted for the slow-cooker method, adding sugar, spices, and lemon juice to the apple sauce in the morning, and leaving it on low throughout the day. When I stopped by to stir at lunch, there was a little bit of scorched butter on the bottom of the slow cooker, but it separated easily from the good stuff and no harm was done. At this point, I also propped the slow cooker lid open about 1/4″ with a chopstick, as things were still looking pretty saucey and not so buttery, and evaporation is key to getting a thick butter.
When I got home from work I did a consistency check on the fruit butter – Putting Food By describes the final product as “mounding” on a spoon and possessing a slight sheen. The mounding test is fairly obvious – the finished fruit butter should make a small mound on your spoon like yogurt or whipped cream instead of spreading thin like milk. All that was left to get the apple butter into jars and process it for long-term storage. If this is your first time canning, you’ll need some supplies, although you may be able to improvise with stuff already in your kitchen. (And if you don’t feel like diving into canning at the moment, you could always pour it into plastic jars or bags, and leave a little bit of headspace for expansion.)
The final yield for this quantity of apples was about 88 ounces of apple sauce, which cooked down to about 80 ounces of apple butter, which we canned in a variety of 8 and 4 ounce jars, and left some unpreserved for immediate eating.
For the sauce
6-7 lbs of tart apples (we used mainly Jonathan, see the apple guide for recommendations.)
1.25 cups of apple cider or water
For the butter
2.5 cups of sugar, or about 0.25 cup per 1 cup of apple sauce (I used 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup brown, and 0.5 cup of honey)
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
0.5 teaspoon ground cloves
Juice of 2 lemons
(The sugar and spices are really “to taste” although most of the sources I checked recommended at least 0.25 cup of sweetener per cup of apple sauce to aid in the preservation, and the juice of at least one lemon. Spices are up to you, and you can always start with a little less and add more as the day goes on.)
Make the apple sauce.
1. Core and remove blemishes from the apples. I used a melon baller to core the apples, as you don’t have to get all of the tough bits out of the apple since they will soften during cooking or filter out when you run it through the food mill. Cut the apples into large chunks, approximately 2-3″ cubes, and add to a large stock pot or dutch oven with the apple cider.
2. Cook the apples and the cider over medium-low heat with the lid on. Keep the heat high enough such that the liquid bubbles slightly, and stir every 10 minutes or so. Cook until the apples are soft and smoosh easily with the side of a spoon, about 45-60 minutes depending on the fullness of your pot.
4. Place apple sauce in a container and refrigerate overnight or proceed to making apple butter.
Make the apple butter.
1. Add the apple sauce to the slow cooker. The sauce can also be cooked, uncovered, in a heavy oven-safe pot or dutch oven in a 300 °F/149 °C oven if you don’t have a slow cooker.
2. Whisk in the sugar, lemon juice and spices until thoroughly mixed. If you leave large pockets of sugar, these can scorch easily on the side or bottom of the pot.
3. Set the slow cooker to low, and allow to cook for about 8 hours. Prop the lid open about 1/8-1/4″ to facilitate evaporation, and stir once or twice if you get the chance. (Putting Food By does not list exact times for the oven method, but the internet is telling me 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming.)
4. Test for consistency by ensuring that it mounds slightly on a spoon, and seems thick and spreadable.
Fill and process the jars.
1. Have a mix of 4 and 8 oz jars, rings and lids washed and ready to go. Sterilize the jars by placing them on a cookie sheet in a 200 °F oven for 10 minutes – I just leave the jars in there and remove them 3 or 4 at a time as I’m ready for another batch. (I also set the jars on a Silpat on the cookie sheet to ensure that they don’t slide around and break when moving the pan)
2. Sterilize the tongs/jar lifter, funnel and rings by placing in hot water for 10 minutes, and place the lids in a small saucepan of barely simmering water to activate the sealing compound.
3. Ladle the hot apple butter into jars leaving 1/4″ of headspace for 4 oz jars, and 1/2″ of headspace for 8 oz jars. Wipe the edges of the jars with a clean paper towel, place a lid on the jar, and screw the ring on firmly (but don’t over-tighten).
4. Process the jars in boiling water for 15 minutes. (Make sure you have a steaming basket, jar rack or dishtowel in the bottom of the pot to keep the jars from bumping and cracking) Once the jars have cooled, check the seal and reprocess any unsealed jars or use refrigerate and use those jars immediately. Store jars without rings for up to 6 months.
Enjoy, and Happy Thanksgiving!