My cousin Jan is a generous woman. Thanks to her, I have had several "firsts" in my life. A first trip to Belgium, staying in her house and driving her car while she was away for Christmas. A first visit to Dillon Beach to let our dogs run wild in the surf and sand. And my first try at apple butter, made from the apples from her tree.
When I first try a new cooking adventure, I consult the internet and any appropriate cookbooks in my collection to see how the pros do it. Then, typically, I simplify what others do. I'm not one for foods that take multiple steps to make and I'm pretty happy when I find an easier way that works nearly as well as a complicated one. It was thus with apple butter.
Oh, you can make it as complicated as you like, adding steps and ingredients like crazy. Or you can make it as simple and pure as I'm sure it was in the very first kitchen when the very first woman let her applesauce cook too long. She probably just forgot it when she fell into bed after a long, hard day's work. The fire died down in her hearth overnight, slowly cooking the apples until they were dark and smooth as a blackguard's tongue. When she awoke in the morning, she was horrified - until she hesitatingly tasted the result, smiled to herself, and told everyone it was intentional. "Haven't you ever heard of apple butter?" she would have asked disingenuously, while spreading it onto the toast.
When I went looking, I found complicated recipes with a simple cooking methods, and simple recipes with complicated cooking methods. I chose the ingredients from one and the method from another and made, if I do say so myself, really, really good apple butter.
It cooks 'way down so you only get a few jars out of a half bushel of apples. I didn't have small jars on hand and my store was out of them, so I used larger ones and only got 2-1/2 jars. I will eat the half jar now and save the others for later or for gifts of my very first apple butter. Here's the recipe:
Crocked Apple Butter
About 1/2 bushel of apples, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks
A big splash of apple cider (preferably fresh and not filtered)
A scant 1/2 cup sugar (more if you use tart apples, less if you use sweet ones)
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Using a crockpot (slow cooker), fill the pot with apple chunks. Mix the rest of the ingredients together in a small bowl and pour over the apples. Cover and cook on the high setting for an hour, then lower the heat to the low setting and leave it to cook for many hours - 8 or 10 - stirring occasionally until the apples turn a dark, rich brown and lose all their structure. If it seems too loose, set the cover at an angle on the pot to allow steam to escape.
If you don't have a crockpot, cook the mixture in a very heavy-bottomed pot on the lowest setting of your stove, stirring occasionally to make sure there aren't hot spots that stick and burn. If you should get a burned spot, one the recipes I read suggested pouring out the rest of the apple butter into a separate pot - the burned part will stick and you can discard that without ruining the whole batch. Clever, huh?.
If you want to get fancy, you can pass it through a sieve, but I liked the texture that remained after simply mashing any remaining chunks with a wooden spoon.
Ladle into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath. You can find good instructions for bottling on the internet. Once bottled, it will keep indefinitely.
Another successful first!
Labels: apple butter