It’s (almost) fall, y’all. And you know what that means…
Well, sure, it could be THAT.
Or, yeah, THAT.
But I was thinking…
I wasn’t always this way. I didn’t used to be excited about apples. I used to joke with my students that I was a walking oxymoron – a teacher who didn’t like apples. I attribute this dislike to the Red Delicious, the most popular apple in the United States, and the worst – it’s mealy, its peel is bitter and thick, and its flavor is a flat sweetness with just enough of a hint of apple to make you wish it was another apple. Bleckkk.
But, my friends, there is a better way, and that way is just about every other kind of apple. If you’ve never been to a farmer’s market in the fall, or been to a real-life apple orchard, you need to do yourself a favor and do that like, now. (Or, when the weather in your area turns for apple season, of course). You will find apples with actual flavor, texture, and aroma (yes, apples have different smells!) that haven’t been bred out of them in favor of appearance and shelf life. They have fun names like Zestar, Razor Russet, and Pink Sparkle, and they’re all different – puckery tart to sugar sweet, snap-crisp or on the softer side, bright pinks and greens and yellows and everything in between and beyond. My personal favorite is the Arkansas Black – tart, crisp, and excellent for both eating and baking. I like it so much that our favorite apple purveyor at market once commented last season on how I wasn’t emptying the bushel of Arkansas Blacks into my bag. (In my defense, I didn’t notice the bin, and proceeded to take what I could when I did.)
I digress. As the title suggests, I’m here to talk apple butter. We found ourselves with a plethora of apples this week after spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon at my aunt’s house a little out west. You see, she has an apple tree of a mystery sort (at least to me) that is currently bursting with ripe, tart, crispy apples. After playing baseball with some of the gnarlier fruits (read: throwing and hitting apples as hard as we could with a metal bat), husband and I managed to fill a bag with about a gallon and a half of the suckers, with full intention of making (you guessed it) apple butter.
I said fruit jam was easy. Apple butter is even easier – the hardest part is peeling, coring, and cutting the apples in preparation, which is made more enjoyable by listening to something fun (I went with a spooky podcast this time around, because almost fall) and becomes rather meditative after a few apples. The processing itself is simple – I use a slow cooker and the recipe gives directions for that route, but you can also cook the apples on the stovetop and even bake the apples if you don’t have a slow cooker – you’ll just need to add more liquid to make sure the mixture doesn’t dry out.
A few notes: apple butter has no butter or dairy – it’s just a term used to describe its consistency and use like butter (such as spreading on toast). I suggest using tart apples, or at least a variety of sweet and tart apples, so your product doesn’t come out too sweet in the end.
Ready to get started? Yeeeeeeeaaaaahhhh.
You will need:
- 3-4 lbs apples, peeled, cored, and chopped into large chunks
- 3/4-1 c brown sugar (or, 3/4 c brown sugar and 1/4 c maple syrup)
- 1 tsp cinnamon or 1 cinnamon stick (or both, you saucy devil, you)
- 1/4 tsp cloves (optional)
- 1/4 tsp cardamom (optional)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Additional optional spices: ground ginger, allspice, cayenne, nutmeg (basically any warm spice, to taste)
- In a large bowl, combine apples, sugar, and spices.
- Place apple mixture into slow cooker, turn on low heat, and allow to cook for 8-10 hours until softened.
- Mash apples with potato masher, add vanilla, and continue to cook on low for another 1-2 hours. Blend if necessary to get an even consistency (I have not had to do this).
- Pour mixture into clean jars and allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate. You can also process via hot-water canning for longer preservation.
Stovetop Variation: Place apples, sugar, and 1-2 c water or apple cider into a large pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, then reduce the temperature and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add spices, cover, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are softened, 1-3 hours. Add liquid as necessary to maintain a smooth texture and prevent scorching. Mash, blend, and store.