The apple (butter) of your eye
Article and photo by Lisa Crockett
Early fall is apple season. One of my favorite treats is an apple picked in the wee hours on the Western Slope, then delivered to the farmers market, and then my kitchen in time for dinner. You can buy decent apples nearly year-round, but the apples available this time of year are truly special.
Alas, all good things come to an end, and in the blink of an eye, everyone has forgotten about apples in favor of pumpkin spice added to everything from coffee to bath soap. Don’t get me wrong, pumpkin spice is one of fall’s great pleasures, but apples deserve a little longer in the spotlight, more than one day in the sun. Enter this recipe. Homey and pleasantly filled with fall flavors, it’s the best way I know of to stretch the apple season just a bit.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that the first time I made this recipe, I hated it. Hated. Every. Minute. I purchased what seemed like 10 bushels of fruit on what had to have been the hottest day of the year, determined to preserve apples enough to feed all my friends and extended family through what I predicted to be a long winter. I’m not a home canning expert, but on this day, I dutifully washed countless Ball jars, ensuring that I could safely preserve gallons and gallons of fall’s bounty.
By the end of the day, my kitchen looked as if it had been ransacked. Sticky spatters covered nearly every surface. The floor was treacherous to walk on. The stove was covered in a hardened layer of fruit and sugar that I wasn’t entirely sure I could remove. I was hot and sweaty and exhausted, daunted at the mountain of soiled pans and utensils that sat soaking in the sink. Though I bottled an impressive haul, the fact that the fruit shrank with cooking meant that I ended up with less final product than I had anticipated.
In an addled stupor as I surveyed the wreckage that I was pretty sure had once been my kitchen, I grabbed a humble piece of bread, and dolloped a spoonful of the day’s work on it, popping it in my mouth without much thought. And then, despite my exhaustion and frustration, I was suddenly aware that all the work and mess were worth it. This apple butter takes a handful of simple ingredients and transforms them into something so tasty, you’ll have to resist the urge to bathe in it.
So, when you undertake apple butter making in your own kitchen – and I truly hope you do – know that it can be a hot, sticky, messy process. I have modified my original recipe (given to me by a friend who was a veteran home canning expert and all-around kitchen maven) to make a smaller batch, which should ease the mess and hassle factor. I strongly recommend making this amount of apple butter the first time you make it, which will allow you to become familiar with the process on a small scale. Once you have mastered making a batch this size, you can feel free to double it to increase your yield.
This recipe is suitable for home canning. If you’re in a hurry, though, and plan to eat the apple butter in the space of three or four weeks, simply put the butter in jars and store them in the fridge. With as good as this stuff is, it won’t last long.
3 1/2 pounds tart cooking apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 1/2 cups apple cider or apple juice
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice
In a kettle, combine apples, cider or juice and vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then simmer, covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place a sieve over a large bowl and press the apples, vinegar and cider through it to create a smooth pulp. Place 8 cups of pulp in a deep saucepan along with a cup of water, the sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves and allspice, simmering over low heat for about two hours, stirring often (about every five minutes) until the mixture is very thick. Store apple butter in the fridge for several weeks.
To can the apple butter: Remove the mixture from the stove and spoon into hot, clean half-pint jars (yields three to four half pints), leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe rims and adjust lids. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.
If you are new to canning, I strongly suggest consulting with the CSU Extension at http://extension.colostate.edu/. Click on the “Nutrition, Food Safety & Health” page, then click on “making jellies” under the topic of food preservation. The Extension offers valuable information regarding food handling, processing times and techniques for canning.