People who know me probably know I’m not much of a fruit eater. My mom says I never was, even as a baby.
Bananas are the worst. I can’t even take a bite without triggering a gag reflex. I’m told I come by it legitimately: my maternal grandmother only ever ate one banana in her life, one that someone gave her just after her arrival from the Old Country. In her words, she took a bite, and the more she chewed, the bigger it got, and she had to fight to swallow it. So I can only assume that whatever the problem is, it’s genetic.
So on an “Ew! Ick!” scale of one to ten, where a banana’s about 100, apples fare a little better, but not a lot. When pressed, I’ll eat a bite or two of apple. I’ll even drink apple juice, and I love hard cider. But applesauce? No, thanks.
But a couple of years ago, when weather and chance graced us with more apples than Beloved Husband could possibly eat before they went bad, I had to do something.
I made and froze a couple of batches of applesauce. I’m told it was even pretty good applesauce. But there’s only so much applesauce a person needs.
Then I hit on the idea of making apple butter.
Apple butter had always sounded like such a good idea to me. I mean, even saying the words makes me think of warm quilts and snuggling in front of a fire. But I’d never made apple butter. I’d never even *had* apple butter. So where to start?
The internet, of course. A quick search for “apple butter recipe” yielded a plethora of information.
I picked out a couple of recipes, studied them carefully to see what they all had in common. I knew that apples had a lot of natural pectin, but I also knew that the recipe should still contain a certain amount of acid, to help with preservation.
I saw that I needed apples, sugar, spices, and some kind of liquid. Brown sugar, I decided, thinking about how the warm flavor would blend with the apples. For the liquid, I decided cider would help enhance and concentrate the apple flavor. Spices were easier. Cinnamon, naturally. Perhaps a bit of ginger, to pique the flavor a bit. Just a touch of cloves (being careful not to overdo it). And…I remembered how, when my grandmother used to feed us apple slices from the tree in her yard, she’d sprinkle just a touch of salt on them first. So a bit of salt might be good.
Then I looked at how to turn the apples into apple butter. Most of the recipes said to cook it on the stove for a couple of hours. Which is a fine idea, but my stove does not speak “simmer” well. Every time I’ve tried to simmer something slowly, I’ve always ended up scorching it, even on the lowest setting.
But if I was trying to cook something for a long time over low heat, a crock pot ought to do the job. Right?
So putting it all together, I came up with:
20 cups diced apples (measure after peeling, coring, and cutting)
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 cups apple cider
2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pinch cloves
Put apples into a large (5-6 quart) crock pot. They should just fill the crock pot.
In a bowl, mix remaining ingredients. Pour over apples.
Cover crock pot, but make sure to leave the lid partially open so that steam can escape. (I have an oval crock pot, so I simply turned the lid 90 degrees from where it’s supposed to sit.) Turn crock pot on high. Stir occasionally.
When the apples are soft (after 6-8 hours), use a stick blender to blend as smooth as possible. You may have to repeat this later, if there are still lumps.
Cook until reduced to half of the original volume or less (I let mine cook down to 1/3 the original volume).
Prepare jars as noted for hot-water bath canning (which I discussed in this entry). Ladle apple butter into prepared jars and process. (I gave mine 15 minutes at 5,000 ft. altitude.) If you use 20 4-oz jars, there will probably be a bit left over. Refrigerate this bit and use within the next few weeks. Or just get a spoon and start eating.
Now, as I mentioned, I’d never even had apple butter, so I had no idea how to tell when it was done. I soon discovered that patience was essential. Because for a long time, what I had tasted like extra-sweet, extra-spicy applesauce. Which, I’m sure, is not the worst thing ever. But it wasn’t what I’d imagined apple butter would be like.
And then, about the time the mixture had cooked down to about half of its original volume, something happened. Something that was part chemistry, part alchemy, and part magic. The apple butter changed from being grainy and mealy to being smooth, almost like melted caramel.
And at that point, the apple butter went from, “Ew! Applesauce!” to “Oh my God, I need a bigger spoon!” Like I said, I’m sure there was magic involved. It was so good that even a person who doesn’t like apples wanted more.
And that’s why, with all modesty, I call this recipe “Apple Butter of the Gods.”