We have apple trees in our orchard, and it's finally time to start picking apples and making the wonderful substance everyone looks for in fall: Apple Butter
To make apple butter you will need apples (ahem), your slow cooker, a knife, a pot with a tight fighting lid, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, brown sugar, allspice, and nutmeg. To preserve your apple butter you will need some jars - canning jars or washed out old baby food jars or really just any glass container with a tight fitting lid. Reduce, reuse, recycle!
If you don't have your own apple trees, you might find out if there are any You-Pick orchards near you, or if you can buy a large quantity of apples from a wholesaler or orchard. These don't need to be shiny beautiful apples, so let the orchard know that you're making apple butter. It's also possible to forage wild apples sometimes - look around! (But please don't take apples from someone's trees without asking first!)
After you've gathered your apples give them a quick scrub if they didn't come from your own trees. I know nothing was sprayed on our trees so I just rinse my apples off to get any dust or bugs off, but if you purchased your apples commercially you'll want to soak them in a vinegar and water solution to get rid of any pesticides and bacteria. Once they are clean start coring them. Some folks peel the apples too, and some even have a peeler-corer-slicer gadget to do this. I leave my skins on as I think it makes for a more flavorful apple butter, so I just slice off pieces leaving the core and any bad spots behind.
Don't throw away your cores! We'll use that to make apple cider!
Put your apple pieces in a pot with a tight fighting lid. Add a half cup of water with a smidge of apple cider videgar. You won't taste the vinegar after this is all over, don't worry. Put the lid on and turn the stove to med-low. Let the apples cook for 20 minutes or so. While I'm doing this, I start cutting up the next batch of apples. After ten minutes I stir the apples around quickly and then leave them to cook some more.
After about 20 minutes lift the lid off the pot and poke the apples a bit. If they are still firm, put the lid back on and keep cooking. If they are soft and mushy, spoon them into your slow cooker. You could put them into the blender and puree them for apple sauce at this point, and put that in your slow cooker. I didn't feel like that saved me any time and it just meant I had one more thing to wash at the end, so I plop them right into the slow cooker. Save the liquid in your pot for the next batch of apples. Keep cooking apple bits and slicing up more apples until you run out of apples or run out of room in your slow cooker.
Set the slow cooker on low. I let it cook down a little bit before I add my sugar and spices, because it makes for easier stirring and tasting. Cook this mixture on Low in your slow cooker until it is thickened - when you pick up a mound of it on a spoon, it shouldn't slide off the spoon.
For each 4 cups of apple puree (6 cups of mushy apple bits) add the following:
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
1 teaspoon Allspice
Now, if you're thinking, But I didn't measure my mushy apple bits! Just wing it - I prefer to add a little less than I think it needs, because I can always add more later but I can't take some out! Especially on the sugar, I tend to use less than the recipe calls for. The sugar amount varies by the type of apple and the harvest that year - some years will have more sour apples and some more sweet. Because of this, I usually add half the amount of spices I think I will need and wait for the apple butter to cook down some more. Feel free to substitute or add other spices to this recipe. Vanilla, bourbon, ginger - experiment, taste it along the way, and make it yours!
Remember, you're waiting for this to thicken to a paste. If it's still lumpy after 12 hours, run it through the blender to smooth out any apple chunks and return it to the slow cooker - or use an immersion blender. This always takes about 24 hours for me. During this time do not put your lid on the slow cooker. If you're worried about apple butter splatter, put two wooden spoons on either side and rest the lid on that, so it leaves a gap all the way around for evaporation.
Once the apple butter has cooked down - which might take as long as 24 or even 36 hours - get out your jars and funnel and start packing it into each jar. As I mentioned before you can use canning jars, old jelly jars that have been washed out and dried, baby food jars, etc. When using the commercial jelly or baby food jars that have a lug style lid, you must ladle your apple butter in while it's hot and then immediately apply the lid so the heat will seal it. If you prefer you can boil your jars in a waterbath for 10 minutes to ensure a good seal - this is the method I like to use.
Now share! Apple butter makes a great gift or barter item.