Apple Butter

Our enormous Gala apple tree had another great year, and we are once again buried in apples. The tree is so tall that we can’t pick them all — even with a ladder! That leaves us plenty of apples to turn into wintertime treats.

This year, I decided to make some apple butter. This is a common Pennsylvania Dutch treat that’s basically super-concentrated applesauce. You just keep cooking it, so that the sugars caramelize and the whole thing turns into a thick, brown spread. It’s excellent on toast, and you can also use it in other desserts.

Making it is an all-day affair, even with the help of the Crockpot. To start, I made the world’s laziest schnitz, which should be cored, sliced and peeled apples. 

As you can see, all I did was cut the apples into quarters (they’re small) and toss them into the Crockpot. I like the color that the red skins give to the apples as they cook down, and it’s much easier just to run the whole pile through a food mill once they’re soft than it is to fuss with peeling up front.

Once the apples were ready, I covered them with apple cider (about 2 quarts) and let them cook covered on low heat while we went for a hike.

When we got back several hours later, the apples were cooked through. First, I used a slotted spoon to scoop the apples into the food mill and grind them into applesauce:

Next, I poured the remaining apple cider through a strainer and into a large pot: 

I brought the cider to a boil while I dealt with cranking and then cleaning the food mill. I reduced the cider by about one half before adding the applesauce and 2 cups of brown sugar. It’s just faster to boil the cider down by itself first, because once you add sugar and apples, you have to do a lot of stirring to keep it from sticking to the pot: 

After bring the whole mixture to a boil, I turned it down to low and just kept it simmering to avoid it sticking or burning (which is very easily done). Better to go slow than to be sorry you burnt up a big basket of apples. This is all about stirring, so it’s a good idea to camp out in the kitchen so you don’t forget about it. Several hours later, your apple butter will look like this:

When it was just about done, I added cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. You don’t want to do that too soon, because cooking the spices for hours will pretty much ruin them. Adding them later fixes that, but ideally you’ll let the applesauce age before you eat it so those fresh spices mellow out and blend together.

You know it’s done when the color is nice and dark and when no water runs off when you dab a bit onto a cool plate. You should also be able to turn that plate upside without having the apple butter fall.

Canning is the next step. I filled eight half-pint jars and ran them through a hot water bath for 10 minutes. 

Now they are waiting on a shelf for a few months to pass by until we open them up. They will make for some yummy winter breakfasts then!


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