Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Apple Butter

After H-Bomb, Grandpa, Jean-Claude and I picked TONS of apples from the trees at our house in town, I was tasked with finding something to do with them. I thought of apple jam (but not jelly), but haven't tried it yet. I may do an experiment in the next few days, since we have so many apples.

And then I thought of apple butter. Really, I thought of how much my dad loves apple butter. I honestly don't even know if I like it, I haven't had it since I was a kid. But I found a recipe, so I am making some. A whole bunch, actually.

This recipe comes from Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook, and it sounded like something I could do. We have one of those old-fashioned kind of apple peeler/corer/slicer things that clamps onto the edge of your counter, and if we still had the piece of rubber that goes underneath it, it would clamp down tight and be quick and easy. We've apparently lost the rubber piece, so it slides around just a bit, but it really still does make quick work of peeling apples, especially these little ones we have. This is how it works:

Place the apple securely on the three prongs, making sure to line up the core in the center.

And start turning the crank, which will rotate the apple toward the peeler...

And through the corer/slicer. I forgot to take a picture of the end result, but basically you slide off the spiraled apple slices below, and the core remains on the three prongs. Remove the core, discard, and start again.

You are just left with a bowl of peels and cores, and a bowl of apples, neatly and uniformly sliced.

It does virtually everything for you, so all I was left to do was to quarter the sliced apples and discard any worm holey pieces. These are organic apples, after all.

Unfortunately, after Sawed Off and I ran a million apples through our peeler (the old-fashioned kind) and I already took the majority of the peels outside to feed to the goats in the morning, I read the following sentence in the recipe: "Be sure to use unpeeled apples, since the pectin in the skins will help make the butter nice and thick." Oops.

Luckily, Sawed Off had been eating and also hoarding apple peels, mostly from the ends that the peeler misses, in a small bowl that hadn't yet been discarded. It was the cutest thing, "You have 'nother peel for meeeeee?" I grabbed most of those, shoving them in the already-packed slow cooker and sprinkled them with about 1/4 cup more sugar. I don't think it's an exact recipe, so hopefully it will turn out.

I do want to try to put this in jars. My theory is that I can jar it up like jam, while it's still hot, and use the inversion method to seal the jars. This will involve blending it while it's still hot, or perhaps I could cool, blend, then reheat? I have no idea. But I will let you know what happens tomorrow. This is a multi-day process.

Will the apple butter be a success?
Will it be a failure?
Will my dad want to eat it?

Also, because we turn our generator off at night, I am doing this recipe the opposite of the way they suggest: I am letting the apples sit overnight, then turning the slow cooker on during the day, when it is possible to turn it on. Get it? It's the only way I can do these things. Oh how I wish I could try those overnight slow-cooked oatmeal recipes...someday, perhaps.

****It is now the next day. I added the spices and stirred the apples, and turned on the slow cooker at 7:AM. Four hours later, my house smells like apple is heavenly. Six to eight hours to go, then I will uncover the slow cooker and cook some more. I may be leaving the generator on later than 10:PM this evening...****

****Update #2, the late-night post: I finished cooking the apple butter, leaving it uncovered for about three hours. I couldn't wait; I borrowed my mother-in-law's immersion blender and it was perfect for the task. I blended the apple butter before I had finished the last cooking part. It really didn't need much longer than three hours.

While I was waiting, I made a batch of apple jam (first taste = delicious!) and then I ladled the hot apple butter into hot jars and put the lids on, turned them upside down and ladled some more. After all the jars were filled and overturned, I set my timer for 10 minutes, then turned them right-side up.
UPDATE: I used to use the inversion method for canning jams and fruit butters, but I have since been made aware that this no longer considered a reliable canning method.  Prepare a pot of boiling water, and as jars are filled place them in the pot, making sure the water covers the lids by at least an inch.  Process (boil) for the recommended time for jams at your altitude--I am at 7,000 feet, so that means about 25 minutes for my jars.  Remove jars from pot and set them gently on a towel.  Let them sit, undisturbed for 24 hours, then test for seals.   

I ended up with 10 half-pint (8 ounce) jars of apple butter, and enough for a couple healthy samples! It tastes complex and decadent, but it was soooo easy, really.

I have a whole bunch more apples. And now I know what to do with them! I'll let you know in the morning if my jars have sealed (I just heard one loud pop, so one down, nine to go!) Man, I hope they all seal. There's no way our little family can eat 10 jars of apple butter that quickly!

Oh yeah, and I am certain my dad will LOVE this.****

Apple Butter
Makes 5 to 8 cups (I ended up with just over 10 cups)

Everyone loves old-fashioned apple butter. In the oven or on the stove top, apple butter needs a watchful eye. And it is a messy process as well. Not so with slow cooker apple butter, one of the best uses of your 4- to 6-quart cooker. Be sure to use unpeeled apples, since the pectin in the skins will help make the butter nice and thick. The yield will vary, depending on how thick you like your butter.

Cooker: large round (I'm using large oval. I'm a rebel. You already knew that.)
Setting and Cook Time: LOW for 12 to 20 hours; cooker is uncovered at 10 to 12 hours

5 pounds tart cooking apples, unpeeled, cored, and cut up, or enough apples to fill your cooker
2 cups sugar
1 cup apple juice or cider (optional; see step 1)
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of salt

1. Coat the slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Fill with the apples, almost to the top; the exact amount is not critical (whew!). As you load in the apples, sprinkle with the sugar in layers. Cover and let stand at room temperature all day; the apples will exude some of their own juice and collapse slightly. If you want to skip this step, just add the apple juice.

2. Add the spices and salt and toss the apples with a large wooden spoon. Cover and cook on LOW for 10 to 12 hours, or overnight.

3. In the morning, remove the lid and let the apple butter cook an additional 2 to 8 hours on low to reach the desired thickness. (I may have to leave the generator on a bit longer tomorrow for this step...)

4. Turn off the cooker and let cool to room temperature in the crock. Transfer to a blender or food processor, or use a handheld immersion blender right in the crock and puree' the butter until completely smooth. Scrape with a rubber spatula into spring-top glass jars (or use screw tops with new lids). Store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. Or transfer to small plastic storage containers and freeze for up to 3 months. Serve cold or at room temperature.

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