Let’s talk apple butter. Not a lot of people have heard of it and even fewer know what it is. I will readily admit I have never actually tried or eaten apple butter. I know; it’s scandalous. Growing up my dad used to keep jars of it in our fridge. It was the weird brown condiment at the back of the fridge that no one but Dad ate. Seriously. I don’t think a single living soul in our family ate that “butter” except for him.
Fun fact about fruit butters, there’s a whole heck of a lot of them: apple, plum, pumpkin, etc. I mean at Masker Orchards alone I saw at least six varieties. It’s pretty astonishing. And to be honest, they all look pretty much the same. Like a sort of brownish mush.
Personally, I was put off by the color. And the fact that apple “butter” by no means resembled butter. Like, not even remotely. It was brown, kind of gloopy looking and just straight up scared me. But I have always made sure to pick up a jar of the stuff for my dad whenever I see it at a farmer’s markets or when I’m in Vermont.
So I did a little digging around to figure out what these fruit butters were all about and I discovered that they’re just super thick boiled down fruit with spices. [smacks head] There’s nothing funky about these “butters” they’re just applesauce that’s been cooked and thickened forever. Which also meant it was likely to be one of the easiest dishes, besides applesauce, to make.
Then I had a scary thought. Maybe I’d actually try my hand at canning. My friend Emily did it without any problems and she claimed that it was fairly easy. So I set my mind to it. I tossed the applesauce and spices in the crockpot before I left for work one morning, picked up some jars at the Broadway Panhandler (holy cow I lurve this store and it’s right around the corner from my office, bad news bears), and almost fourteen hours later I successfully jarred a small batch of apple butter.
Well, at least I think I was successful in the canning process. I still have a jar sitting on my counter about ten days later that I’ve been watching to make sure I did it properly. I gave the other jar to my parents the next day knowing that my mom is such a freak about home-canning she would immediately put it in the fridge anyway and will probably even throw it out before Christmas. That woman can’t keep leftovers in her fridge for longer than a toddler’s attention span. It gives her the heebies.
Anyway. If you were also scarred of canning don’t be. It is a little nerve wracking at first, but once you get the hang of it, it really is quite simple. I would suggest that if this isyour first attempt, start with a small batch, it’s far less stressful. I ended up with two small jars worth, like you average jelly jar size. It meant that I could do everything at once and it didn’t take long.
From the copious amounts of research I conducted I determined a few things about canning.
1. Sanitize those bad boys. If you’re re-using jars wash them in your dishwasher at the hottest setting OR boil them for a few minutes and bake them for about five minutes at 350 to dry and finish the sanitization. If you bought new jars (like I did) I just handwashed them and let them sit in simmering water (with the caps, not the actual screw lids) for a few minutes before I began jarring.
2. Make sure that whatever you’re canning you put in the jars while it’s still hot. This prevents any kind of scary microbes infiltrating all your hard work.
3. To make sure your jars don’t shatter when you’re filling them with hot food, keep them in a gently simmering bath. Don’t let it simmer too vigorously or your jars will tip over (which happened to me not once, not twice, but three times) and that’s a giant pain in the ass.
4. Last, but not least. When you’re screwing on the lids you just want to screw it tight enough so that water can’t get into the jar when you put it in the larger water bath, but not so tight that the air bubbles can’t escape and thereby prevent the top of the lid from sealing properly. I made this mistake at first, panicked, called Emily, quickly removed and loosened my lids a little and they both turned out fine.
So ladies and germs, take a swing at canning. Because once you get the hang of it, just imagine all the awesome Christmas gifts you can make people. Yeah, that’s right. I’m already thinking about Christmas. In fact, I’ve been thinking about Christmas since at least September 1st. It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiimee offff thhhheee yeeeeeeaaarrr!!! 🙂
*Just a note: This recipe takes several hours to make. Most of that time is hands-off while the mixture cooks in the crockpot. But don’t expect to make this a few hours before you need it. You need at least half a day to make applebutter. Also it’s really useful to have RUBBER tongs or a jar grabber to easily maneuver your jars around. If you have metal tongs I can bet you twenty bucks the jars will slip right out of your grasp and shatter.
Recipe adapted from Pick Your Own
4 – 5 cups homemade applesauce (or the unsweetened variety from the grocery store, chunky is prefered)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
pinch of cloves
a few swipes of fresh nutmeg, or a pinch of nutmeg
Place all the ingredients in a crockpot and turn to high. Place the lid of the crockpot askew to let the steam out, this is how you get the sauce to thicken. If you leave the lid on, you’ll just have really spicy kind of liquidy applesauce. The website referenced above says one reader put two butter knives across the top of her crockpot parallel to each other and placed the lid on that. I just perched mine carefully on the edge, leaving about a 1/2in. gap.
Once your ingredients have begun to bubble give them a good stir and put the crockpot on low. Go to work, clean your house, read a book, go shopping. Whatever, now you just wait, about 12 – 14 hours. If you know your pot has a hot spot you can stir it every few hours to prevent it from sticking. Just make sure the hard crusty bits that will inevitably form on the inner walls of your pot don’t fall into the butter itself, because that’s yucky.
When it looks like your mixture has reduced by about half take an immersion blender to it and puree the mixture so it is smooth. Let it cook for another 30min to an hour, with the lid still ajar.
Meanwhile sanitize your jars (this recipe makes two 6-8oz jars of applebutter) and set up two water baths, one simmering and one gently boiling. Place the lids (not the screw tops) and jars in the simmering bath, make sure the water only comes halfway up the jar or they’ll tip over. I used my dutch oven for this step and my larger stock pot for the boiling water.
Carefully funnel the hot apple butter into the jars, leaving about a 1/2in of space at the top. Place the lids on the jars and gently screw the tops on, just enough to not let water in but to let the air out. For this I took them out of the water briefly, held them in a folded over dishtowel and screwed the lids on, then immediately place them in the boiling water. You want your second bath to be deep enough to cover the tops of your jars with about an inch of water.
Boil the jars for 10-15 minutes. You should see small bubbles rising from under the lids of the jars. You can poke the lids to make sure the button is depressed. If it has turn the heat off and let the jars rest in the water until tepid, this takes awhile, at least an hour or two. Remove jars from water bath let cool to room temperature without disturbing. Once cool, screw the lids on tight (if you screw them on before they’re cool and dry they might rust in place. Label your jars with the date they were canned. They should be good, kept at room temperature for up to a year. Once the jars have been opened though they must be refrigerated and are good for about a month.