Two weeks ago, Matt brought home a paper sack full of fallen apples from his grandparents' house. He said, "Well, either you can make apple butter, or I'll make us some pie."
I love Matt's pies, and apple pie is one of my favorites (who am I kidding - they're all my favorite), but I had been itching to make apple butter ever since I dipped my paw into a jar of the homemade stuff last summer. Before that moment, I'd never tried apple butter from anywhere other than those little Smuckers packets you find at restaurants for your toast. And let me tell you, commercial apple butter cannot compare to the homemade stuff. That's how it usually goes, isn't it?
That sack of apples made about seven pints of apple butter. I was a little shocked that the yield was so plentiful, but I wasn't complaining.
Also, the consistency of my final product was a little runnier than I had imagined. I thought maybe I hadn't cooked it down long enough, so I wanted the opportunity to try again. As a result, Matt brought home another forty pounds of fallen apples from his generous grandparents to experiment with.
Yea, he's a pretty nice guy.
And we were definitely going to need more jars.
The funny thing about jars in our home is that we seem to be flooded with them - we hide them in our closets, our cupboards, and under our sofa. Even so, in the midst of apple butter making, we realized that we were out of the regular-mouth pint jars that are perfect for jams and fruit butters. And so we took another trip to the store, scratching our heads in confusion, to buy another pack.
Folks, 40lbs of apples yields about 45 pints of apple butter. Each pack contains 12 jars. You do the math. And before you wisely suggest it, our local thrift stores can't seem to keep up with us.
Anyway, five batches later, the apple butter is now resting happily on our kitchen shelves, awaiting visitors who will 'ooh' and 'aah' at them while shouting, "Pick me! Pick me!"
Just kidding. We'll gift them out whether our friends and family like it or not.
The apple butter recipe I followed lies somewhere between what is offered by Simply Recipes and Food in Jars. I liked the recipe from Simply Recipes because I didn't have to peel the apples. A food mill sounded much more suited to my situation, and I liked the fact that the peels and cores lent pectin and flavor. The Food in Jars recipe is more specific about the canning procedure, and gives options for a chunkier fruit butter if I ever decide to peel and chop my apples instead of milling them.
We made our apple butter in five different batches, and tried a slightly new variation on the cook-down duration and spice ratios each time. While all of the batches came out well, the recipe below indicates my favorite in terms of taste and texture.
8 lbs apples
2 cups cider vinegar (5% acidity)
4 cups water
Around 8 cups sugar
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (one large lemon)
4 teaspoons freshly roasted and ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon freshly roasted and ground cardamom
Quarter, stem and seed the apples, cutting off any damaged parts (you don't need to skin them because they will later be processed through a food mill). Place them in a 5-quart (or larger) pan with the cider vinegar and the water. Turn heat on high, stirring occasionally. When the liquid begins to boil, lower the heat to medium and continue to stir the apples every five minutes or so until they are soft and mushy.
Run the softened apples through a food mill. Measure the milled apple sauce, and return to your pan. Cook on medium heat until the sauce begins to bubble, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Keep the lid off so that the water can evaporate out.
Add 1/2 cup sugar for every cup of apples (8 lbs of apples would generally yield me about 16 cups of sauce after milling, which is why I listed 8 cups of sugar to the recipe list). Add the juice of one large lemon.
Dry roast your spices whole in a small saucepan on medium-high until the aroma hits your nose. Shake the pan so that the spices do not burn, and continue to roast for another minute or two. Take the spices off the heat, and cool. Once cooled, grind your spices in a coffee grinder and add to the pot. Taste and adjust accordingly. If you don't like cardamom or cloves or allspice, simply omit those spices from the recipe.
Stir the pot every five minutes or so, making sure to scrape the bottom to prevent burning. Cook for ~3 hours until the sauce has reduced to the desired consistency.
If you want to can your jars for long-term storage, read up on the proper canning procedures. Otherwise, funnel your apple butter into sterilized jars and store in the refrigerator.