After last year’s last-minute teacher-gift debacle just before the holidays, I vowed to be more prepared in 2010. Because as much as I love going to thrift stores, I don’t particularly enjoy scouring all of them in the metro Indianapolis area in a 24-hour period in order to find adequate vessels for holding homemade tea blends. In the end, last year’s gift-giving went ok, excepting the loss of hair (I pulled it out) and emotional energy (it was The Holidays, after all).
This year, I’m rocking it. I’m so on top of things, I’m honestly waiting for the ball to drop; looking for ways it can all go wrong. One scenario involves my walking to the basement to bring up the jarred gifts to wrap, and none of the jars are sealed anymore (can that happen? anyone?). In another nightmare fantasy, a house fire consumes the jars, and their contents and glass explosions feed the flames (because, if my house burned down, at the very top of my worries would be the botched teacher gifts).
But the jars. They are filled with homemade apple butter. After my first (somewhat) failed attempt, I made a second go, inspired by my friend Jane’s crockpot recipe. I am still tweaking the spices in my recipe, but each batch has been delicious, and quite worthy of a jar. Since fruits are acidic enough to be safely water-bath canned, no pressure canner is necessary, and the canning is a breeze. The very best part is the price: I bought 40 pounds of apples (“seconds” — which means they’re not very pretty, but make great apple sauce and butter) from our local orchard (Wilds Apple Farm) for $20. From that investment, I’ll probably end up with 18 pints of apple butter and a dozen or so quarts of apple sauce. That’s a twenty well-spent.
There are a couple of catches. As far as equipment, a food mill makes your job a lot easier. Mainly because it relieves you of the necessity of peeling or coring your apples. If you don’t have one, you can still make wonderful butter, but you might have an acute case of carpal-tunnel to go with. Probably a worthy trade-off, in the long-run. If you can the jars*, it’ll help to have a canning kit and a very large stockpot. This recipe uses sucanat (“SUgar CAne NATural” sold under brand name Rapadura, or in bulk at a health food store), which lends a slight molasses-y flavor and allows the finished product to be completely free of refined sugars.
* If you don’t want to bother with canning, you can simply freeze the apple butter in jars or bags; it’ll last a few weeks, once thawed, in your refrigerator.
Crock-pot Apple Butter
(a marriage of recipes from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook and Jane Moore)
makes about 3 pints, with some leftover
- about 6 pounds apples (any variety — seconds are cheaper and work great)
- 2 1/2 cups sucanat (Rapadura) or combination of white and brown sugar
- 1/4 cup apple cider, apple juice, or water
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar (raw, unfiltered is best)
- 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp ground allspice
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
Wash apples well (peel and core if you won’t be using a food mill), and cut into small chunks (I quarter the apple, then cut each quarter in half). Fill your crock pot with the apples.
Add the rest of the ingredients, cover, and turn on high. Let cook for one hour, then turn heat down to low, and cook for another 8 hours (remove lid during last hour of cooking). Can stir occasionally, but it’s not necessary.
Let cool, and run mixture through a food mill (I use the biggest grated screen first, then run it through again on the medium-grate). If your apples were already peeled and cored, you can simply mash with a potato masher, or for smoother texture use a hand-held stick blender or food processor.
For canning, use a water bath process for 10 minutes (I bring the apple butter back to a simmer in a stockpot on the stove before pouring it into hot jars).