29 October 2009

Apple Butter

We have one tree that still has apples on it and I've been debating whether or not to try and use them in some way. They aren't the best apples ever - there's too many of them on the tree and so none are very big and they aren't super flavorful. Peeling and coring them wouldn't leave much in the way of usable apple. We've been feeding them to various resident and neighboring livestock - the horses next door learned pretty quickly that a person in the orchard means treats for them and all the goats come running, too. And Henry can't get enough. Even with the deer visiting periodically for a snack, there are still at least three bushels on the tree. Thanks to my parents, I can't stand to see food go to waste so I decided I'd have to do something with them.

I got to thinking about apple butter. I figured that might be a good route since it seems to mostly be a vehicle for cinnamon and sugar and less-than-perfect apples. (The recipe was probably a result of our predecessors' proclivity to use up anything remotely edible - along the lines of corn cob jelly and green tomato pie.) The best part of the recipe was that I didn't have to peel or core the apples but instead put them though a food mill after cooking which is way less work. And the peel has a good amount of pectin which helps jams to thicken up nicely.

We don't eat a ton of jams/jellies/preserves around the Haphazard Homestead so I asked my family if they liked apple butter. I got a couple of responses - "Nah, not so much" to "Oooo! Me! Me! Apple butter!! Yum".

On Thursday before he went to work, JD was nice enough to pick a few apples for me:

I had a few Red Delicious and a few other reds (from the tree we haven't identified yet) but mostly they were tiny green ones which I suspect are something like a Granny Smith.

The recipe said to cut off the stem and blossom end and chop them up, core and all.

And then boil them until they are soft.

App├ętissante, no? Looks a little bit like compost tea in the making.

When they were cooked down a bit, I put them through the food mill to separate the skin, seeds and, um, gristle. (You know, that stuff in the core.)

Wow, that stove is really dirty, isn't it? I'm sure it doesn't look like that normally!

At that point, I basically had applesauce. A LOT of applesauce. Due to an unfortunate incident with not watching the water level in one of my pots,

I was running out of room. (This was especially bad as it was the good one with the heavy bottom which helps prevent food from burning - when tended properly that is.) So I employed our slow-cooker to keep the applesauce hot while I moved on with the flavoring and actual canning steps.

Bear in mind that this isn't even third of the apples chopped and cooked and food-milled at this point. And there were eight cups of apple pulp in the other pan. Yikes!

So to the pulp in the other pan, I added in four cups of sugar (!), two teaspoons of cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon of cloves and simmered it for a bit.

The pulp by itself was sort of a pale yellowy-brown. Immediately after stirring in the sugar and spices, it turned a much more appetizing shade, kind of, well, cinnamon colored. I'm not sure what caused such a rapid color change. It was only two teaspoons of cinnamon in eight cups of apple. The sugar hadn't had time to caramelize and it was just plain sugar, not brown sugar or that Sugar In The Raw stuff. Interesting.

At any rate, I simmered it for a little bit, until it seemed thick enough. I tested it using the saucer method (saucer in the freezer, spoon some hot jam on it, when the jam is room temp, draw your finger though the puddle, if the jam sea stays parted, it's done.) Don't ask me how long. It certainly wasn't the all-day affair that many of the recipes imply. I just guessed that it was done. (Although I worried all that night that I really hadn't cooked it down enough and would have to cook and process it all over again the next day!) (It was fine.)

I put the whole mess into five pint canning jars, put on (new) lids and (old) rings, tightened them finger-tight and processed them for ten minutes in a boiling water bath.

I did the whole process two more times and ended up with eighteen pints of apple butter!

To be sure the preserves were suitable for gifts, I had to test it of course.

The first batch was a mix of red and green apples and had the best apple flavor of the day. The second was all green apples and I realized after canning it that it probably could have used a little more sugar and some extra spices. The last batch was made of the smallest and greenest apples. Thinking of the second batch, I added in some extra cinnamon and cloves as well as some ginger and mace in the hopes that it would give it an extra boost. I haven't tasted that yet so we'll see. I kept tasting it and deciding it needed a little more. I'm thinking it will probably be over-spiced as the flavors will likely intensify after sitting on the shelf for a while. But I did label it “spiced” so the recipient should consider him- or herself warned (family members, I'm talking to you!)

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