My parents live on a property that has the remnants of an old orchard. The apple trees are larger than ideal and you can tell that they have witnessed a lot of history but they still produce apples. This weekend the Gravensteins were ready to be picked. Gravensteins are a tasty eating apple, but they aren’t any good for pies. With a bumper crop, they needed to be used and what better solution than apple butter.
Choose a day when you can be home all day to make apple butter: It takes a long time to cook! Mine cooked all day – a good 12 hours in total but I think that that was largely due to the volume I made which necessitated starting it on the cooktop and then shifting it to the oven. It needs to be stirred regularly, but other than the stirring it requires little attention. If I was making a smaller batch, I would simply use the oven or a crock pot – it is so much less effort and requires so much less attention!
I can’t give you a specific recipe for apple butter – it depends on what type(s) of apples you have and how many of them you have. The good news, however, is that you really don’t need a recipe.
I peeled, sliced and cored my apples using a peeling and coring gizmo like this. It yields a spiral sliced apple that I then cut into quarters. If you have a food mill, you can slice your apples whole with peel and then run the cooked mixture through the mill, but I find beginning with prepared apples easier.
I filled a heavy bottomed 17 litre stock pot to within 2 inches of the top with the apples and added 2 litres of some soft apple cider from a previous year’s bounty that we keep frozen until needed. You could also simply start with a little water or commercial apple juice. I put the pot on low on the cooktop and began to let it cook. The fruit broke down into an applesauce quite quickly. Gravensteins do break down easily but if you have an apple that doesn’t, you can easily break it down with an immersion blender or with a food mill.
I added spices to taste: my choices were cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and some ground ginger. For my first batch, I used whole spices tied up in cheese cloth and then supplemented with ground spices. For the second batch, I went straight to the ground spices. Remember that the apples are going to be reduced by at least half, so the spices you add will concentrate. You can always add more spices later in the process if you find that you would like more.
As the fruit cooked down, I tasted it for sweetness and added brown sugar to my taste. Again, it is important to remember that the apples will reduce, so be careful not to over sweeten.
When my mixture had reduced by about half, I put it into two uncovered dutch ovens which I placed in a 250 degree F oven. I continued to cook down the mixture, but in the oven it only needed to be stirred hourly.
The apple butter is done when it is very thick. You can almost slice the mixture and it will retain the “cut”. By the time it reaches this consistency it is a lovely rich reddish brown colour.
I poured the hot mixture into hot canning jars, filling them to within a quarter inch of the top. I then quickly placed the lids on top. All of the jars sealed without the need for an additional canning process.
My son loves this on pancakes, but I use it liberally on anything and everything that lends itself well to jam.