(Nov. 8, 2019) There comes a time when homemade dishes simply surpass store bought products. Old fashioned apple butter is a perfect example.
As a child, I was mesmerized as Grandma Sheiler, my great-grandmother, would hover over a huge copper pot filled with juicy apples, tart apple cider and dark brown sugar, and cook the aromatic concoction until it reduced to a jam-like consistency.
I can hear my great-grandmother saying that the slow cooking process was necessary to extract all the natural flavors from the apples and to produce the thick, silky texture that makes apple butter so unique.
There are some renowned chefs who profess you take shortcuts that will yield the same delicious flavor.
There is no way an hour can match the long, meticulous cooking time that allows flavors to slowly come together and harmonize to an unbelievable degree of deliciousness.
The thought process behind apple butter is quite simple. Following are a few tips so that you can enjoy a sweet part of American culture.
Soft apples such as Braeburn, Cortland, Fuji, Ida Red, or McIntosh work best for apple butter because they cook down faster. Use any of these varieties by themselves, or mix them up to give the dish more depth of flavor.
For best results, homemade apple butter requires a two-step cooking process.
The sugar and spices can not fully infiltrate the apples until they have developed a some-what soft texture. A brief baking in the oven before the reducing process does the trick.
The next step could not be easier. Add all of the ingredients to a big pot and allow nature to take its course.
It takes approximately 10 hours for the apples to cook to the right consistency. Some apples retain more natural juices than others, so it may take longer to thicken.
I like to cook the apples for approximately five hours with the lid on and then allow them to rest overnight and continue cooking for another five hours without the lid.
As the apple butter cooks down and gets closer to the stage of completion, you will need to constantly stir it to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
The final step is to puree the apple mixture. I highly recommend using an immersion blender.
This type of a blender is basically a stick blender that allows one to puree chunky soups or sauces right in the same pot that they were cooked in.
A good quality immersion blender can be pricy, but Thanksgiving sales might give you the opportunity to save a substantial amount of money. Another option is to put it on your list for Santa.
Because of the lengthy cooking time, I always triple the recipe. Apple butter can be frozen; this way I have plenty of apple butter for the holiday season.
Apple butter goes great with hot biscuits. It also pairs fantastically with pork, and can even be served as a condiment with turkey sliders.
Homemade apple butter also makes great gifts.
After a huge Thanksgiving meal, I like to give my guests a small canning jar filled with apple butter that is garnished with a festive ribbon. What a wonderful way to end a special occasion.
Sometimes less words are better. If you have a weakness for apple butter, you must give this recipe a try. It is the best. Enjoy!
5 pounds of assorted soft apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 cups apple cider
1 cup sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
2/3 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg or ground nutmeg
2/3 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon table salt
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees and bake the apple chunks on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper for about 20 minutes.
Transfer apples and any juices to a slow cooker or a pot with a thick bottom that can handle long periods of cooking time.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and thoroughly mix.
Place lid on the pot or slow cooker, turn heat to low and simmer for 5 hours, stirring occasionally.
Allow apples to rest over night or continue cooking for another 5 hours without the lid. As it reduces and turns a dark brown color, you will need to stir the apple butter occasionally. As it gets closer to completion, you will need to stir it more often.
3. When the apple butter has reduced to the point where there is no excess liquid, turn off the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the mixture until it becomes silky smooth.
4. When the apple butter has cooled, refrigerate until ready to use.
Secret Ingredient – Heritage. “You don’t stumble upon your heritage. It’s there, just waiting to be explored and shared.”
– Robbie Robertson