Saturday, October 7, 2017
Apples of my Eye
At least I didn't need one to make some awesome apple butter.
Three bags of apples in the refrigerator needed to be used pretty soon, before their already rotten spots ate the whole apple. I've already stuck plenty of baked apples with cinnamon and other spices in the freezer to thaw later, and bake again with a crust. Or just thaw... or not. That stuff is really good frozen, too. But enough is enough.
So how do you cook down three bags of apples with a minimum of fuss, and a significant reduction of volume?
Slow cooker apple butter.
I cut up apples until my 6-quart slow cooker was slightly overfull, set the lid on (it didn't go down all the way, at first), plugged in the slow cooker (this is a really, really important step), turned it on low (another important step) and walked away for 16 hours or so. I did stir it a few times, but not while I was sleeping.
The resulting thick, buttery goo was oh so delicious.
I wanted to can this amazingly simple, single ingredient wonder, but wasn't sure if I needed to add a bit of acid first, so I started looking for recipes for canning apple butter. Most of the Web sites that had apple butter recipes didn't say anything about adding vinegar or some other acid before canning. However, all of the recipes from places that are supposed to know food safety (like Extension, you know, the Web sites with the .edu at the end) said to add vinegar, quite a lot of vinegar in my opinion.
Meh. That much vinegar would really affect the flavor. I knew that you can substitute concentrated lemon juice for vinegar when canning, and my notes indicated that I could use half the amount of bottled lemon juice as vinegar. I didn't have any lemon juice. So I froze most of the first batch (except for a pint to spread on the grain-free breads I've learned to make) and started a second batch, filling not only the 6-quart slow cooker, but the 3-quart one, as well. And my delightfully helpful husband picked up some bottled lemon juice when he went into town for some appointments.
But you know what else I had "forgotten" in my first batch of apple butter, according to every single recipe I came across? Apple juice and sugar. Sugar? Apples are sweet enough fresh and raw, you go cooking them down, concentrating all that flavor and natural sugar, and you have lots of sweetness. Why in the world do you need to add sugar? Are you people addicted?!?
Take a deep breath, girl.
OK. I'm better. But really, why add so much sugar to something already so sweet? And the apple juice, forget it. I cooked all of my apple butter without one drop of apple juice, except that which came out of the apples. It was fine. And I didn't have to leave the lid slightly off (as all of the recipes said to do) so that the extra liquid would evaporate. I didn't have any extra liquid. Some might think that adding the apple juice or cider gives extra flavor. But my homegrown apples of several varieties needed no extra flavor. This stuff is ambrosia.
So I canned the second batch. The lemon juice did not ruin the flavor, but actually gave it a nice little zip.
So here's my recipe for apple butter.
1 slow cooker
Cut up the apples until the slow cooker is full. Put on the lid, plug in the slow cooker and turn it to low. Go do something else. Stir it. Go to bed and sleep all night. In the morning look at it, stir it, and go do something else until it is the consistency you want. Grab your immersion blender and blend that ambrosia to a smooth consistency, or not. Eat some of it while it's hot. Eat some more when it's cold. Put it on toast. Put it on ice cream (dairy or non-dairy). Put it in yogurt (ditto). Or just eat it all by itself. But be careful. That's a lot of apple on that spoon.
So you want to can it.
I used 3/4 to 1 cup of bottled lemon juice for the 6-quart cooker. (If your cooker is a different size, just do a little simple math.) The volume of apple butter was less than half the volume of the cut up apples. You can add the lemon juice while the apple butter is still bubbling in the slow cooker. The butter must be hot when you can it. But I had to wait for the lemon juice, so I refrigerated it and reheated it to boiling the next day. Be careful; this goo is like lava. The butter wasn't even getting warm when the first bubble rose up and splattered apple butter with a "bloop!" Fortunately, I had the lid on. Use a lid and carefully lift it and stir, often, to prevent the lava explosions and to prevent scorching.
Start heating the water in the canner before you start bringing the sauce to a boil. Have clean jars, new lids, and rings at the ready. When the canner is boiling hard, fill the jars (leave a half inch "head space" at the top), wipe the rims clean, put the lids on and screw the rings on tightly. Set the jars in the rack and lower them into the boiling water, replace the lid, and process for...
...the first recipe said five minutes for pints, but if you process for 10 minutes or more you don't need to sterilize the jars first. So I processed my pints for 15 minutes, just to be sure. Food safety first.
Remove the jars from the canner and set on a clean dish towel on the counter to cool. No sound is so sweet as the "tink, tink" of the lids as the jars seal. Yay!