I am sure many of you out there have made apple butter. I have made pear butter and apple butter every year for several years now. I love the comforting, spicy flavor of a great fruit butter as well as the way it mounds up on the spoon, thick and glossy. It does not, however, get that way quickly or easily, and every year when I make fruit butter, there is a brief moment when I tell myself that that year will be the last. This year was no different. As I set out to make apple butter this year (and this will probably be one of my last apple preserving posts for the season), I decided to try something a little different. You see, every year I make my butter on the stove. It spatters and bubbles like a volcano and generally makes a bit of a mess while also taking its ever-loving time. This year, however, I read that a slow cooker can be a fruit butter maker's best friend.
I tried it, and I must tell you, that while the process is less hands-on and a bit easier, it is no less time consuming. This could, in large part, be due to the fact that my slow cooker is small enough to have been created for gnomes rather than humans (I have since purchased a larger slow cooker), but it still does not dismiss the fact that the butter has to cook practically all day in order to achieve the correct consistency. Nonetheless, I did use it, and this is how it went.
I began by essentially making applesauce with a mixture of good saucing apples. I left the peel on the apples and then removed it by pushing the pulp through a fine mesh sieve. You could also peel the apples before cooking. In my hurry to get this in the slow cooker, I failed to take adequate pictures (something I must get better at remembering).
Once I had the applesauce, I cooked it with sugar and spices in my eency-weency slow cooker (my slow cooker is actually not that small, it is around 3 quarts) until it was thick, dark brown, and smelled incredible. This is the point that always bothers me. I have difficulty getting all of the excess liquid cooked out of the butter. When it mounds up on a spoon, there is often a ring of juice that seeps out from under the mound. It always seems that no matter how long I cook it, this always happens. Since this happened to me this year also, I decided to remedy the situation by pouring the cooked butter into a large piece of cheesecloth. My husband held the cheesecloth while the excess moisture dripped through (good man), and what remained was a thick and not-at-all watery apple butter. True apple butter success from my personal perspective but not without plenty of effort.
So, my verdict on the case is this...if you want great apple butter without any excess moisture, you must follow some simple guidelines.
1. If using a slow cooker, use one large enough to hold the butter with extra room remaining. This will speed things up a little (not much, but a little).
2. Make sure you cook the butter long enough to reach a thick, moundable consistency.
3. If you want to get rid of any extra moisture that could seep out of your butter, gently strain the butter through several layers of cheesecloth while someone you love and admire gingerly holds the cloth without dropping it. This will still leave you with a creamy, but not at all liquidy, butter consistency.
Spiced Apple Butter- adapted only slightly from Canning for a New Generation
makes 5-6 half-pint jars (depending on whether or not you strain the butter)
If you leave the peel on the apples, you will need to use a food mill or fine mesh sieve to remove the peel from the apple pulp. If you do not want to take this step, peel the apples first.
6 pounds apples (good for saucing), peeled or peel left on, cut in 1 in. pieces
2 cups apple cider
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice
Place the apple pieces and cider in a large pot with approximately 3 cups water. (You may need more liquid as the apples cook, but I found that the 4 cups of water called for created a very thin applesauce that was difficult to cook down in a reasonable amount of time. Start with 3 and add more if the apples begin to stick). Boil, approximately 30 minutes, until the apples are soft and begin to separate from the peel. If you cooked the apples peel on, use a food mill or strainer to separate peel from pulp. If you peeled them before cooking, puree them in a food processor.
Pour the apple puree into a large slow cooker and stir in the sugar and spices. Put the lid on but prop it open on one side with the handle of a wooden spoon. Cook on low anywhere from 10-12 hours (maybe even more) until the butter is thick, dark, and mounds on a spoon without any liquid seeping out. If it reaches the thickness desired but still has a little moisture seepage, strain it through several layers of cheesecloth to remove excess moisture.
You can also cook the butter on the stovetop for several hours, stirring frequently until it reaches the desired consistency. Be careful as it does spatter.
When ready, ladle hot butter into hot, sterilized half-pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace (I am using the headspace measure required by the National Center for Food Preservation for fruit butters). Remove air bubbles, adjust headspace, and wipe rims. Place hot lids and rings on jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to a towel to cool. Check seals after 12 hours and store.