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Apple Butter made with local fruit

November 30, 2012

As someone who is trying to learn how to cook everything (one thing at a time), when someone offers me access to extra homegrown fruits and vegetables, I'm in heaven. When my friend called me and said "Want to come and pick the rest of my backyard apples, there's too many!" I was there, with a basket.

But once I got home and made a few tasty apple crumbles and pies, I was at a bit of a loss of what to do with the rest of the pile. Apple sauce didn't thrill me and I was pie-d out, so I turned to an online group of friends I've known and trusted for years with a simple question: 'I have a ton of apples, what the hell do I do with them?' The answer was a surprising and resounding APPLE BUTTER.

Now, I knew basically nothing about apple butter. But being me, knowing nothing about something makes me that much more eager to figure it out, so I asked for some cooking advice and got to chopping.

There are hundred of recipes out there for apple butter, but they all remain basically the same - apples and spices and a little liquid sloooooooooow cooked until the juices evaporate and the natural sugars caramelize into a rich, thick spread. Reading about apple butter for the first time made me realize why I'd been hesitant to seek it out in the past. 1. I had mistakenly thought apple butter's colour was from oxidization rather than caramelization, which had turned me off. 2. It should really be called Apple Jam - as the word 'butter' refers to the spreadability, not the ingredients or taste. Also unlike butter, Apple Butter is fat-free and can be used in place of butter in baking.

Since I can be lazy if a recipe allows me, I didn't pre-peel or core my apples, but instead just quartered them and cooked them down with skins and cores. Then the entire mixture must be pressed through a sieve or food mill (must buy food mill...), so it's really a case of work now (peeling/coring) versus work later (milling/sieving). Some recipes specifically recommend cooking with peels and cores to extract more flavour and pectin from the fruit.

Once everything is cooked down, with peels and cores removed, it's just a matter of sitting back (or going to work or bed) and letting the apple butter slowly caramelize from a pale beige to a deep mahogany.

Some recipes call for a significant amount (up to 4 cups!) of sugar, which I disagree with. In my opinion, the spread just doesn't need it unless you are using a very sour apple as your base. The natural sweetness of your apples is accentuated as  the recipe cooks down. If you do find you need a little extra sweetness, add 1 cup of white sugar to the recipe below.

Apple Butter

10 large or 15-20 small ripe apples, quartered with peel and core left intact, stems removed
1 1/2 cups apple juice, apple cider or water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Add chopped apples, liquids and spices to a slow cooker and set to high

Cook for 1-2 hours with lid on until the apples have completely softened

Press apple mixture through a sieve or food mill to remove skins and cores

Pour smooth apple puree back into the slow cooker, set heat to low with lid on

Cook for 8-12 hours (you can easily set this to cook overnight, with great results)

As the mixture begins to darken and thicken, occasionally stir and scrape down the sides and bottom of the cooker as apples begin to caramelize.

When the apple butter has cooked down, remove the lid and turn heat to high for up to an hour, stirring occasionally, cooking off any remaining liquid.

The finished apple butter should be smooth, thick and dark, like a spreadable preserve or jam. It lasts well in the fridge, and can be frozen or canned.

Spread it on toast, use it as a breakfast topping for oatmeal, make healthy baked goods using it in place of butter, or as the filling for these yummy Apple Butter Cinnamon Bars from Three Many Cooks Blog.

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