Monday, July 9, 2012

Buttering up your fruit trees

One of the beauties of the property we're lucky enough to live on is the production of food completely under our control.  Aside from a garden producing various berries, squashes, carrots, beets, herbs and other delicious goods, we have a small orchard.  Trees are producing peaches, apricots, pears, apples, and a meager few cherries.

As food comes in to season it's a race to eat it while it's fresh (without growing sick of it) and saving as much as possible of what isn't eaten.  To that end, I've been putting up a variety of items, building on the success of my entrants to the county fair (fodder for another post).  Currently shelved are peaches in syrup, chunky applesauce, peach butter and now apple butter - can you tell what's currently in season?  The beauty of apple butter is that it's simply applesauce with extra time added.  Recipe and steps follow - I've got some sourdough toast that needs a little perking up.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

  • 4 quarts processed apples (washed, cored, sliced)
  • 1/2 C water
  • 1 C white sugar
  • 1 C brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Process the apples and pack into your slow cooker - I prefer to leave the skins on for all of the nutrition they may still provide when cooked down over many hours.

Apple carnage, and a well packed slow cooker

Add the water to the crock pot and place on low/warm.  Setting will ultimately be determined by your individual slow cooker, you want it hot enough to begin to break down the apples without boiling.  Cook for an hour to reduce the level of apples in the cooker, then add the spices and stir.  For my own personal preference, if I were going to make this into applesauce rather than apple butter - I'd reduce the sugar amount by half, and double the cinnamon.  I also like a splash of vanilla extract in my applesauce; to each their own.

After an hour of cooking, we're ready to spice!

Once the apples have been spiced and cooked down (3-4 hours) you'll want to hit it with an immersion blender with a chopping blade in order to break down the fruit.  It's not necessary at this point to get a fine puree, as you'll be blending it again at the end.  The main goal is to break down the apple skins and get the pieces smaller.

This is the point where you decide on applesauce versus apple butter.  If you want applesauce process it to as chunky or smooth a consistency as you like, and can it up.

3 hours later, time to blend

The main difference between apple sauce and apple butter is the amount of water present and the carmelization of the sugars.  We want to cook the apples well enough to brown the sugars and drive off the water.  Unfortunately, slow cookers are built to retain liquid, not boil it off.  To deal with this, insert two long chopsticks across the lip of the cooker and rest the lid on top of them.  No round chopsticks, unless you didn't want that lid to stay put...or intact.  You can cook without a lid, but depending on how your apple butter bubbles, you may come back to a very messy work space.  Raise the heat level of the crockpot by one level and let cook for 8 hours/overnight.  

Cooking away, and shedding moisture!

If left overnight, you will likely get a higher level of browning around the edge of the crockpot, but not to worry, as it will get re-incorporated into the batch.  When the butter is at the color and consistency desired (somewhere around a firm Jello pudding), puree it again with the immersion blender to break up any remaining chunks that might still be present, and to blend in the more heavily cooked edges.

Cooked down and ready to can

Process the apple butter following all safe rules of canning, with 1/4" head space and 10 minutes of boiling water bath for 1/2 pint jars.  Use to top your morning toast, as a base for a tasty BBQ sauce, mixed into cottage cheese, or even right off the spoon for a straight hit of rich apple goodness.

Canned and ready to store

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