Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Apple Butter Lesson (plus a two-for-one recipe!)

So last postI talked about our abundance of APPLES. We spent much of the long weekend cooking up an apple storm in our little kitchen! There were apple pancakes on Saturday morning and baked apples for dessert on Saturday night. On Sunday, we canned five quarts of spiced apples and 5 quarts of applesauce. On Monday, we made up another batch of applesauce (about 7 quarts!) to cook down to apple butter. This is where my apple cooking began to go awry. See, making apple butter is a time-consuming process, and it can’t really be rushed. You must be patient, and let the applesauce cook down slowly, over low heat, stirring often, until it turns into dark, sweet, delicious apple butter. It’s hard to estimate how long a batch of apple butter will take to cook, as there are many factors involved. The moisture content of the apples, the size of the batch, the humidity in the air, even the pot you use to cook it can make a difference. Yesterday, I greatly underestimated the time it would take to finish a batch. I didn’t start until mid-afternoon, which was my first mistake. Afternoon became evening, and it still wasn’t finished. I grew tired, and impatient. I finally realized that at the rate it was going, it was still going to need a couple more hours, so I decided to refrigerate everything and finish it up in the morning. Exhausted and cranky, I grabbed my potholders and picked up the pot to move it. Then, I lost my grip on the pot, spilling boiling hot almost-apple-butter down my left thigh and my right hand. Fortunately, I was right next to the sink and was able to get to cold water quickly, but I ended up with some nasty 2nd degree burns over a good portion of my thigh, and a small blister on my hand. But given just how hot apple butter is when it’s cooking, I realize that it could have been much worse. Most of all, I was very annoyed at the loss of about 1/3 of a pot of almost-apple-butter! The family heard the commotion and came to my rescue… the kids were reassured that all was well and sent back to bed, and The Man cleaned up all the spilled mess and got me some aloe from our plant on the window sill, Bless him. The lesson to be learned, here: Don’t try to rush your apple butter! And with that… here is a recipe for applesauce, then… apple butter!

Mama’s Apple Sauce

Note: There are no measurements for this recipe, as you can use it to make big or small batches, depending on how many apples you have on hand! Just pick a pot big enough for the amount of apples you wish to use, and go from there.

Start by cutting up your apples. Core and slice them, but do not peel them. You can do this by hand, but for a large batch you might want to use one of these or oneof these. Squeeze some lemon juice over your cut apples. For large batches, I squeeze a little on as I go, so they don’t turn all brown before I finish cutting them up. Next, put about a half inch or so of apple cider, apple juice or water into the bottom of your pot, then add your apples. You can fill the pot right up to the top with cut apples, as they will very quickly start to break down as they’re cooked. A full pot of apples will yield ½ to ¾ of a pot of applesauce. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring now and then, until the apples are nice and soft. Next, run the sauce through a food mill (I use an old fashioned foley mill) then return to the pot. You can add sugar or spices to taste, if you wish, or just leave as is. At this point, you can either store your applesauce in the fridge, or can it (see note at the end of this post). Or… you can follow the next recipe, and turn it into Apple Butter!

Mama’s Apple Butter

Before you begin, make sure to set aside plenty of time for this to simmer down. You can expect it to take anywhere from 3 to 10 hours, depending on how much you’re making, and how humid it is. On humid, rainy days it will take longer to boil down than on dry days. Unless you’re only making a small batch, I’d say it’s best to start this in the morning. If you start in the morning making the applesauce, you can just keep going from there, or you can make your applesauce one day, then store it in the fridge overnight and make your apple butter the next day.

To begin… pour your applesauce into a big, uncovered pot (if it’s not there, already!) and set it over low heat. If you’re starting with refrigerated applesauce, bring it to a simmer over medium heat first, then turn it down to low. Just allow the sauce to simmer, stirring every now and then to keep it from sticking or burning on the bottom.  When it starts to cook down some, I like to add a generous amount of cinnamon, and, depending on the sweetness of the apples used, maybe a bit of sugar. Keep simmering and stirring until the sauce turns a dark, mahogany brown and gets nice and thick. It will reduce in volume by at least half, maybe more, when it’s done. When it looks done, you can either store it in the fridge, or can it.

A Word About Canning. One of these days, I will write a post about canning basics. But, for now, I will point you to this website which will give you all the basic information you need to start canning.


  1. My Mom discovered that she could cook the applesauce down into apple butter by cooking it in the oven, I think at about 300 degrees F. It still takes a while, 2 or 3 hours, but not nearly so much stirring as it sticks much less. She, of course, remembered apple butter making from her childhood, with the big cauldron over an open fire outside, and almost constant stirring for about 10 hours -- a day-long family project. I remember a photo of my Granddad sitting next to the fire with the big, long, bent paddle they used to stir the apple butter.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Lindsay! I will have to try using the oven next time... I have a big roasting pan that would be perfect for the job. I also think the idea of making apple butter out over an open fire sounds delightful! :)