Ever buy apple butter from a little specialty store, or maybe just from the local supermarket? Ever check the ingredients? Go ahead and look, I'll wait.
I'm not a health food nut by any means, but - high fructose corn syrup and sugar? Really? Is that what you're paying that ridiculous price for?
Because, let me tell you a little secret, here: apple butter is not that hard to make. It's a little time-consuming, but most of that time does not even require your presence. There are even several different ways to make it, depending on what equipment you have, and what you want your finished product to be like. I'll show you how I make it, with a few variations along the way.
Step 1: Gather your ingredients.
Apples. Just apples. Any kind, really, but these are red delicious. You do NOT, and I repeat, NOT, need to add any sugar. Even if you are starting with a fairly tart apple, it should be plenty sweet at the end. Remember, we are making apple butter, not jelly. If you like, you can add spices (cinnamon, cloves, etc.) or other fruit (I like to mix strawberries in when I have some).
Step 2: Prepare the apples.
The ones I had this time came from an orchard that does not use pesticides, so I just gave them a quick rinse to get dust and bugs off. Except for the ones S. and L. decided to bowl across the kitchen floor - those got washed.
Now, here's where it can get confusing if you start googling recipes: peel or don't peel? Core in or out? Every web site will tell you something different.
I don't peel, because I am lazy. I also think the finished product has better flavor and color if you start with the peels on. Leaving the peels on seems to give you a thicker product, and sometimes you can even skip Step 5 - helpful if you can't find cheesecloth. If you don't have a food mill to use in Step 4, however, you'll probably want to peel first (Hint - you can lay the peels on the top while you are cooking, and then toss them later).
I do discard the core, because, even with the food mill and the blender, I've had hard bits come through, and I hate that. It's like finding a hair in your food. Blech. But, that's me. Other people swear you need the core for the pectin, and that's fine. Again, though, if you don't have a food mill, you'll want to leave the cores out.
Step 3: Put as many apples as you can fit into a crock pot
or three. Add any other ingredients you like. I had an order for 20 pints of regular and 20 of cinnamon, pretty straightforward. I've picked up some flavored oils I want to experiment with later, when I'm cooking for myself (blackberry apple butter?)
Now, set the crock pots on low, and walk away! I like to get some going in the morning and let it cook while I am at work, but I've also done batches overnight. Nothing like coming home - or waking up - to the smell of warm apples, mmm!
Make sure you toss the leftover bits in your compost heap.
And, yes, I have more things growing in my mulch pit than in my garden. I think next year, I won't even bother planting, I'll just harvest from here.
After 6-8 hours of cooking (every crock pot is different, and my three all get done at different times, so keep an eye on your the first time), your apples should pretty much turn to mush as you stir them.
Step 4: Run them through a food mill, using the plate with the smallest holes.
I love my food mill, but I couldn't tell you what brand it is. I think I got it off Ebay a couple years ago. The purpose of the food mill is to squish out all the good apple stuff, leaving behind the peels. Some bits of peel may come through, but they should be blended to smithereens in a later step. Of course, if you peeled and cored your apples at the start, you get to completely skip this step!
Step 5: Strain.
One of the most important things about apple butter is its consistency. Right now, you have applesauce. Factories will add that high fructose corn syrup to make theirs thicken up, but we aren't going to do that.
The simplest method I've found involves a really big sieve, cheesecloth, and my tallest pot:
Just plop what you got from the food mill into the cheesecloth, and let it drip for several hours. Ideally, I put the apples in the crock pot in the morning before I go to work, then when I get home, I run them through the food mill, put them in the cheesecloth, and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. In the morning, I have some nice, thick apple stuff (still not butter!) in the cheesecloth, and some yummy, thick syrup in the pot, which I can use for all sorts of things later.
Now, we are ready for -
Step 6: Smoothing the butter.
Here, you can use a food processor, or a blender. I've found the food processor doesn't get it as smooth as I like, but it may just be the one I have. Play with yours a little, to find out how full you can have it and what settings to use.
I have burned through many cheap blenders, so I finally broke down and bought this middle-of-the-line Ninja. So far, I love it! The multiple blades mean I don't have to constantly stop and stir things up so it all gets done. Here, you can see there's just a little at the top that hasn't been sucked in yet.
Now, that's apple butter! If it pours...it's applesauce. Try straining it again. If it stays in one spot like this, you are ready to can it.
Or eat it. Your choice:)