Monday, December 21, 2009

canning apple butter

Despite the monstrous snow storm that roared through New York on Saturday, I actually managed to get out and to the market in order to pick up everything I needed for holiday gift-making/canning. Most importantly, six pounds of apples that were destined to be buttered.

I was really surprised because six pounds of apples (which really seems like a lot) cooked down to about 3.5 8-ounce jars... which means, a whole lot of work and very little to show for it. A word to the wise (from the wise?): this will take you all day. And halfway through, you'll probably wonder why you're going to so much effort. Well, friends, the answer is because 1) it's the holidays, and 2) because it's delicious and you'll feel so much better when you're eating it than if you'd just bought an $8 jar at the store.

A few notes: I don't have a slow-cooker, so this is a stove + food processor method. You can, alternatively, throw everything together in a slow-cooker and let it go for a good 8 to 10 hours, then strain it and process it. I also strain by hand, with a fine mesh strainer, but if you have a food mill, you should use that because it's way easier. All spice measurements are approximate. You should adjust them to your taste. Finally, please do not take my processing times as gospel. You can consult a canning guide, like the ones here and here.

apple butter

6 lbs apples, cored and wedged (*do not peel)
3 c apple cider
3 tbs cinnamon
1 - 2 tbs allspice
1 - 2 tbs ground cloves
1 tsp star anise (optional)
1/2c to 3c sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Put all the apples and the cider in a very large pot and cook it over medium heat until the apples are tender and falling apart (about 15 - 20 minutes). Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. In batches, put the apple mixture in a food processor and blend until smooth.

Pour the blended apples into a large, oven-safe dish or pot. (I actually used my cast-iron skillet and it fit perfectly.) Add the cinnamon, allspice, cloves, and anise to the apples and adjust to taste. Stir well and add the lemon juice and zest. Put the pot in the oven and let it cook, uncovered for at least 45 minutes. As the apples cook down, they will become sweeter, so I recommend waiting at least this long before adding the sugar, which you should add to taste. I used about 3/4c total. Stir well, and return to the oven for 3 hours, checking and stirring occasionally. The butter is done when it is a spreadable consistency, and there are no pools of water on the top after it's stirred.

Once the butter has cooked down completely, remove it from the oven. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a large pot and, using the back of a spoon, press the butter through the strainer. You'll need to clean off the strainer every so often and, I found, that working in smaller batches was the easiest and most successful. Keep the leftovers (what wouldn't press through the strainer) in a bowl nearby. I recommend, if you have the time, straining the leftovers a second time. I got another 50% of butter the second time around.

If you aren't canning, either freeze the apple butter, or refrigerate it for up to a week.

If you're canning, heat the apple butter until boiling, fill 8-ounce jars and process each one for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. If your jars don't seal, you can re-process them with new lids within 24 hours, or just refrigerate the jar and use it soon.

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