It's fall, and even though my kids are moving off into their own lives, I'm nesting. Is this just a process of the cooler weather? Maybe it's just a desire I have to revisit some of my fond memories of fall when I was younger... either way... I've been making one of my favorite yummy treats... apple butter. The way my Grandma Murphy did...
If you have never had real, homemade, honest to goodness, sweet and spicy apple butter, it's about time you get off your backside and make some. It is soooooo easy, and soooooo good. You can can it easily, or you can freeze it, so there's really no excuse to not give it a go. Besides, what could be more fun than a trip to your local Farmer's Market or apple orchard and then make some of this spicy goodness.
I make mine in very small batches, about three 8 ounce jars, at a time. But you can double this recipe if you want a bigger batch (and remember, my recipes are not written in stone, you should play with them and make them suit you). Here's what you need to make about 3 half pints...
A couple (2) of pounds of apples, really good, firm, tart ones. I love using Macintosh or Granny Smith.
Spices... cinnamon, ground cloves, all spice, nutmeg and ground ginger.
Glass jelly jars, or plastic containers to freeze it in. If you are using jars, you need the bands and the lids for them.
Tongs, you need them to lift the hot glass jars when sterilizing them, paper towels, I use a cookie rack to set the filled jars on so air can circulate all around the jar after the canning. I also use a fork to handle the lids (you really don't want to use your fingers if you can help it, especially not where the rubber seal is). You may also want to use a jar funnel, I don't but lots of folks feel more comfortable using it, and a ladle to put the sweet and spicy apple goodness into the jars.
Two large, dutch type pans, and one small sauce pan, a cookie sheet and a kitchen towel.
If you are going to can the apple butter, start to prepare your jars. You need at least 3 half pint jars, and just in case, I always prepare 4. Wash them thoroughly, along with the bands (bands, not the flat lids) and put them in a pan of water that covers them by at least an inch. Bring this pan to a boil, and let the jars boil happily in it for about 10 minutes (longer will not hurt). While they are sterilizing turn your oven on to about 250 degrees and put the kitchen towel on the cookie sheet. When the jars have boiled at least 10 minutes, use the tongs to pick the jars up out of the water and sit them upright on the towel covered cookie sheet. Put them in the oven with the door slightly ajar until you are ready to fill them.
I peel and core my apples, but if you prefer, you can leave the skin on. Cut them into chunks that are relatively the same sort of size, and put them into a large dutch oven type of pan. Add a couple of cups of water ( 2 or 3, you can add more if you need to) and bring to a boil. You want to cook these apples until they are soft and the majority of the fluid is gone. If you have left the skins on you may want to put them through a ricer to remove them, or, if you have cooked them with the skins off, like I do, and like your apple butter like I like my apple butter... a bit on the chunkier side, smoosh them with a good old fashioned potato masher. Do smoosh them pretty good though, while chunkier is good, great big old chunks aren't.
At this point, measure how much apple moosh you have. You need 1/2 cup of white sugar for every cup of apples. Remember, it sounds like a lot, but your sugar is as much a preservative as it is a part of the flavor of your apple butter, so it's important not to skimp on this too much. Put your apples back into your pot, along with the sugar and the spices you want. I use about 2 teaspoons of cinnamon (love the stuff, what can I say?), 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of allspice, and you know I love my ginger, so 1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger, and I use a fresh grating or two of nutmeg. Consider it about 1/4 of a teaspoon if you are using powered. Stir well, put a lid on, and let this cook over a relatively low temp for about 10 minutes. It should thicken up and smell wonderful. (Before I put it in the jars, I always take a spoonful out and taste it to make sure I have the spices the way I want them.)
While the apple mixture is cooking, make sure the pan you used to sterilize the jars in has enough water to cover those jars by at least an inch, and turn the heat up to bring the water to the verge of a boil. You also need to put the flats into the sauce pan with about a half an inch of water and heat them, not to boiling, just near simmer.
When you are satisfied with the flavor of your apple butter, using the the tongs, remove one jar from the oven, fill it to within half an inch of the top. Make certain that there is NO jam on the rim of the jar, use a paper towel to wipe any that may be there away, and then go over it with a damp paper towel to make sure all is removed. Use a fork to lift one of the flat lids and place it on the jar of apple butter, then screw on one of the rings. Tight, but not tightened until it cannot move.
Use the tongs and VERY CAREFULLY put the filled jar into the hot pan of water. Do the same with the rest of the apple butter. When all of your jars are filled and in the hot water (make sure it is covering the jars by at least an inch), bring it to a boil and boil for at least 15 minutes. Set the cookie rack on your counter while they are boiling.
When they have finished boiling use the tongs to remove them (CAREFULLY again), and sit them on the cookie rack. In no time you will hear "pop"... that is the sound of the seal forming between the jar and the lid. When you hear that, and the little hump in the middle of the lid is flat, you know your seal is good, and the apple butter is canned safely. If all of the jars don't seal (I've never had one not seal), you can reboil it. If it doesn't seal then, put the jar in the fridge and use within about 3 weeks.
If you are going to freeze the apple butter rather than can it, fill the freezer containers, leaving that half inch of head space, and put in the freezer until you are ready to use. Thaw it in the fridge when you are ready to use it.
I'm tellin' y'all... this is the richness of autumn in a jar. There's pumpkin butter on that cookie rack too... and I have peaches just waiting to be turned into jam... and you know what this means... I'm going to have to be baking lots of biscuits...