I started at 9 a.m. and, fourteen hours later, ended with sweet and tangy apple butter made the old-fashioned way. Oh, and pride coming out of my ears. After washing, peeling, coring, paring, and cooking approximately 28 apples on the stove top, and then in the oven, I canned and sealed 8 half-pint jars (a half-pint equals one cup) of the best apple butter ever made (if only because I made it with my own two hands).
Back in reality, I had just realized that 28 apples and some damn-hard work only yielded 8 cups of butter. Really? Eight cups? My domestic experiment was a challenge to see if I could do something that my ancestors had to do to survive. Canned and preserved food were staples at the dinner table during harsh winters when crop wasn't available.
My most significant "apple butter realization" came later the next day when I'd given my Mom a jar of my apple butter. She tasted it and said, "You've done your Grandma proud. She really loved apple butter." I looked away for a moment, realizing that I had no idea what recipes my grandmother held dear. Our family recipes, not to mention essential skills, that blew away with the years could never be brought back. The secrets of my grandmother's traditional domestic life that she kept to so silently to herself. So I thought I'd share the one just like grandma's.
Traditional Apple Butter Recipe
I chose three different kind of apples because I heard it tastes better. I grabbed a bag of sweet Gala, crisp Machintosh, and several tart, green apples, name unknown. In total I used about 28 apples. The original recipe called for 8 apples so I really had to make this one my own.
The washing of the apples made my kids go nuts. I did it as quietly as possible until one walked in and told the other. All of the sudden both sides of the sink were filled and apples were being accosted.
Then came the peeling of the apples; I wasn't very careful leaving all sorts of peel. After coring and paring, I felt compelled to visit my step-dad's compost pile with the significant offering. I did just that because how could you really just throw it away. I made new dirt and apple butter all in one day.
I haven't much to say about stove-top cooking of the apples, except to make sure you use a pot that can go from the stove top directly to the oven. Sliced chunky, they filled an entire stock pot. I added about a cup of water to keep the bottom of the pan from becoming too dry and let them bubble and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples looked like apple sauce. I used my immersion blender to smooth out the consistency a little more quickly.
season and cook: oven
Heat the oven to 300 degrees before you add the spices and the oven will be ready to go when you are.
Add to the sauce:
1 cup brown sugar
a shake of salt
4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
a hair shy of 1/2 a teaspoon ground ginger.
Check on the mixture at least once an hour to stir and check consistency. Perfect apple butter is dark brown and spreadable. Its able to form mounds and not pour off the spoon. Up to 10 hours of cooking seems to be what I spent waiting for the butter's maturation. A 14 hour process from start to finish.
Sometime between now and then, sterilize 8 half-pint jars on the washers hot cycle.
Place the 8 sterilized jars on the counter near the butter and add one cup of butter to each jar, leaving 1/4 inch at the top for the seal. Arrange the lid and then the threaded top on each jar. I waited to see if the heat from the apple butter sealed the jars so I wouldn't have to boil them, but no such luck.
I started a rolling boil in a stock pot and boiled each one for 5 minutes (you can fit about 4 jars into the bath at one time). After removal, I waited an hour and checked the seals again. Each had sealed, meaning there was no give at the middle of the top, as all the air had left the jar.
I'm not sure what to do with my 8 little pots of love. One for the family which was devoured in 45 minutes, one for my parents, and now 6 more. They do make good gifts, but I don't want to part with them either - that was hard work.