A Family Tradition
Apple butter’s rich autumn-spiced flavor is irresistible this time of year. The thick, concentrated apple puree (which is actually dairy-free) wakes up your average morning oatmeal, makes a luscious toast topping, is a natural pairing for pork and even adds a pleasant depth to soups and sauces. Making apple butter is an all day affair, so you may want to bribe your friends to help you stir with a hot meal and cold beer (yep that’s right, it takes constant stirring for nearly eight hours). Sure you can try slow-cooker or quick stove-top recipes, but there’s nothing better than cooking over an open flame. Madeleine from the office headed home this past weekend to capture a century-old family tradition, when apple butter wasn’t just a fall treat, but a practical way to use up and preserve the apple harvest.
Susan’s Apple Butter
- 3 bushels of Jonathan apples (approximately 20 gallons of apples)
- 4 gallons of good apple cider
- 4 pounds of sugar
- 3/4 cup of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cloves
The day before: Peel and slice the apples (use a hand crank peeler/slicer). With 2 peelers and 3 or 4 people it takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Divide the sliced apples into 4 large stainless steel pots. Pour 1/2 gallon apple cider over each pot of apples. Place the pots on the stove over low heat and let simmer for about 2 hours. Turn off heat and let sit overnight.
5 a.m.: Start the fire. Use wood that burns fairly hot, such as elm or oak (don’t use locust, it tends to be too smoky). The fire should burn down to a medium heat. Keep logs going on the side to replace under the pot as needed.
6:30 a.m.: Place the copper pot in its stand over the fire and add the last 2 gallons of cider to the pot. Bring cider to a boil. While the fire is burning down to perfection, reheat the sliced apples on the stove, bringing them back to a simmer.
7:30 a.m.: Add sliced apples to the boiling cider in the copper pot. The apples need constant stirring for the duration of the cooking. It will stick easily if not stirred. (Having the proper stirring paddle is important. It needs to be long enough to stay in constant contact with the bottom of the pot to avoid any sticking).
8 a.m. – 2 p.m.: Continue to stir and stoke the fire. Have friends stop by throughout the day to pitch in. (You may want to provide incentive… maybe hot soup, cornbread and Oktoberfest beer? Plus a few jars of fresh apple butter for the road, you’ll have plenty to share.)
2 p.m.: The apples should have cooked to a sauce consistency (so cooking takes about 7 to 8 hours). At this time, add the sugar and spices. Stir til combined and continue cooking about 30 minutes , stirring constantly. The amount of sugar and spices should be adjusted to your own liking (this version is slightly sweet with just a hint of cinnamon/nutmeg spice).
Once all the chunks of apple are broken down, it’s ready to eat and put in jars! If you jar it up while hot, the lids will seal down (be sure to follow regular canning instructions regarding sterilizing jars and lids). This recipe will fill about 3 dozen pint jars.