Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Apple Butter: Don't Try This at Home

The weekend before last we took a trip to Connecticut to go Apple Picking at Silverman's Farm and Orchard. We had a great time picking apples, playing with pumpkins, enjoying a picnic and sliding down bales of hay. Every child in Connecticut under the age of 5 was there, and there were so many pregnant women walking around you'd think the state was in the middle of another baby boom. Thing 1 ate almost an entire feedbag of kettle corn by himself. Everyone had a great time.

Since then we have been enjoying our apples daily, and we have been sharing them with everyone who comes by. But there was one thing that Mommy still wanted to make. Apple Butter.

I was very inspired after I read this post from a Table of Promise reader. Doesn't that look amazing. I admire Katie Jo's tenacity in peeling and chopping, but my thumbs hurt just reading her post! There has to be an easier way.... Most Apple Butter recipes call for, you guessed it, serious amounts of sugar. Also all the recipes I could find called for the apples to be peeled. I know that apples are a fruit that carries most of it's fiber and nutrition in the peel. When the kids eat them I don't peel them, I just wash them liberally. I did find a couple of recipes on the Internet that didn't peel the apples. But you had to go in after all the cooking and fish the skins out. So not fun.

So I decided that I would take my 14 apples, quarter them, core them and run them through the grater attachment of my food processor. At least then the pieces of skin would be small enough that they wouldn't bother you and you could still enjoy all the nutrition, right? I did all of this at 8pm and got the crock pot ready to go by 9pm. I added a cup of water, a couple tablespoons of lemon juice and a cup of sugar. I didn't have anymore sugar (but I was being stubborn and adding only a quarter of the sugar called for in the basic recipe) and I didn't have any apple juice. But I was (over) confident! I knew I could do this.

I popped all my ingredients into the crock pot that night and put it on 10 hours-low cooking. I set my alarm to go off at 2 AM so that I could make sure that there was enough water and no burning. In the middle of the night, everything looked fine.

At 5:30 AM I could tell that the apples needed more cooking. The mix looked like dark brown apple sauce, but still kind of grainy. I set it for another 6 hours of cooking and told the babysitter to unplug the crockpot during lunch, which she did.

When I came home, it was definitely done. But the butter was still kind of watery, and the apple skin pieces were tough, minuscule bits that stood out even more against the soft flesh of the cooked apples. I suppose I could have strained them out, but the pieces were cut so small that that seemed impossible. I froze some, and stored the rest in a quart sized jar. The butter/ sauce tasted okay, but it was NOT terribly sweet. It all tasted like applesauce that I went to ALOT of effort to cook. I have been using it in oatmeal, where the bit of apple skin are not so noticeable. So I have full faith that we will eat it. It will not go to waste. But the whole project was terribly misguided. It is as though I have grown a little too big for my britches.

When will I just learn? I don't have to win a Nobel Prize for Canning and Preserving. I could have made a pie with all the sugar I wanted. I didn't have to go try and save the world with some nutrient dense condiment. Next time, I won't think so much about it, and I will just make some good food and I pledge to get off my high horse and follow someone else's recipe.

Don't try this at home. There is a reason why there are no recipes on the Internet for Apple Butter with the skins left on.


  1. Hey Christa. You can make mock apple butter by overcooking applesauce. Applesauce is super easy to make with skins if you have a foley mill. I have a post about it on calibanskitchen.com. If you want to make it richer and thicker, like apple butter, you can cook the apples down a bit -- almost burn them. I've done this by accident many a time! It tastes a lot like apple butter. It's super quick and it's a good kid activity

  2. This is a great idea! I will try try try again.

  3. Heh! I've had similar disasters myself when I've tried changing recipes. I finally learned to make just one change at a time so I can identify which changes work and which ones need further tweaking or just don't work at all.

    Good friends of mine make their own applesauce, apple butter, and apple pies. For pies, they use one of those hand-cranked apple peelers that you clamp onto the edge of your kitchen counter or table. They swear by the thing. It doesn't remove every last bit of skin but the few bits that are left behind are easily removed with a paring knife. When they make applesauce, they use the skin-on method that @calibanskitchen described. The skins turn the sauce the most delicate shade of pink. I'm unsure whether they peel apples for apple butter. I'll have to ask.

    I usually make my own pies but I was having company last weekend and I was pressed for time. I picked up a no sugar added apple pie from a nearby farm stand. We all agreed that it tasted so much more apple-y than the versions with sugar! It had just enough cinnamon to keep the apples from tasting boring. It was perfect. I don't think I'll ever add sugar again when I make my own apple pie. I shouldn't have been surprised by this discovery. I only like unsweetened applesauce. The kind made with sugar tastes awful to me.

  4. COB - this is for applesauce, not apple butter, but it still sounds good. :)


    I know you love to experiment with recipes, so maybe you could cook it longer and turn it into apple butter, like someone else suggested. Have fun!

  5. We make pear butter by washing apples, chopping them into chunks (any bad spots get cut out, but stems, peels, cores are all left intact). We put those in a pot with just a little water so it doesn't stick (you'll just have to cook off the water later, so I add as little as possible). Once they've cooked down by about half and are very, very soft, we run them through a hand-held food mill which gets the seeds, stems, and any residual peels or stringy bits that haven't disintegrated. There's very little removed at this stage compared to the original volume of fruit. Then we puree it all with an immersion blender to make it really smooth and keep cooking it down either on the stove or in the crockpot until it gets very thick. It takes a while, sometimes more than a day (the crockpot is good for overnight) but our most recent batch didn't even need any sugar (usually we add about 1 cup for what was originally 2 6-quart pots of pears, which reduces to 1 pot by the time it goes through the food mill).

    We've done this with apples, too, but like the pear version better. I think the pear skins disintegrate better, too.

    - Sarah (a reader without a blog to link to)