Apple Picking is Good for the Soul: Part 3 – Apple Butter
My grandmother used to make my sister and I “sandwiches” of cream cheese and apple butter on what our friend Laura called “tissue bread” – wonder bread. Not only was it wonder bread, but she cut off the crusts for us – how decadent! I’m not big on wonder bread, but I did love those sammiches (they’re one of my fondest memories of my grandmother), so I have a serious soft spot for apple butter.
When I had the overabundance of apples recently, I decided that along with applesauce and apple crisp, I should probably try making apple butter. I didn’t have a go-to recipe, because I’ve never made it before, but I thought I’d try out an old reliable – Joy of Cooking. (In retrospect, this was a mistake. I love cookbooks, but sometimes a recipe with comments and ratings is more reliable. But how was I to know?) **Please see the note with the recipe – this might not have been such a mistake if I’d actually read the recipe correctly… I’m going to put this one down to half Purple-fail and half Joy-of-Cooking formatting fail.
I have a confession. We actually ran out of apples. I waited so long to get to the apple butter that we took the rest of the apples for lunches, two at a time, until there was only one tiny apple left. So I had to go to the store and buy more (horrors!). But they’re still local! And this time I got more variety! (Which, again, might have been a mistake?)
Once I had my apples firmly in hand, and a conveniently free afternoon, I finally got around to cooking my applesauce. Here I am very prepared (two kinds of sugar!) with my recipe and everything. You can’t see it, but on the side I actually had my iPad with Try It or Buy It’s apple butter recipe up, too, for comparison.
What threw me off about that one was the overnight crock-potting. I had big plans to have apple butter for dinner, and ya know, go to work in the morning, so overnight cooking wasn’t really an option. So, in true Purple Tradition, I decided to not follow the directions for either recipe, and kinda make things up as I went. (This turned into a theme for the evening – see my post about Ham Rolls!)
Okay, so I had the apples. I had my cider vinegar and lemon juice. (The recipe called for TWO CUPS of water or cider vinegar. TWO CUPS!!! I should have known right then and there… I cut it down to 1 1/2 cups of vinegar and 1/2 cup of water – I should have reversed that, or skipped the vinegar entirely.)
The recipe called for just coring and chopping, and then pushing through a sieve. Since I knew I was going to use my immersion blender instead, I peeled the apples as well. (I’ve since learned that the internet has very strong feelings about this. Some people think that without a sieve, you don’t get the “butter” texture. Other people think the metal blades on a blender change the flavor of the apple butter. I think these people are over-thinking things.)
Here’s where things got a little fishier. I knew I had to run out a few times while this was going on, and since you should never, ever, ever leave the stove on when you leave the house, especially if you have curious kitty cats, I decided to do the softening part in the crock pot after all. Which turned out just fine, and 1 1/2 hours later when they were soft and I was home to stay, I poured the whole thing into my trusty red Le Creuset pot and got to it. But yeah, so much for following the recipe…
Once we were all settled on the stove, I added my spices and sugar. Here’s the second place I should have mistrusted the recipe: it only called for 1/2 cup of sugar. Apple butter, in my opinion, should be very thick and very sweet. That’s what distinguishes it from applesauce. One 1/2 cup of sugar just isn’t going to cut it. But, I was trying to be good, and trying to pretend that I wanted to use less sugar. Plus, that’s what the recipe said, right? (Or did it… See the notes with the recipe!)
Yeah, that didn’t work out so well. I stewed the apples a bit longer, then pureed them with my trusty immersion blender, and figured it was time to just wait it out while it cooked down. Then I tasted some of the apple butter off of the blender. Woah. All vinegar, no sugar. What the heck? I added another half cup of sugar and it it cook a bit longer. Then I tasted it again. Better, but after about three seconds the vinegar still kicked hard. So I added another half cup of sugar and called it a day. What more can I do? Sugar only goes so far to fix a vinegar problem, and it was definitely sweet…
I let it cook down a bit longer and called it done. It was going to have to be good enough. (It wasn’t.)
We had it for breakfast this morning on english muffins with cream cheese. Not quite the same as my grandmother’s, but definitely more my style these days. (I’ve got no problem with reverting to childhood, but tissue bread with no crusts might be going a bit too far.) But the apple butter was definitely more vinegar than sugar, and I was pretty disappointed.
The original verdict: I should have followed Laura’s recipe from Try It or Buy It. I knew there was something fishy about 2 cups of vinegar and 1/2 cup of sugar… The finished product was definitely not sweet enough, and much, much too vinegary. Oh well. But here’s where things get funny.
As I was reading this recipe over to write it up for you, I realized that I misread it while I was making it, which might account for some (all?) of the utter failure. I’ve noted the things I obviously missed as I wrote it up. But right now I’ll tell you what I tried to do to fix it.
When I made another batch of applesauce a few days later, I also pulled out all my canned apple butter. I scraped it all back out of the jars and back into my faithful Le Creuset, and set to work.
First, I added the missing sugar. I think I ended up adding about 3 cups total – 1 1/2 the first time, and another 1 1/2 during “fixing”.
Then, just for kicks, I added a large glob of the apple sauce I was making across the stove. I figured the real best way to get rid of vinegar is to outnumber it with apples. Honestly, this was more of a gesture, since to really balance things out I would have had to add quite a bit more than a glob, but I felt good about it, and I didn’t want to use all of my new applesauce.
And finally, I just cooked the heck out of it. This time, I cooked the stuff down until I could part the Red Sea in it. It was a little hard to document, since it didn’t actually stay parted very long, but when apple butter can hold a trench, I figure it’s finally done.
And the final final verdict is… Well, my mom said it was great. She said she likes the vinegar, and she didn’t think it was too sweet. Which gave me hope, so in my final, decadent moment, I made this:
It was perfect.
From Joy of Cooking
Makes 5 pints (or 6 ball jars)
- 4 lbs of apples
- 2 cups water, cider, or cider vinegar (Misread one – missed “cider” entirely. That would have been a *much* better idea.)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar per cup of pulp (BIG misread there. I have no idea how many cups of pulp I had, but it would probably have ended up much closer to 3-4 cups of sugar.)
- 3 tsp cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- (grated lemon rind and juice) (I saw this part, but I didn’t have a viable lemon, so I added 2 Tbsp of lemon juice instead. Might be overkill, but it wasn’t obvious.)
- Wash, remove the stems and quarter the apples. (If you’re blending instead of straining, peel the apples first.)
- Cook slowly until soft in your water/cider/vinegar.
- Put fruit through a fine strainer. (If you’re using a blender, you can blend here or wait until after you add the spices/sugar.)
- Add 1/2 cup brown sugar for each cup of pulp.
- Add spices and lemon.
- Cook the fruit butter over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved. (This is almost instantaneously when using brown sugar.)
- Continue to cook, stirring frequently until the mixture sheets from a spoon. (I waited until I could make peaks in the pot.) When no rim of liquid separates around the edge of the butter, it’s done. (I disagree – keep cooking until it’s as thick as you want it. There was no rim of liquid for me at any point in this process.)
- Pour into hot sterilized jars to store.
- Tastes best after at least a few days of resting.