Friday, February 01, 2013

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

I've recently developed a recipe for Apple Butter to both keep up with my handsome husband's bottomless appetite for homemade jams and preserves, and winter's lack of variety for canning jams and such.  I've also adapted the recipe to use Splenda artificial sweetener...  Another nod to that same husband's "bottomless" appetite for sweet jams.  I know there is plenty of arguments against artificial sweeteners.  YOU take it up with him!

I've added this recipe to a revised edition of one of my early blog posts about apples and making apple butter.  There's plenty to be said for the more organic and traditional process outlined in the original post.  There's a LOT to be said for letting your Crock Pot do the work overnight while you sleep!

And so, please enjoy the following.  When Big Mary was taking baby steps... October 2006

Apple Glory

I've bellyached before about the year round availability of way too many fruits and vegetables that years ago had specific seasons.  It holds true even for apples.  Let’s face it, Granny Smiths and Red Delicious apples have become as ubiquitous and expected as fake eyelashes on drag queens.  That's  why come  September till November or so I’m constantly of the prowl at our Greenmarket.  Every year I’m seduced by more and more varieties as local farmers feed our fascination with heirloom and specialty apples.

A local newspaper tallied up 34 varieties at a recent Greenmarket; including some very old and rare cultivars like the Newton Pippin (George Washington’s favorite),  the very pale fleshed apple known as Winter Banana, as well as the less rare but no less cherished  Macintosh, Jonathan, Macoun, Northern Spy, Cortland, and some newly crossbred varieties like my favorite the Honeycrisp.  Each one has a unique blend of distinct sweetness or tartness, crisp crunch or soft melting bite. Some are puckeringly acidic, some are pure honey sweetness, and some heirloom apples even carry the tannic dryness of a big red wine.   And of course that’s part of the glory of apples.  Some excel in pies, some are bound for sauce and others just deserve to be enjoyed out of hand.

It's easy for a North American to take these red, pink, yellow and green beauties for granted. Partially because the storage and foreign grown apples we endure January through August deserve to be taken for granted. Most are one dimensional and flavor challenged. However on the plus side, they are damn convenient. They keep for a week or more if the heat's not too high, they are versatile, they are easy to eat, and most apple recipes fall into the realm of "comfort food".  But like macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, mashed potatoes and other "comfort foods", a lot of the time these dishes aren’t very comforting.

We also undervalue apples because they are so omnipresent in our lives.  They're just everywhere from lunch boxes to deli counters to teacher’s desks.   My partner, “The Handsome Venezuelan” is always reminding me that this is not nearly so true in warmer regions, where apples and pears are considered quite exotic, much like we view guavas, mangoes, or passion fruit. And in the same spirit with which he dismisses the flavorless mangoes in our markets, I suspect there are damn few tropical tots who have ever tasted something as crisp and heady as a fresh picked Winesap apple.

When my dear Mama Gladys passed away in September, we drove back to Ohio to celebrate that lovely lady and wish her a sweet journey over. The nine hour return trip to NYC was sweet, not only due to reflections on my Mom's long and happy life, but also sweet with the crisp cidery smell of a bushel of apples from my middle sister's ignored apple tree. Before the horses and dogs grabbed the entire harvest, I threw a ladder up high and pulled down a few bags full. According to my eldest sister, they are Jonathan apples. I've learned not to question because she's usually right in such matters.
Yesterday, I spent a long aromatic day producing about 12 pints of old fashioned apple butter, so good my Mama almost came back for a taste. So good in fact, the Venezuelan proposed to me... Again.  Then ordered me to hide them from him and portion the jars out judiciously.  

Here's my typically brief outline of how you can share the love.  As well as a time saving more modern recipe…
Old Fashioned Apple Butter
Wash a big bunch of apples. A mix is a good option (perhaps McIntosh, Winesap, Macoun & Gala), though I succeeded with one variety that was tartly sweet. Roughly cut the unpeeled apples into eighths or quarters and put into a large heavy bottomed stock pot. Do not core or seed the apples. Add Apple Cider (or water, or a mix of both) until it just covers the apples. Place over medium high heat and simmer, uncovered, until the apples are completely collapsing. The timing will vary depending upon variety. A McIntosh will go quickly; a Granny Smith will take much longer. Cool the mixture and then pass it through a food mill.
Measure the puree and place in another heavy bottom stock pot (or the same one washed out)and add sugar at a rate of 50% of the puree. In other words, for 8 cups of puree, use 4 cups of sugar. I optioned for a little less sugar and was happy for it. Then stir in ground spices (I like a lot, so I used cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg and ginger), a few pinches of salt and a generous squeeze of fresh lemon. Bring to a simmer, stirring often, and then cook until it is thickened and condensed. This will take several hours, and you need to stir it often, about every 10 minutes at least, checking for sticking on the bottom of the pan. A good test for when the apple butter is done is this: chill a china plate in the freezer. Drop a tablespoon's full of the apple butter on the plate. Wait a minute or two. When liquid no longer seeps out from the mound of puree, you're there.
Proceed with standard water bath canning procedures which can be found in any canning book or online.

Here is a method I tried in the time since I made my first batch and I was pretty happy with this as well.  I’ll admit, it’s not quite as deep in flavor, but given the trade off of convenience, I still recommend it.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

6          Pounds of Apples    A mix of 3-4 varieties, Peeled
1 1/2    Cups                       Granulated Sugar (or Splenda - See Note*)
1 1/2    teaspoons                Ground Cinnamon
1/2       teaspoon                  Ground Ginger
1/2       teaspoon                  Ground Nutmeg
1/4       teaspoon                  Ground Cloves
1          medium                    Fresh Lemon

Grate the apples, using the large holes of a box grater, directly into the slow cooker.  Add sugar and spices.  Add zest on the lemon, then squeeze lemon juice into the apples, discarding pits.  Stir everything gently and cover.  Cook on Low for 12 - 14 hours.  Remove lid and whisk thoroughly to smooth out the apple butter.  Cook an addition hour to hour and a half to dry out the mixture.  Stir occasionally.
Makes 6 - 7 half pints
This can also be canned with the traditional water bath canning process.  Please check any reliable canning website.  Ball Jars maintains a great one.

Let me just say, if you've never tried canning, it's just a big hoot and a holler.  Very safe in my experience  as long as you follow instructions carefully, and you've got the right acid and sugar content provided by jams, jellies, or the acid in tomato sauces and salsas.  And it just makes you smile with accomplishment.  Besides it impresses the hell outta people who don't know how easy it is!

*NOTE - I don't know the kitchen science of canning with artificial sweeteners well enough to guarantee the safety of caning this recipe using Splenda to replace the sugar.  It WILL keep in the refrigerator for several weeks and freezes very well.

No comments: