There’s an old apple tree in our backyard. It provides much-needed shade from the scorching hot summer days, and blushing apples with a hint of lemon in autumn.
If you like apples as much as we do, I’m sure you’ll understand how we try to harvest as much edible fruit possible, while leaving some for the birds for their pre-winter and winter snacks. Last year we started using a nifty apple picker attached to an adjustable Mr. Long Arm pole and it has changed the quality and quantity of fruits we harvest. Apple-picking has turned into an annual Olympic pole event of sorts, requiring a strong back, precision individual-fruit picking, and lots of practice and patience, with tasty rewards.
Once we hear the regular Thud! Thud! Thud! of fruits landing on the plant boxes, concrete tiles and ceramic table (eep) under the apple tree, we know it’s time to get a-picking. This process takes us at least two weekends to do. There’s only a small window of time between good-weather harvest days and Vancouver’s endless days of rain in the fall, so we were lucky to have time to do it when the skies were blue and the ground was dry.
We had another bumper crop this year, but sadly, our spray-free tree has fallen prey to the codling moth, which means half of the apples were infested. We tried to make the best of what we got.
It felt like such a waste to throw out the damaged ones, so after sorting the apples, I got rid of the unusable portions and washed them thoroughly. The first chopped batch went into making some apple juice and non-alcoholic cider, which is just the apple juice cooked with mulling spices.
Some apples were sliced and went into pies. Of course.
Then the chopped ones went into making apple butter. I have never heard of it until I met my dear friend Kristina. One September day in San Francisco we found ourselves sharing a room together for a food bloggers conference. Before that, we knew each other only through our blogs, twitter and email exchanges, but we hit it off and talked like old friends that day. She mentioned that she and her husband made apple butter to give away on their wedding day, and I thought that was so special to make that for wedding guests. I made a mental note of it, but I only started making it last year when we were up to our eyeballs in apple supply.
What is Apple Butter? Apple butter is basically caramelized applesauce. It’s a smooth and luscious apple spread that’s made with apples, spices and a little bit of sugar. It’s important to use flavourful apples. Ours has a nice complexity of sweetness and tartness that really comes together when cooked for a long time, adding to to the sweet caramel finish of the butter.
Last year I made it over the stove and ended up overcooking it and left me with apple leather. After many hours of stirring and checking, it didn’t not end as well as I hoped. This year I cooked smarter, with a slow cooker, which really made it such an easy experience.
The end result was a a smooth and luscious spread that you can eat with toast, crackers, cheese, and whatever you fancy. My favorite combination is saltines, Oak Manor Organic Vintage Cheddar from England, and apple butter. I could live on that for days.
Oh, and by the way, your house will smell amazing while the apple butter cooks.
If you’d like to make your own apple butter in a slow cooker, this is roughly the recipe I used when I used my 4-quart Crockpot:
SLOW-COOKER SPICED APPLE BUTTER RECIPE
Makes approximately a liter of apple butter
- About 4 lbs (OR enough to fill 3/4 of the slow cooker pot) of ripe apples (the more variety, the better), washed, peeled, cored and chopped to 1-inch chunks
- 1 3/4 cup apple juice, unsweetened (preferably fresh)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground clove
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger (not fresh)
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (don’t add the pods in the pot, use it for your jar of sugar instead) OR 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- Place all the ingredients except for the vanilla bean in the slow cooker pot and stir. Cover and turn on to the low setting. Cook for 8 hours, stirring occasionally with a spatula, making sure to scrape the sides–after 2 hours, then after 4 hours wold be good.
- Using a stick blender, pulse the apple mixture a few times to your desired smoothness or chunkiness. Stir in bean seeds and cook for another 2 hours or so until you get to the thickness you like. If the apples are really juicy, it may take up to 12 hours to cook. Do remember that it will still get a touch thicker during cooling as well.
When is the apple butter done? Take a teaspoon of the apple butter and drop it on a small plate. The butter should stay in a mound without any liquid accumulating around the edges.
- You can either can it or just store in clean jars or containers. They freeze beautifully and will keep from 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.What about adding sugar? The apples used will dictate how sweet the apple butter would be. If it needs to be sweetened to your liking at the end of the 8-hour slow cook, add half of what you think it would need. A couple of tablespoons of sugar should be enough. It shouldn’t be too sweet.