This is how I spent my weekend. How’d you spend yours? Do anything fun?
(Updated. See final tally at end of post)
Adventures in Apple Butter
It all started with a tree:
A tree filled with crab apples. And a desire to see them not go to waste. It took me 20 minutes to pick a 5 gallon bucket full. I grabbed a few green apples from a neighboring tree to top it off.
Then it was home to wash them. And wash them and wash them.
I washed 4 sinks full and washed them each three times, culling the bad ones each time. A couple of things about crab apples:
- Bad ones float right to the top.
- Black spots always go all the way through the apple – took me about 10 to figure this out – so you can’t cut out the bad stuff.
- They seem to suffer from blossom rot, if the stems pulled out they had blossom rot and were rotten throughout.
- Unlike the green apples next to them, I saw no evidence of worms or bugs in any apple. Whew!
Once I figured this out, culling them was pretty quick. But the thing you need to know is that no matter how much you cull a few bad ones are going to slip through. Just the nature of their size. So if that is going to make you queasy, cooking with crab apples probably isn’t for you.
I used three tools for the apple butter and without them I don’t think I would have gone to the trouble. I cooked them (basically steamed them) in my pressure cooker, I pureed them in my Vita-Mix and I cooked the apple butter down in my slow-cooker. I can’t imagine the amount of work it would have taken without these.
Next step was to pressure cook them. Whole: peels, seeds, stems and all. I added about 1 cup of water and the steamer tray to my pressure cooker and then I cooked them for 25 minutes. Which is probably a bit long, but that made sure they were good and mushy before the blending stage.
After cooling each batch a bit, I ran them through the Vita-Mix – peels, stems, seeds and all. Keep in mind the seeds are minuscule and the stems are smaller than grape stems and cooked tender. To puree this in a hand puree’er would be to lose much of the texture and flavors of the whole crab apples. You’d also lose a good portion of your tiny apples.
After running it through the Vita-Mix, I added about 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tbsp of pumpkin spice (cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg) for each 6 cups of puree.
This is the smooth mixture from the blender, before cooking down in slow-cooker
Then the mixture was added to the slow-cooker, filled to about 2 inches from the top. Set the slow-cooker on low and use a wooden spoon to prop the lid open to let the steam escape. Because what you want is for the mixture to cook down by half and caramelize. This takes 8-12 hours. After the first batch, when the sides browned a little too much, I stirred the next batches every hour or so to keep it from burning. After it cooked down and was the consistency I was looking for, I did it all over again.
As you can see, there is still a lot to do. I am cooking the next batch of apples as I put this blog post together. I only jarred two pints – these are not canned and will need to be refrigerated – one to use here and one to take to work tomorrow. The rest I plan to can tomorrow night when all the butter is cooked. I’m planning on both pints and 1/2 pints, most of which I will give away. I still don’t have a good idea how much this is going to make, but I’ll wager 6 additional pints and 6 half pints. I’ll update you when it’s all done. Oh, and by the way, it tastes amazing. And all weekend long my house smelled like fall.
UPDATED: Final tally was 12 pints and 12 half pints. I canned all but 3 pints and 4 half pints which were given away immediately to friends and neighbors with instructions to keep refrigerated. I never expected it to make so much.