Unsweetened Apple Butter
My Great-Aunt Jan makes apple butter. Really, really good apple butter. Trouble is, she lives in Iowa, and I do not. Sometimes, when we’re lucky, there’s a box of it for us at Christmas – but in between times, we are left utterly apple butter-less. (Have you tried to find that stuff in the grocery store? Until this last year or so, I think I actually found it once, in a tiny locally-owned natural foods store. Not what I’d call accessible.)
Being the adventurous (*cough stubborn-and-overly-ambitious cough*) person that I am, I decided that I would learn to make it. I wrangled the recipe from a cousin of my mom’s a few years back, but was utterly flummoxed by the fact that it was a canning recipe. Canning was scary. Against all odds, the apple butter eluded me.
Flash forward to our late-summer trip to Maquoketa, during which I was determined to learn to make and can apple butter. So I did. (See aforementioned stubbornness.)
Aunt Jan gave us a great lesson in apple butter making, including a live demonstration of the mysterious “gel test” and a hands-on canning session. Aunt Sandy and my mom’s cousin Weezer reinforced these new skills with demonstrations of tomato and homemade ketchup canning. (Does everyone in Iowa can, or is it just my food-loving family?) I was, in a word, hooked.
In the months since my return to California, I’ve become a bit of a canning maniac. Jam, fruit butter, salsa, mustard, spaghetti sauce – aided and abetted by my mother, I’m obsessed.
As mouth-watering as Aunt Jan’s apple butter is, I really wanted to make a version with no added sugar, as I have wonky blood sugar problems and therefore try, when possible, to have low-sugar options around. This recipe is one my mom and I came up with, in cahoots with the lovely owner of Denver Dan’s Apple Ranch. (Side note: if you’re ever in the Sacramento/Tahoe region of California during the fall, you really must check out Apple Hill. It’s awesome.)
I won’t go into a whole canning how-to here – Ree at The Pioneer Woman Cooks has a great tutorial, and why try to fix what ain’t broke? Suffice to say it’s easy. Nothing to be afraid of. Just think of how much apple butter I could have eaten during those years of canning intimidation!
Unsweetened Apple Butter
Makes approximately 5 1/2-pint jars
5 1/2 pounds eating apples (I’ve used Galas and Fujis with great success – since there’s no added sugar, the sweetness of your apples will determine the sweetness of your apple butter. Also, I recommend purchasing slightly blemished apples at your local farmer’s market – they’re much cheaper, and they taste the same.)
32 oz. apple cider/unfiltered apple juice
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla
– Preheat oven to 350 degrees
– Prepare canning equipment
– Peel, core, and quarter apples (Note: mine are neither peeled nor quartered, but that’s because (a) my nifty canning sieve simultaneously purees and removes the peel from the cooked apples and (b) I used my Apple Master to core and slice my apples, which, while totally not essential, is very efficient and really entertaining.)
– In a large-ish saucepan, combine the quartered apples and the juice. Simmer over medium heat until apples are nice and soft.
– Remove pan from heat. Puree cooked apples, using a sieve, food processor, or immersion blender. Careful – they’re hot.
– Pour pureed apples into an oven-safe, wide, shallow pan – I’ve used a roasting pan and a risotto pan, both successfully.
– Stir in cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla.
– Bake uncovered at 350 degrees, stirring every half hour or so, until the puree has reduced about 30% and is a rich, dark brown. At this point, you could perform the “gel test,” in which you put a small spoonful of the hot apple butter onto a very cold plate – if it doesn’t run much, and the liquid doesn’t seep away, it’s done. However, I’ve found that once the color is right, it’s pretty much good to go.
– Can in a hot water bath for 15 minutes (see the Pioneer Woman’s tutorial), or cool and freeze. Apple butter will last in the fridge for a couple of weeks, if it takes you that long to eat it.