Sunday, September 21, 2008

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

"Ma & Pa", my partner's grandparents, have made homemade apple butter for years, and it's my favorite. Their specialty is making very large batches in an old copper cauldron over an open fire using a wooden paddle to stir (and stir, and stir, and stir) the apples until thick & caramelized. While it's fun to make apple butter that way, it's also an enormous ordeal. So much so that as they've gotten older they've taken to making smaller batches of apple butter on the stovetop. It's just as delicious and so much easier, which suggests to me that good apple butter has more to do with good apples & solid flavorings than a particular cooking technique.

In the spirit of simplifying, I was curious if there was an even easier way to make apple butter. I had picked up a peck of fresh Macintosh apples at Curtis Orchard when I was in Champaign, Illinois, last week with the intention of making apple butter. But then I started reading recipes and they all seemed complex...until I ran across a couple different ones (here and here) that used a slow cooker. Sounded fun & different, so I took those recipes as a starting point and threw in some flavors I like for an urban twist on a country classic.

1 peck cooking apples (most anything besides Granny Smith; I used Macintosh because I am a computer nerd with a sense of humor)

Juice of 2 lemons
5 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vanilla sugar
--or 6 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp kosher salt
2" piece vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Peel, core and slice the apples (I use the $20 gizmo shown above to make fast work of this). Toss apple slices in a large bowl with lemon juice. Combine sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl. Add to apples and toss to coat. Spoon apples & sugar into a large slow cooker and drop the vanilla bean on top. Cover and cook on high 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low and cook until mixture is bubbly & brown, about 10 hours.

Remove lid and cook for another hour on low heat, allowing water to evaporate and the mixture to thicken. Remove the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds back into the apple butter, stirring well. If you accidentally overcook and it's too thick, just add some apple cider, apple juice, or water to bring to the right consistency. Once cooking is complete spoon the apple butter into prepared half-pint jars and process in a water bath for 5 minutes. Ensure jar is sealed and store in a cool, dark place up to 2 years. Any jars that don't seal should go into the 'fridge for immediate use.

Chris Freeland


Brent W. King said...

Your fantastic apple machine taunts me... having just peeled my way through Sunday Night Football with a knife.

Chris Freeland said...

Brent! How the heck are ya, besides tired of peeling apples (and probably slightly emasculated at doing that during football)? You should get an apple peeler/corer/slicer...they're only $20 at Target. And much more manly.

Anonymous said...

The Nemanicks gave us a jar of your delicious apple butter. It is wonderful on pumpkin bread -- thanks so much! Last year during the holidays I made a cocktail party appetizer by warming a little bit of cranberry-fig relish (found at Straub's) and Stilton cheese on a bite-sized square of puff pastry. Your apple butter inspired an autumn appetizer -- apple butter and Dutch Gouda with walnuts (a cheese I found at Trader Joe's) warmed on a bite size piece of golden puff pastry. Thanks for the inspiration!