10.03.2010

Apple Butter and the Apocalypse

With 2012 and certain planetary doom fast approaching, I've developed an affinity for food canning. More specifically, fruit butters. Even more specifically: apple butter. Not only is it an easy and delicious way to take advantage of the seasonal produce at the moment, it's a great way to enjoy bread that has been toasted over an open trash can fire, both of which you wrested from a group of apocalyptic survivors after wielding your trusty post-apocalyptic pump-action shotgun.

Why am I tying in my post about apple butter to Armageddon? Easy. You gotta be prepared. Supermarkets will certainly be raided of their canned goods by harriers who will soon turn cannibalistic after the last can of Chef Boyardee Mini Raviolis is tossed into the smoking carnage heap that used to be civilization. You can't rely on commercial purveyors of canned goods to fully stock your emergency larders. I'm going to help you get one step closer to rapture readiness by sharing my knowledge with you, starting with apple butter. No future dystopia will be as elegant, as refined, or as goddamn delicious as it could be without your personal stores of this god-like salve, prepared with love in your former kitchen.

The ingredients and the methods are simple. All you really need is time. But seeing as how all of us are on very limited time, you might want to start yesterday.

Allie's Apocalyptic Apple Butter

Note the absence of sugar here. Other recipes for apple butter that you'd find on the internet call for cups upon cups of sugar. This is appalling, unnecessary, and a complete insult to the beautiful, sweet, seasonal fruit you had better be using. You don't need sugar in fruit butters, because they don't reply on a chemical reaction with sugar and pectin to gel. Instead, they rely on the fruit cooking down until it reaches a desired thickness, thereby naturally concentrating its inherent sweetness. You could eat a whole pint jar of this sweet awesomeness and still make love to your favorite jeans the next day. You can use apple butter as a flavoring component in all sorts of sweet and savory applications. Try it in your next pumpkin pie or cookie recipe, or slathering it on a pork roast.

This recipe makes roughly five cups of apple butter, which will fill four 8oz jars plus a little left over for storing in the fridge. If you have a larger crockpot (mine is a 4qt model), double your apples and adjust the rest of the ingredients accordingly. You can also do this on the stove if you have a gigantic stockpot and enough to time to sit and stir it. The crockpot ensures you won't burn the stuff and you can let it go all night and through most of the next day with little elbow grease on your part. You really can't go wrong. The spice measurements are estimates and can be adjusted to your personal tastes.

Here's what you need:

14-16 medium sized apples. (I like a combination of tart and sweet. My latest batches used fugi and gala. Before that I used cortlands and jonagolds. Whatever you do, avoid red delicious apples. Not only for apple butter, but in general. Those things are the Ryan Seacrest of apples. They're bland, uninteresting, regularly coated in wax and best forgotten.)
2-4 TBSP apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups fresh apple cider (Make sure there is no added sugar. Get the good stuff if you can.)
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt

Start around the late evening hours (or really early in the morning, either way). No need to core or peel your apples. Just wash and slice (I like to cut around the cores so I don't have to bother with coring, but at any rate, you can strain all this out later). Pile them into the slow cooker until you can't fit anymore in. Add the vinegar and the apple cider and set the cooker to low. Let the apples cook all night or 8-12 hours until they're very soft.

Using a food mill or a fine mesh strainer and a ladle, process the cooked apples, removing all the seeds and peels, etc until you have a smooth cooked apple puree. If you're using a ladle and mesh strainer, you just have to keep stirring and pushing the pulp through the strainer until you're left with mostly peels. Alternately, if you're doing this on the stove, you need only cook your apples in a stockpot in the liquids until they're soft, which doesn't take more than a couple hours. Add your cooked puree and all the liquids back to the slowcooker along with your spices and cook with the lid partially open to vent steam and encourage evaporation, another 3-4 hours  (depending on how juicy your apples were). Once it sticks to a wooden spoon and mounds up in dollops (rather than runs like soup), it's ready. By the end, you will have roughly half the volume in your crockpot from what you originally started with (from the very beginning). You can use an immersion blender to smooth the mixture down further, but this isn't totally necessary.

Wash your jars and lids in hot, soapy water, then boil them in a large stockpot (or waterbath canner if you have one) for ten minutes. Keep them in the hot water until you need them, then remove with tongs and ladle with the hot apple butter, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space (so they won't, like, blow up when you boil them--we don't want a mini-apocalypse in your kitchen). Make sure the rims of the jars are free of food otherwise your jars won't seal well and you'll end up with mold, which would make for an even more unpleasant end-of-world scenario. Place the lids and tighten down the rings. Return the jars to the water, making sure there's at least an inch of water over the lids, and set over high heat. Once they start boiling again, set your timer to 15 minutes (this processing time varies depending on your elevation, so be sure to check in your area). Remove the jars from the water with your trusty tongs and set on a dishtowel to cool. (If you have all your fancy canning supplies, you can disregard my crudely assembled home canning method and do it your way. Or look it up online elsewhere).

A couple minutes later, you might hear something that sounds like gunfire. Don't worry. It isn't post-apocalyptic marauders after your tasty homecookin. Yet. It's just the lids sealing themselves. If they don't, store the jars in your fridge and eat within a week or two.

You can also freeze it for later use. Just remember that freezers and the apocalypse are going to be awfully strange bedfellows.


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