Well butter my…. Apple?
(As seen in the August 2016 posting of Buy Fresh Buy Local PA – www.buylocalpa.org)
When I think of hometown foods and local flavors in PA one thing that always comes to mind as fall approaches is apple butter. Apples have long been used for sauces, pies, crisp, and around here one can usually find a jar of apple butter in the cupboard to go along with your morning toast. But what is this divine spread and how is it even made? Why is it so popular? How do you use it?
By the 18th century, settlers across Pennsylvania found it vital to find ways in which food could be preserved year round. Families surviving off the land and would plant varieties of fruits such as apples in backyard orchards that could be used in a multitude of ways before luxuries like refrigerators were invented. First apple pressing became known as a way to extract the juices of an apple, and then turned into cider or vinegar. There was also drying to preserve slices, better known by us PA Dutchies as Schnitz. (I’m not sure if ‘dutchies’ is an official term but we are going to roll with it here). Once these early American pioneers realized that the sauce made with apples would go bad over winter months, they were forced to find some other way to make the produce last longer. Voila, Apple Butter was born!
The process that goes into making apple butter is quite simple, yet time consuming. A basic breakdown is that apples are heated consistently over an extended period of time and stirred constantly. This essentially caramelizes the fruit which gives the final product its statement brown color. Being naturally sweetened and more acidic, this allows for a longer shelf life than typical apple sauces. The consistency when cooked eventually becomes spreadable like butter, hence the name, and usually the only additive is a few spices to enhance flavoring.
This well-known Pennsylvania Dutch delight can be eaten any which way you choose. Spread a little on some pancakes, toast, or scrapple. My personal favorite is a dollop of apple butter added to a bowl of cottage cheese or yogurt with a little extra cinnamon on top. Healthy and delicious!
I’ve tried a few recipes so far, and my biggest finding has been that consistency is key. Striking it lucky, I did discover one particular crockpot method that was so easy I doubled the recipe and even ended up making pumpkin butter following the same guidelines.
1.5 cups apple juice, cider, or water
2c. brown sugar
Cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice to taste
Makes approx. 3 pints
- First peel, core, and slice your apples. (Scraps are great for compost) OR if you want a less labor-intensive method you may core and slice your apples with skins on. If choosing this method they will need to be boiled in 1C water for about 20 mins or until softened then puréed in immersion blender.
- Mix all ingredients in a large crock pot except for apples, stirring sugar/water/spices to blend. Add apples and coat all slices or thoroughly mix puréed apples with sugar syrup. A crockpot liner may prevent burning and sticking to the pot, and will definitely make cleanup easier.
- With the lid closed, heat apples on medium for approximately 12 hours stirring often. Temperature can be reduced and time elongated if you are worried about burning or unable to stir as often.
- Most of the liquid should cook off and evaporate towards the end of cooking, if there is any excess liquid you can cook a bit longer with the lid off to help thicken. If you peeled and placed apple slices directly in the pot you may want to transfer to a blender here to get a better consistency especially when using harder apples that do not cook down as easily.
- Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude, or refrigerate for immediate consumption.