Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble: Homemade Apple Butter Recipe

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

apple-butter-13b

Remember the three witches from Macbeth?  In the first scene of Act IV, those wacky witches, or weird sisters, as they are sometimes called, are found hovering over a big vat  filled with some kind of gurgling, hissing, spitting substance, while chanting  “Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.” It’s never revealed what exactly is in that cauldron, but I’m guessing it was apple butter.

I came to this conclusion after my recent experience making my own batch of apple butter. Except that instead of a cauldron, I used a Dutch oven.  But, there was a lot of bubbling, gurgling and spitting.  And, even though I’m not a witch, I may have done a little chanting too.  You know, just to help things along.

For the record, I’d never made apple butter before.  I never needed to.  Believe it or not, the artsy, chi chi, touristy resort town that I live in is also home to a small, yet well established Amish enclave called Pinecraft.  That’s right.  Right smack dab in the middle of our chic little slice of suburbia with its opera house, designer shops and art galleries, lies a thriving Amish community complete with roadside fruit stands, horse-drawn buggies and of course, country cookin’ restaurants.  Anytime I felt the urge for some delicious, homemade apple butter,  all I had to do was pop over to Pinecraft and pick some up.  After all, homemade is homemade – even if not by me.

apple-butter-12

One day a few weeks ago, when the cold, sad wind around a bleak gray sky was howling, I was consumed by the need to can something.  I can’t explain why, as I had never canned anything before.  But, there I was, wandering around my kitchen in search of something to “put up”.  A large bowl of bright, shiny apples sat preening on the kitchen table, and my plan began to take form.  Apple butter!  It was the perfect thing.  And, I began to search for just the right recipe that would satisfy my desire to attain “Earth motherhood” without the need to pull out out my hair by the roots from stress.

As I searched, I was surprised to learn that apple butter is really quite easy to make.  There were some great recipes out there – even a few using a slow cooker.  In the end, the one that seemed to be the most popular, and appealed to me the most, was from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks.   It was a straightforward recipe that required only apples, cider, sugar and some spices, all of which I already had.  I was sold!  And so, I made apple butter.

I tweaked the recipe a little bit, because I can never just leave well enough alone.  I loved, loved, loved the way my apple butter turned out, so I’m glad I did.  First, I increased the amount of apples I used from four to five pounds.  I figured that if I was going to make apple butter anyway, I might as well make enough to share.  I also substituted brown sugar for some of the granulated sugar in Heidi’s recipe.  I had no scientific reason for doing that.  I was just hoping that the brown sugar would give my apple butter a little “caramelly” flavor.  What could be better together than apples and caramel?  Pretty much nothing, that’s what!   Other than that, the only change I made was to add a little allspice to the mix.  I don’t know if it made much of a difference, but I liked it.

So, let’s make some apple butter!

The first thing you need to do is get your jars ready.   Place clean, dry jars on a baking sheet, and set them in a 225 F. oven for at least twenty minutes.  Wash the lids and rims with hot, soapy water, dry them well and set them someplace out of the way.  I used eight 4-ounce Mason jars.

canning-jars-1

Next, prepare your apples by peeling, coring and cutting them up into chunks.  Then, simmer the apples in a big pot with enough apple cider to just cover them.  When the apples are soft and mushy, remove them from the pot and puree them.

Apple Butter collage-web

Pour the apple puree back into the pot and add the sugars, spices and lemon juice.  Let the whole thing come to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for a long, long, long time – until it’s apple butter.  Make sure you skim off any icky stuff that rises to the top.  Keep stirring every few minutes so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  When the apple butter is close to being done, it will sputter and splash like crazy, so be prepared.  Wear oven mitts and long sleeves so that you don’t get caught in the crossfire.  Trust me on this!

When the apple butter is almost ready, dig out your hugest stock pot, fill it up with water and put it on to boil.  Once your apple butter is jarred, you will need to boil the jars to seal them.

At this point, it’s time to fill up your jars with your divinely sweet and spicy, apple-y concoction and cover them tightly with their lids.  Make sure you have some tongs and those oven mitts handy, because those jars will be hot.

Here are my jars relaxing in their water bath.

canning-jars-2

Again, using tongs, gently power the jars into the pot so that they are completely submerged in the boiling water.  Spread the jars out so they are not touching each other.   Boil them for at least ten minutes, and then carefully remove them from the pot, placing them on a dry kitchen towel to cool.  Let them cool for several hours.

Here’s what they will look like.

apple-butter-8

You will have to test the lids to make sure they are sealed.  You don’t want to make anybody sick.  And if you do, you don’t want anybody to be able to trace it back to you!  Gently press down on the top of the lids.  If a lid springs up when you release your finger, it is not properly sealed.  You can still enjoy the apple butter inside by keeping the jar in the fridge and consuming it within a few weeks.   If you’re interested, the USDA has an excellent free guide to home canning on the web.  It’s in PDF format, so you can save it on your computer and refer to it as needed.

apple-butter-10

So, how did my homemade apple butter compare with the ones from Pinecraft?  Extremely well, if I do say so, myself.  Honestly, it was heavenly!   Just look at it!  It had a rich, burnished, bronze color from the brown sugar and spices.  And, it had a deep and intense apple flavor with subtle hints of caramel.  The acid from the lemon juice was just enough to make the flavors pop without being harsh.  All in all, it was a very successful first foray into the wonderful world of canning.

If you’re the least bit apprehensive about making your own apple butter, don’t be.  I was too, but it really and truly couldn’t have been easier.  Sure it takes a little time, but most of it is passive time when you could be doing something else, like baking fresh scones to go along with it.  I can’t tell you the feeling of accomplishment I had when I made mine; or the sense of pride I felt when I shared a few jars with others.  Remember, the only thing you have to fear is fear itself.

irish-scones-4

 

Enjoy!

27 responses to Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble: Homemade Apple Butter Recipe

  1. On January 25, 2011 at 10:12am, Rosa said...

    Marvelous! I’d love to eat some of that apple butter on your equally wonderful scones…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. On January 25, 2011 at 10:39am, Peggy Clyde said...

    I love apple butter and have never made it. Thanks for this recipe.

  3. On January 25, 2011 at 11:49am, The Food Hunter said...

    Why haven’t I tried this yet…oh yeah I was waiting for your helpful instructions and words of encouragement. Thank You!

  4. On January 25, 2011 at 12:18pm, Meghan McCann said...

    Yum yum! Can’t wait to try some!

  5. On January 25, 2011 at 12:20pm, Lys ~ Cooking In Stilettos said...

    Love the pics and the recipe breaks it down nicely. Might have to attempt – thanks Susan!

  6. On January 25, 2011 at 12:39pm, Lucy said...

    Apple butter doesn’t seem to be a big thing where I live, but I wish it was as it looks gorgeous. Thank you for sharing a recipe!

  7. On January 25, 2011 at 2:16pm, ann marie said...

    jeez i live 30 minutes away and never even heard of Pinecraft. thanks for turning me onto that. the apple butter looks great. do you ever make the italian chistmas cookie thats filled with applebutter, crushed pineapple, crushed walnuts, chocolate chips, raisins and grape jelly? that are like little raviolis. i make them every year and people go insane over them.

    • On January 25, 2011 at 8:17pm, Susan said...

      Pinecraft has been here forever. Can’t believe you’ve never been! It’s in the Bahia Vista area between Shade and Honore. You have to try Yoder’s Restaurant. The best pies ever! And, they have a wonderful produce market too. :)

    • On January 29, 2011 at 1:11pm, Jerianne Hanks said...

      Can you get the recipe for those little Italian cookies with the filling?

  8. On January 25, 2011 at 11:35pm, Jean said...

    I’m so going to try this. Making jam/preserves is big item on my list this year but I’ve been afraid of the canning part. Thank you for making it seem so easy. :-)

  9. On January 26, 2011 at 5:03am, Joanne at Frutto della Passione said...

    That looks heavenly and I really want to try it. We go chestnut hunting and apple picking every October and this is a fabulous way to use up all those apples. I do have a quick question though. Do you think I could substitute apple juice for cider? It is not easy to find here (I’ve never seen it except very rarely in some bar up in the Alps) and I would like to find a suitable substitute without losing too much taste. Gorgeous photos by the way!

    • On January 26, 2011 at 8:39am, Susan said...

      Thanks, Joanne! Hmmm. I think the main difference between fresh cider and apple juice is that juice is pasteurized and cider is not. If you use a good unsweetened apple juice, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. You’re basically just reducing it down to concentrate the flavors. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

  10. On January 26, 2011 at 8:33am, Priyanka said...

    Wow….such a lovely jam….I doubt if I can ever make this

    • On January 26, 2011 at 8:40am, Susan said...

      Sure, you can! :)

  11. On January 26, 2011 at 10:48am, SMITH BITES said...

    there is something mysterious and satisfying about being able to can your own food – LOVE having jars of jams, jellies and fruits in my pantry that I’ve made myself!

  12. On January 26, 2011 at 1:18pm, Jacqueline said...

    The one and only time I’ve had an overwhelming urge to can something was when I was hugely pregnant during fall apple season, and I decided to make apple butter. I chopped and stirred and canned for about eight hours, and then fell into bed, completely exhausted. A few hours later, I went into labor, and by the next morning I had my baby girl in my arms, two weeks earlier than expected. I knew I had my canning project to thank for the early delivery, and I’ll always have a special fondness for apple butter!

  13. On February 18, 2011 at 2:07pm, Penny said...

    This is a staple item in my family for so many generations I can’t even tell you! I have made it myself for at least 50 years from a recipe booklet my mother got from Ball Canning Jars. However I have discovered that it’s easier to cook it in my turkey roaster in the OVEN. Just put all the ingredients in the big pan and set it in the oven (I put it directly on the pizza stone) then stir it up about every 15 minutes. You’ll know when it’s done – it’s thicker and bubbly and brown. Way less mess on top of the stove! I have gotten lazy about canning in my old age but this is the one item I still do can. The spices are never right in the stuff they sell anyplace!

  14. On November 15, 2011 at 9:04pm, Kayla said...

    Maybe this is a silly question, but how long will the jars keep if they ARE sealed properly? I have never canned anything before, but love apple butter! I am making this recipe as we speak!

  15. On August 01, 2012 at 6:33pm, click here to see the attached photos said...

    Have you ever thought about writing an e-book or guest authoring on other sites?
    I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information.
    I know my readers would value your work. If you are even
    remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

  16. On August 15, 2012 at 11:49am, Douglas W. Jones said...

    All the apple butter recipes I’ve seen ask for added sugar. I’ve got a surplus of apples this summer (Iowa’s drought seems to have done no damage to the apple and pear crop in my neighborhood), so I’ve been making apple butter as follows:

    Peel and core apples and pears and shred the fruit with a food processor until you have 10 cups of coarse uncooked sauce. I use the shredder attachment on the food processor for this.

    Boil the apple peels with a small amount of water while you puree the apple shreds into a finer grade of apple sauce using the food processor blade.

    Use the food processor to coarsely chop the boiled apple peels, then force as much sauce from the peels as you can get, pressing it through a large strainer into a bowl using a ladle to press out the juice. The purpose of this step is to get a fair amount of pectin out of the peels. Discard the pomace (apple waste) that you can’t force through the strainer. Then, using the same strainer and the same procedure, strain the cider out of 4 cups of uncooked apple sauce. Again, discard the pomace. It’s not well-filtered citer, but the point is to cut down on the pulp to prevent the apple butter from getting too thick.

    Add the cider and pectin you recovered (about 2 cups) to the remaining 6 cups of raw apple sauce and then set to work boiling it down to reduce its volume to 4 cups. I do this over high heat in a flat bottomed stock pot, stirring with a potato masher — the masher is flat like the bottom of the pot, so it maximizes the scraping of the pot, an important thing to do to prevent burning. You’re boiling it down to concentrate the natural sugars enough that there’s no need to add sugar.

    Keep boiling until you have 4 cups of apple butter. Your goal is to boil it until it thickens to the point that, when you stir it, it does not flow and leaves the bottom of the pan exposed in stripes behind your stirer, and then keep going until the sugar begins to carmelize. Turn the flame down to low every time you step away from the stove. If you want to take a break longer than a few minutes, turn the flame off and put a lid on the pot. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the pot overnight and finishing the apple butter in the morning.

    Optionally, you can add cinnamon and ginger (perhaps half a teaspoon), but if you start with good strong-flavored apples, it doesn’t need much spicing. I’ve made 3 batches so far this summer.

    The one difficulty I’ve had with this recipe is packing it into canning jars without air bubbles. The sauce is so thick that it is easy to trap air in the canning jars, leading to problems when you try to can it.

    • On August 21, 2013 at 4:20pm, Douglas W. Jones said...

      Again, I have a surplus of apples. Last year (as I posted here), I made extensive use of power tools like blenders and food processors to sauce my apples before making apple butter. This year, I’ve given up on power tools. They’re more work then they’re worth. Steam the sliced apples in a steamer over an inch or so of boiling water, then process into sauce:

      a) Use a large sieve and a soup ladle. Ladle one scoop of steamed apples into the sieve, then use the ladle as a pestle to mash the apple sauce through. The seeds, skin and stems will stay behind in the sieve, scrape out the pomace and process the next ladle-load.

      b) Use a food mill. In my experience, this isn’t any faster, but you work with larger quantities and you don’t work as hard.

      Steaming the apples extracts quite a bit of clear apple juice, and by the end of steaming what was originally 10 pounds of apples, the juice in the steamer was boiled down into a moderately thick sirup. I didn’t want to lose the sugar and flavor from that sirup, so I blended it into my applesauce.

      Boiling the applesauce down to apple butter was simply a matter of boiling and stirring until it thickened. Initially, the sauce is runny, it flows between the squiggles of the potato masher I used for stirring. By the time the volume has been reduced by half, it’s thick and you can pick up a chunk of it from the pot using the potato masher.

      This year, I used 100 percent crabapples. I believe the variety might bo Dolgo (1 to 2 inches in diameter, yellow when ripe enough to eat, with about half of them turning crimson by the time they’re on the edge of over-ripe). They are both sweet and tart, so much so that there was absolutely no need to add any spices or sugar to the apple butter. 10 pounds of crabapples makes about 5 cups of apple butter. It’s really hard to call it a recipe when the ingredients list is just one item, apples, but the trick is in how you process them.

  17. On August 25, 2012 at 3:47pm, Catherine said...

    I’ve used this recipe twice now and find it fool proof and simple. Thank you so very much for the directions! The apple butter is fantastic, and I love the idea of heating the jars in the oven instead of boiling them as in years past. I look forward to using your other recipes.

  18. On October 11, 2012 at 9:21pm, Kelly said...

    Great recipe. I’ve always made crab apple butter and made apple pie in a can, so this is a new twist for my family. I would like to say that when you hear the “pop”, that an indicator of a good seal. You want to hear the pop. No pop??…proof of a bad seal. This is true for soup, tomatoes, other jams, green beans, etc. I can often and cry when I don’t hear it. Otherwise, I think this batch is going to be awesome!

  19. On August 10, 2013 at 5:12pm, Krista said...

    ive done this in a crock pot and i think i will do it in a regular pot next time as with the crock it takes at least 10 hours and im horrible impatient

  20. On August 21, 2013 at 2:02pm, Emily said...

    I could Literslly kiss you for posting all if this info! EVERYTHING I need to know being a beginner at canning and making apple butter! I have so many apples coming off our apple tree I didn’t know what to do with them! I’ve been coring, peeling, slicing, blanching for a few mins and then freezing on cookie sheets. Will these still work for making good apple butter? Ps I also love the idea of carmelling by adding the brown sugar! Fantastic!! Thank you!!

  21. On September 27, 2013 at 5:14pm, Klaus said...

    Just made this and added a few of our spectacular pears and used our homemade cider in it too. SCRUMPDILLYISHOUS!!!!

  22. On October 10, 2013 at 9:10pm, Julian Carter said...

    Oops! Re Macbeth’s Witches: That’s ‘Double, double, toil and trouble…’ and the ingredients are listed in the lines: ‘…eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog…’, etc. Nothing about apples, I fear. But your offering is, I’m sure, much more palatable.

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Hello and welcome to SGCC! I’m Susan, a professional writer, food columnist, recipe developer, wife, mother, daughter and sister, who used to be a lawyer in a previous life. My love of food comes from a long line of wonderful and creative Italian home cooks who didn’t always have a lot, but knew how to make a lot out of what they had. I hope that you enjoy yourself while you’re here, and visit often! read more >>

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