sassy apple butter

There are a number of apple orchards here in covelo, and autumn is apple time.  we’ve been helping out with the harvest at asherim orchards in exchange for a few gallons of fresh pressed cider.  there is something about being up in an apple tree early in the morning listening to the red wing blackbirds shout their greetings.  our friends betsy and jim are cider enthusiasts and we recently received a gallon and a half of 'sweet cider' from them: partially fermented, slightly alcoholic cider.  as it turns out we’re more fans of the dry hard cider… so what to do?  having recently experimented w/ an apple butter recipe, i got the idea to use the sweet cider in place of the plain cider, shift up the spices, adjust the amounts of apples and add a bit of salt .  woah, pretty neat.  on it’s own, apple butter is an ode to fall touting the rich flavors of autumn, with the addition of the sweet cider it became a sassy-explosion of mouth shaped fashion.  this recipe works perfect with unfermented cider, it just wont be quite as sassy. 

1/2 gallon sweet cider or fresh press, or something good & organic off the shelf

15 (or so) med apples:  i used  a mix of granny smith, pippin, and toms red

1 tsp ginger

1/2 cup rapadura sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon (great technique is to buy cinnamon chunks and grind them to a powder in a blender or coffee grinder just before using)

1 tsp fresh ground nutmeg (or cloves)

1/2 tsp sea salt

1 lemon -juiced

Peel, core and chunk up the apples.  toss into a pot and just cover w/ cider.  this proves harder than it sounds as the apples float in the cider!  if, by chance, if your proportions are off, either add more apples or less cider, no big deal.  bring to a boil, skim off a good bit of the skum, then simmer till soft, about 15-25 minutes.

You’re gonna want to blend the whole mess at this point.  turn off the heat, let it cool a bit and blend in batches.  too much hot liquid in a blender can equal explosion (i fill my vitamix blender 3/4 of the way full, put the main lid on, removing the little lid on top).  blend to a thick puree.

Return to the pan and bring to a medium simmer.  meaning bubbles, not lots but enough.  stirring, add the sugar, spices, salt and lemon juice.  keeping heat continuous, simmer down the apple puree till it thickens, 1-3 hours, stirring on the occasion, keeping it from getting burny on the bottom of the pan.  the color will darken, the bubbles will begin to sound dense and your entire house will smell absolutely delicious.

Meanwhile, place your mason jars in the oven at 225 degrees for 20 minutes.  wash lids, towel dry and set aside (lids don’t go in oven). 

Carefully fill each hot jar to 1/4 inch from the top.  wipe sides and top clean w/ a paper towel or cloth and screw on the lid finger tight.  your jars are ready to preserve, or, if you are gonna eat soon, let cool to room temp before transferring to the fridge.

You can process your jars of apple butter two different ways:

1.  hot water bath:  bring a very large pot of water (preferably a canner) to boil.  place jars in the water (must cover the top of jar by at least 1 inch) and return to boil.  process in boiling water for ten minutes.  carefully remove (there is a special tool, we always use tongs) and set on the counter to cool for twelve hours or overnight.  do not disturb. 

2.  ‘brandons method’:  keep oven at 225 degrees, place the ready jars into the oven and “bake” for 45 minutes.  turn off heat.  it is easiest at this point to leave the jars in the oven overnight or for twelve hours.

The little lids ping as each jar seals, like a tinny "hooray."  before gifting away or storing your jars of apple butter, make sure the lid has sealed (won’t move up and down when you press on it)... a no seal just means store in the fridge and eat sooner than later