Apple butter has its roots with the Pennsylvania Dutch, dating back
to the 1700s, when the process of cooking apples down to a thick paste
meant it could be stored as canned apple butter without spoiling during
the long winter months.
Despite its name, apple butter contains no dairy and instead earned its name from its spreadable consistency. In fact, sweeteners and spices aside, an apple butter recipe has just one ingredient. Hint: It’s not soylent green.
With little more than a slow cooker and a few pounds of apples,
making apple butter at home couldn’t be easier. And your house will
smell so good the apple butter itself may just be a sweet bonus at the
end of the long, slow cook.
Mix it up! Using a blend of both tart and sweet apples with a bias
toward the sweet will give your apple butter a more complicated flavor
profile and you may even skip adding sugar or spices. I used a
combination of Granny Smith, Fuji, and Golden Delicious in equal
amounts, but just about any type will work.
Peel, core and chop 6 pounds of apples and add to your slow cooker with just enough water (or better still, apple cider) to cover the bottom to prevent the apples from scorching.
Cook on high heat for 1 hour.
After an hour, stir the pot. This stuff should look look a lot like applesauce at this point. Apple butter is basically applesauce that has been cooked down, thickening as the moisture cooks away.
Spice it up
Add brown sugar and spices to taste. Some recipes call for up to 2 cups of sugar, but I generally skip adding any sweetener. Using sweet apples allows you to skip the added calories, although it may increase your cook time to achieve the desired thickness. Add “fall” spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, or allspice ½ tsp at a time until you have something you like.
Remember that these flavors will intensify as the apple butter cooks down, so don’t go overboard.
Low and slow
Turn the heat to low and go to work or to bed. It will take roughly
10 to 12 hours to cook down. Check on your pot occasionally the last
couple of hours. Apple butter should turn a warm dark brown color.
The home stretch
When it seems like it’s getting close, whisk for a smoother apple
butter and turn the heat up to high and cook for another hour with the
lid partially removed to allow steam to escape. Turn off heat when
desired consistency is reached.
Serve it up
Apple butter makes a terrific topper for toast, biscuits or pancakes
but also adds a seasonal kick stirred into oatmeal or yogurt.
For a tangy take on savory dishes, apple butter can also be used as a
glaze for pork loin or ham and will add an unexpected twist when used
as a condiment for turkey or grilled cheese sandwiches.
Save it for a snowy day
Apple butter is a great candidate for preserving the harvest. Packed into sterilized pint jars and processed in a water bath for ten minutes will keep you in apple butter all year long.
If you have the freezer space, apple butter can also be sealed in an airtight container or ziploc bag and frozen indefinitely.