Tuesday, October 7, 2014

How Does Autumn Taste? Like Apple Butter....

I have three apple trees in my back yard—Gala, Golden Delicious, and King-- and this year they produced abundantly. Seriously: I invited the neighbors to come and pick their fill, and I still had apples coming out of my ears. Several boxes are in the basement fridge, and I’ve made applesauce and apple butter and baked a couple of pies. The apple butter came out beautifully, and as one of my friends asked me to share the process, I'm happy to oblige.

  • Apple Butter Hint #1: I prefer the stove-top process for making apple butter. Lots of people today make apple butter in the oven or in a crock pot, but I still cling to doing it like my grandmother used to. Go ahead--call me silly. It makes me feel connected, so there you go. That said, you need a big, deep kettle-- 8-10 quarts is ideal. The broader the kettle-- the more surface area on the bottom of the pan, and the quicker the process.

I started with 5.5 lbs of peeled and cored golden delicious and King apples (weighed with a food scale). I chopped these fine in my food processor and put them into a kettle with 2 C. of water.

  • ABH #2: The finer you chop the apples, the more quickly they'll begin to soften and cook down. However, if you puree them too early, their cooking will look more like what happens in a Yellowstone National Park mud pot, with huge, appley "bloops" that shoot molten apples all around the kitchen. Save the pureeing for late in the process.

Bring the apples and water to a quick boil over moderately high heat. Then, turn it down so it's just barely simmering-- we're talking very, very low heat-- the very lowest setting you can manage without turning the burner off. From this point, you'll want to stir the contents every half hour or so. The fruit has to be hot enough to soften and, eventually, for the moisture to begin evaporating. This is important: you're cooking the apples, but even more you're keeping them hot enough for the water to simmer off slowly.... Slowly. Stirring it helps this process and also keeps the mixture from sticking.

And this is where patience comes in, because the stove top method is a very slow process-- slow as in many hours required. My batch took most of the waking hours of two days time-- probably about 16-18 hours all together. That's what I said: patience. Always a good exercise, yes?

At the end of day one, turn the burner off, cover it, and just leave it on the stove overnight. When you get up the next morning, turn the burner back on and get it going again. The apple butter will thicken and begin to turn a deep brown. At this point, it's time to add sugar and spices.

  • ABH #3: Don't add the sugar too early in the process as it will make the mixture much more likely to scorch. The sugar could also caramelize if cooked too long, affecting the flavor of the apples.

To your batch of apples, add 1/2 C. sugar, 3/4 tsp. cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp. each ground allspice and ground cloves. Stir well, and keep cooking. At some point in here, you'll want to puree the mixture. The easiest way to do this is with an immersion blender (no kitchen should be without one), but you can also cool the mixture slightly and puree it in a blender or food processor.

How will you know when it's done? Scoop up a spoonful and give it a look: it should hold its shape and be easily spreadable. If too "dry," it'll be pasty and sticky-- in this case, add a bit more water, one tablespoon at a time. If too wet, cook it a bit longer. Once you're pretty sure it's done, give it the ultimate test: make a piece of toast and try it out! Adjust the seasonings and sugar as necessary.

From this point, it'll keep in the fridge for a few weeks and in the freezer for a year. You can also water-bath can the butter, which is what I did. To give you an idea of how much the apples cook down, see the difference (above) between the finely chopped apples when I started and the final product, which cooked down to about 4 cups of apple butter. There's a nice metaphor buried in there about the fruits of one's labors being ever so much more appreciated when they come with hard work.

It's a labor of love, indeed, and so worth it! Good apple butter is tart-sweet, smooth, silky, cinnamony, and just plain wonderful. Add magick by stirring deosil as you work and by telling family stories over the kettle, as my grandmother used to do. Work your own energy into the mixture, tell it your stories, and it will nurture you in the months to come.

Fun for the kids: cut an apple in half around its "equator" to reveal the hidden pentacle inside. Apples are deeply regarded in the magickal community, linked to takes of Avalon, dreams of prosperity, and even to entry into the Faery world. May your orchards be fertile and your life much-blessed!

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