Saturday, September 27, 2008

Crockpot Apple Butter

Enough politics! It's fall and the apples are here. Millions and millions of apples are rolling in from the Georgia mountains but it is apple season everywhere. It is the time to capture some of that goodness and apples won't be better or cheaper until next fall. One of the greatest gifts our German ancestors brought to America was Apple Butter. Traditionally it was a time when neighbors would get together and have a big day making gallons and gallons of apple butter over open fires in big copper pots. Most of us don't have the time or the equipment to make apple butter in the traditional way but you can make your own apple butter using a crockpot.

To get you in the spirit let me quote from the Genesse Farmer of 1839 which gives a lovely account of a rural farmstead during the fall when the apples are at their peak.

The host should in the autumn invite his neighbors, particularly the young men and maidens, to make up an apple butter party. Being assembled, let three bushels of fair sweet apples be pared, quartered and the cores removed. Meanwhile, let two barrels of new cider be boiled down to one half. When this is done, commit the prepared apples to the cider, and henceforth let the boiling go on briskly and systematically. But to accomplish the main design. the party must take turns at stirring the contents without cessation, that they do not become attached to the side of the kettle and be burned. Let this stirring go on till the liquid becomes concrete-in other words, till the amalgamated cider and apples become as thick as hasty pudding.
Now to make your own crockpot apple butter:

A 5 quarts or so nice apples(I like tart apples) which should nicely fill your 5 quart crockpot when peeled, cored and chopped into small chunks. I actually fill my crockpot until it almost over flows since the apples will cook down quite a bit. To the apples add 2-4 cups(depends on how sweet your apples are but I usually split the difference and use 3 cups) of granulated sugar and I actually like to use natural sugar and 1/2 cup of sorghum syrup. (You might have to look around for sorghum syrup and if you can't find it you can use light unsulphured molasses) Add 4 teaspoons of good ground cinammon and a 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg. Some people add a half teaspoon of ground cloves as well but this is a personal taste and I like it both ways.

Set the crockpot on high and cook covered for an hour then turn it to low. Stir and cook covered for another 23 hours or so, stirring every few hours. Yes, it is a long time but this is what it takes. When the apples have become soft enough after a few hours, take a potato masher and break them up. If they look too "liquidy" then leave the lid tipped for a while until they thicken. The mixture should turn a nice dark brown as it cooks and become pretty smooth. Depending on the apples you might have to use a hand blender to smooth out the texture. It should be nice and smooth and not chunky. Once it is done you can jar it up and can it(see note below) or keep it refridgerated. Once you taste it on hot biscuits you will be making this every fall.

An old man up the creek from my Mom used to make apple butter every fall and put it up in quart jars. If you were lucky enough to time it just right he would sell you a couple of jars for five bucks or so. It would go fast so timing was everything. This was made in the traditional way, in a big copper kettle over a hardwood fire and stirred and simmered all day and night. It was absolutely heaven which is where he is probably making it now.

This is a recipe adapted way back when (1998) from an article in the Atlanta paper about Joe Dabney who won a James Beard award for his cookbook Smokehouse Ham, Spoonbread, & Scuppernong Wine. If you want to learn something about Appalachian Mountain cooking this is a great resource.

NOTE: If you are canning this, put into 1/2 pint clean, sterilized jars and seal while hot, then process half-pints or pints 5 minutes in boiling water canner. 1,001 feet to 6,000 feet, process for 10 minutes, and above 6,000 feet, 15 minutes.

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