I was craving apple butter (and pumpkin butter) the other day, and couldn't find an Instructable made specifically for this! Apple butter is basically highly concentrated apple sauce; by slow cooking the sauce, the sugar in the apples begins to caramelize, giving it a great taste and it's brown color. It also has a much longer shelf life, and to me is just as versatile.
There is NO DAIRY in apple butter; the name "butter" in the title merely refers to the consistency. Smooth and buttery. I personally crave anything with spices in it during the fall/winter months, and I really wanted something to slather on biscuits the other morning. NOMS!
So here it is. Easy crock pot apple butter! It makes a really great present, and if you learn to do canning (it's really easy too) it can last for quite some time and looks pretty when packaged up nice.
Note about apples: some apple varieties work better than others. I like a blend of tart apples like Granny Smith, Winesap, and Arkansas Blacks. Other good choices are Jonathan, Stayman, Golden Delicious or Macintosh. You may want to experiment with different varieties or blends!
You will need:
Apples; it takes POUNDS and pounds of apples to make butter. I made around 3 pints using about 10 pounds of apples.
A small lemon or two
• Table sugar (regular granulated or turbinado)
• Brown Sugar
• Pumpkin Pie spice (blend of cinnamon, ground ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, cloves, and cardamom)
• Crock pot
• Surface to cut on
• Apple corer tool (optional)
• Vegetable peeler
• Jars with sealable lids
(EDIT: I'll try to get a better thumbnail preview image, I dislike this stock image one.)
Step 1: Step One: Preparing Your Apples
The first step is to prepare your apples.
I used the following for this step
- Cutting board
- Sharp Knife
- Vegetable peeler
- Apple corer tool (optional)
After washing, go ahead and use your vegetable peeler to skin those apples. (Image 2)
Once all the apples have been peeled, chop the apples.
If you have an apple corer tool as I do, use it now.
Using the corer takes a bit of practice to get used to the process, but it's pretty simple. Place the spikey teeth of the corer over the stem/core area of the apple. Press down enough so it leaves an impression. Now press down harder on the corer, sometimes you need to twist as you do this. The corer tool should poke through the bottom of the apples. (Image 4)
On some types of apples the tool melts through like butter, such as these Gala apples shown. But others, like the Granny Smith or Arkansas Blacks are tough to rip through and might need some additional help. Anyway pull the corer out of the apple; you should have just taken out the core with the seeds.
If you don't have this tool, when you half the apples, just cut away the core and seed parts.
Once you have all the apples peeled and cored or halved, then CHOP AWAY. (Image 5)
Seriously this was the most tedious part for me - CUTTING and cutting and cutting at over 10 pounds of apples. The pieces don't have to look professional or be uniform in size, but the smaller the better. If you had a food processor, I imagine that might help this step along. (Image 6)
As you chop up all the apples, throw them in a bowl squeezing lemon over the chunks periodically. Not only will it keep the apples from browning (nothing wrong with that flavor-wise, but it's ookier to look at for awhile), but the acidity makes the butter darned tasty.
Step 2: Step Two: Crock Pot Setup
Step Two: setting up the crock pot
The second step is very easy. I realize that for this Instructable you'll see two different crock pots; this is because I photographed parts of the steps from two different butter batches I did in the same week.
Anyway you'll need a crock pot, the sugar, spices, and of course apples for this part. (Image 1) Turn the crock pot onto a low setting; I don't recommend the "warm" setting if you have it. Low is best.
Here is one of the most important things about apple butter; sugar and spices are usually to taste. That means that you don't HAVE to use as much sugar as I do. If you don't add ANY it won't really be apple butter, but that's not really the point right now. ;)
For the 10 pounds of apples, I used a little over two cups of sugar, and it was pretty sweet.
Here are the basic measurements I used for this batch:
• 2 pounds apples
• Under 1/4 cup table sugar
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
• Sprinkling of cinnamon
(the amount of pumpkin pie spice is so slight that it would be to taste in this smaller batch volume)
Pour your chopped apple pieces into the crock pot. (Image 2) On top of my 10 pounds of apples I poured about 1/2 cup table sugar (I don't care for this flavor as much as brown sugar), the juice of two lemons, 2 cups of brown sugar, a VERY generous teaspoon cinnamon, and I started with half a teaspoon of my pumpkin pie mixture. I eventually added sprinklings more, but this was to taste and not by measurement. (Image 3)
After you put all the ingredients on top of the apples, mix away. (Image 4) It doesn't have to be fully mixed right now, but make sure you give it a good stir. Cover the mixture with the crock pot lid and step away.
That's right, just leave it be! You can look through the top of the crock pot if it's clear and see how it's doing. It shouldn't be burning or smoking or anything. But other than that, you basically just let the mixture bubble down for a couple of hours. :)
Step 3: Step Three: Cooking Down the Mixture
Step Three: cooking down the apples
After a several hours have gone by, the apple pieces should have begun to cook down a bit. Some people like the very very natural texture of apple butter at this stage, but I like to speed things along.
I carefully removed the apple mixture from the crock pot and blended it a bit in my food processor to help hurry along the creamy texture. You could hand blend or puree the apples too! I've even used a potato masher to help break down the apple pieces.
If you left out the spices from the last step, you could end on this step for some homemade applesauce! If you keep an eye on the mixture hour by hour you can tell what stage of thickness and texture you want for your applesauce. Blend to the consistency you like and voila! Great homemade applesauce.
But we want apple butter. Take the blended apple mixture and put it back into the crock pot, this time leave the lid off. At the time I returned the mixture to the crock pot, I wasn't fully happy with the spice level so I added more pumpkin pie spice-just a dash! (Image 1)
Then leave the applesauce to thicken up a bit for a couple more hours (keep an eye on it every so often). After a couple hours you can see the results! It's darkened up a lot and now it's thick almost like peanut butter. OH MY!
Step 4: Step Four: Finishing Up
Step Four: Finishing up!
After the apples have cooked down into butter, you're going to want to store the butter; it always seems easier to make larger amounts of this than smaller amounts, so might as well store some up!
I used glass pint jars with canning rings and seals, but you can use any jar or even plastic tubs. As you can see in the picture I also used a few canning supplies, but that's another Instructable. (Image 1)
You can use a giant spoon to scoop the butter into your jar of choice. I used a funnel and plastic serving spoon.
I sat the funnel in the jar, then scooped out the apple butter from the crock pot and tossed it into the jar until it was filled 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. (Image 2)
Once jars are filled, make sure you clean the glass rims; this keeps the seal clean.Then I put the seal cap on, and tightened it into place with the canning cap ring. (Images 3 and 4)
If you're going to eat this butter fairly quickly, you can end with this step. Butter should be refrigerated and lasts up to two weeks if you're using airtight jars.
You could also can these glass jars and keep the butter in sealed jars for months! Follow the next couple steps if you want to can the apple butter.
Step 5: Step Five: Canning the Jars (Optional)
Step Six: Canning the jars (optional)
I used glass pint size jars with new canning rings and seals. Make sure the rings are new! As you can see in the pictures I also used a few canning supplies, but you don't really need many supplies.
I found canning at home pretty easy. You should give it a try sometime! I used this Instructable for some canning tips, but here is a really quick breakdown of what I personally did to can the apple butter.
1. Make sure you've left some space at the top of the jar.
2. Gently pat the jar down a few times to allow air bubbles to rise to the top of the butter.
3. Get out a pot for your stove that is taller than your jar. This is critical. There should be at least three inches or so of space ABOVE the top of your jar in the pot. I tested my pots by putting the jars in the bottom to see how much space above them there would be.
4. Fill the pot with water leaving only an inch or so from the top. REMEMBER that an inch of water has to be ABOVE the jar. Turn the stove on to medium-high heat until the water starts to boil (this might take some time).
5. If you don't have a canning tray (I don't have one), gently drop a hand towel or some fabric that isn't too thin into the pot. Use a utensil to make sure the towel will sit at the bottom of the pot. (Image 1)
6. Use tongs to gently lower the jars into the boiling water and set them down on the towel. I bought a canning kit very similar to this one that came with a jar lifter. It was really helpful! I recommend getting one if you want to do several cans; it's not expensive and very useful. (Images 2 and 3)
7. If you are canning multiple jars, make sure there is an inch of space between each can. They shouldn't be touching each other! And make sure there is at least an inch of water above the jars. (Image 4)
8. Put the lid on the pot and keep it boiling over medium heat. It's recommended for this type of canning to leave the jars to boil for at least 15 minutes. I left them for 20. There is no harm in letting them boil for more than 15 minutes.
9. Use the tongs (or jar lifter) to carefully pull the jars out of the pot and set them on a heat-resistant surface where they won't be touched or knocked over. (Images 5 and 6)
10. Wait until jar has cooled enough for the touch. Gently press on the top of the jar where the lid is. You should NOT be able to press down and have the center of the lid pop down. You shouldn't be able to hear a pop sound. It should be tough to press it down.
(If you do, put the jar back into the boiling water for another 10 minutes. If the lid doesn't click after this second boil, it means there was something wrong with the lid or the canning process. It won't be able to be stored for months on end, but it will hold up in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks.)
11. That's it! If the lids are sealed and the jar has cooled, you're done! A jar of pumpkin butter that will last for months. After you OPEN the jar of course, the butter will need to be kept in the fridge and will last a week or two (if you don't eat it all by then!).
Step 6: Finished!
Last Step: Prettying up your jars
I made up some rectangular labels (3" x 2") and some circular labels (2" diameter) for my jars. The 2" circle fits perfectly on the top of the jars, and the rectangular labels add a nice touch to the side of the jar. I included ingredients and a date so I'd remember when I canned these. (Images 5 and 6)
These jars can make great holiday gifts, especially if you have access to a lot of good quality apples! You can also add a nice ribbon and decorative tag around the jar, or tie down a piece of cloth over the top for an olde-charm sort of look. (Image 7) The other jar is homemade pumpkin butter I made using very similar methods as this Instructable. If you want to see how to make that, head over to my Pumpkin Butter Instructable. It also has basic jar canning directions if you want to do that as well.
Hope you enjoy; I made this batch a couple weeks ago and I've already eaten or shared this whole batch! Time to make more...! :D