Monday, November 15, 2010

Apple butter

     As I mentioned earlier, every family gathering has something someone canned. Home made pickles, preserves, conserves, jams, jellies and just about every fruit or vegetable you can imagine. Unfortunately, prime canning season has passed but there are a few things you can make all year round.

     I started canning a few years ago, for a few different reasons. I try and eat relatively well/ healthy. I read labels and find a lot of commercial options full of things I don't necessarily want; colour, preservatives, artificial flavours and so on. The range of things you can get is a little limited and finally many of the products just don't compare to what you have made yourself.

     What I enjoy most about canning your own things is the variety and uniqueness you can create. The following apple butter recipe can be made all year round and is a simple introduction to the wonderful world of home preserves. First I'll give the base, unaltered recipe, then my variations, what I use it for and for any novices at canning a brief explanation of some terms and an equipment list.

Apple Butter

5-6 pounds apples, peeled, cored and sliced.
4 cups sugar*
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of salt

*I have never used this much sugar, usually between 2-3 cups and no salt, just my personal preference

Mix all the ingredients together and put into a slow cooker. Cover and cook the apples on high for about an hour. Reduce heat to low and let cook for another 10 hours or so. The apples will darken as they cook and release a lot of juice. When the apples have softened, I use my little immersion blender, right in the slow cooker, no extra dishes to wash, and puree the apples until smooth. Some of the top apples may have dried a little but will cook out fine in the puree. At this point, the pureed apples should still be pretty saucy looking. If that is how you like it you can can it right then. I uncover mine, turn the heat back to high and cook it until it reduces a little or a lot depending on how runny it is. This usually takes about an hour but can take much longer. I look for a consistency somewhere between tomato sauce and tomato paste, a spoonful will hold it's shape. After it is the consistency you like, pour it into sterile containers, cover, then refrigerate or freeze after it has cooled.

     If you want to can it, which is what I do, pour the hot apple butter into sterile containers, leave about a 1/2 inch head space, cover with the lid, then tighten the band to finger tip tightness. Place in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, remove, cool and you're done. The lid will ping as the jar cools, that's how you know you have a good seal. The lid should be a little bowed in and not move if you press it lightly with your finger. If it pops up and down, you have a bad seal and the jar should be refrigerated and used in a week or so. If properly canned, this will last up to a year and should be stored in a cool, dark space.


     This is the part I like, making the recipe my own. Play with the sugar, I almost always reduce the amount of sugar in my cooking, by as much as half (I'm already so sweet).  

     Change the sweetener, you can use brown sugar-1/2 cup firmly packed, 3/4 cup of honey, or 1 1/2 cups of corn syrup, maple syrup or molasses for every cup of white sugar. I love it with honey or maple syrup. I get both from my dad, in bulk and very inexpensively so you can also combine the sweeteners if you are trying to be more cost effective. Use honey or maple syrup for only one cup of the sugar and you will still taste the change. All of these increase the amount of liquid so will also increase the cooking time to reduce it.

     Use different spices, apples go with just about any spice so if you don't like cinnamon use nutmeg or allspice, throw in a little mace or star anise instead of cloves or don't use any spice at all and just savour the taste of the apples. You now have your very own creation. Every different type of apple will give a different taste as well so be adventurous and try whatever you like.


     I use this for everything; cookies, as a glaze for pork or poultry, on muffins or toast or as a sweetener in other recipes like BBQ sauce or pumpkin pie. I also give this as gifts. People are amazed and really appreciate the effort, well, as long as they like what you've made.

Canning 101

     For any first timers, a little explanation about canning. Modern canning jars, or sealer or mason jars, whatever you call them, have three pieces; the jar, the lid which has a little rubber ring on it and the band to hold the lid down.

     Head space is just the distance from the top of the jar. General rule, fill to the bottom of the rings for the screw top band.

     Finger tip tightness is just that, tightened with your finger tips. If you over tighten the band, the air can't escape and you will buckle the lid or break the jar (yes, I've done that so I know).

     To sterilize your jars, there are a couple of methods, I always use a boiling water bath, submerge completely in boiling water for 10 minutes. To sterilize the lids place them in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Don't leave them boiling, you don't want to over soften the rubber band and ruin the lid. You don't have to sterilize the bands, they don't touch the food.


     For canning you should have an agate canner. They are the speckled stock pots that have the wire inserts inside to hold your jars off the bottom of the pot. You can use a regular stock pot but you have to have a rack of some sort to raise the jars off the bottom or they will crack when you are processing them.

     You need jars, they are available in just about every hardware store in a variety of shapes and sizes. The jars and bands are reusable but I always use new lids. The rubber bands wear and scratch so if they are damaged they don't seal properly and your hard work is wasted.

     A canning kit is also nice to have. It contains a jar funnel, lifter, tongs and a lid lifter. I got mine at Home Hardware four years ago for less than twenty dollars, so not a big investment and they last well. The jar funnel is great, clumsy, enough said, the jar and lid lifter are also good because you are working with boiling water so reduce the burn risk and the tongs , well who can't use a set of tongs in the kitchen.

     For this recipe a slow cooker is nice to have. You can use a stock pot and watch it for eleven hours as you reduce the recipe but really?

     An immersion blender is also good to have but you can use a whisk, if you have the forearms of a wrestler and the patience of a saint. I have neither.

     I also have an apple peeler and highly recommend getting one. It seems silly, who can't peel an apple with a knife, but if you are doing a lot of apples it is amazing what a time saver it is. My little one from Starfrit was less than ten dollars and came with a replacement blade and an apple corer that sections the apple as well.

     So there you have it. I know canning can seem intimidating. I grew up around it and was still daunted to try it on my own so I understand any trepidation you may have. In my opinion the rewards out way the risks, so be daring and give it a try. Once you taste the results, I'm sure you'll agree it was well worth the effort.


  1. Oh my. I LOVE apple butter. I'll make sure to give your recipe a whirl! Thanks!

    1. This is the easiest recipe, probably the easiest thing I make, well other than plum jam but.... This always goes fast and my favourite is sweetened with maple syrup. Tastes like caramel apples.


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