The Great Apple Butter Experiment: Part 1

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ingredients and Preparation

A while back one of my girlfriends asked me about apple butter.  She shared the same frustration so many of us have with supermarket foods: the store options all contained High Fructose Corn Syrup.

I felt naked, y'all. Because while I do have significant square footage designated to canning equipment and supplies - and I may lose my redneck license for admitting this - I'd never actually made apple butter

But I'm game for anything in the kitchen, so we quickly decided to conduct the experiment together. Which turned into making it a great big thing with half a dozen girlfriends, which turned into a comic opera of planning and procurement. Not that any of us minded. Countless people asked for the recipe at the time (and since - can't believe it's been 3 years).  The catch was that we experimented with multiple versions across multiple batches, so it took a while for us to taste them all and decide which version we preferred.

Now that we've finally eaten our way through all 94 jars and I put this year's apple picking on my calendar, my thoughts turned to the pile of apple butter post-it notes stashed in my recipe binder.

(Yes, I said 94. Jars of apple butter. Because the crazy people who live in my head believe anything worth doing is worth way the fuck overdoing.)


After painstakingly reviewing dozens of recipes on the interwebz, carefully choosing our ingredients and making 9 variant batches, this is the recipe we settled on:

Honey Apple Butter

This is the 100 pounds of apples that made our first 94 jars.

10 lbs apples1,2; peeled, cored and sliced3
3 cups apple cider4
1 1/4 cup honey5
2 tsp cinnamon6
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg7
pinch of kosher salt


(1) I recommend sourcing your apples like this. But if you don't have a small child to provide free labor, your local orchard and/or farm stand will be happy to sell you bulk apples.  Many will offer a steep discount for a bushel of bruised specimens, which is ideal for this application.

(2) To ensure a well rounded flavor profile, get several varieties of apples.  Most orchards post a chart of which apple varieties are best suited for which culinary applications.  Here's an example - but varieties vary by region, so check your local sources.

What 10 lbs of apples looks like
(3) You can manually peel, core and slice your apples if you don't plan to do this very often.  If you work with fresh apples on a regular basis, I strongly recommend getting a hand crank apple peeler/slicer. I got this model at my local Meijer for $15, and it was worth every penny.

(4) Fresh pressed apple cider is probably available from the same place you got your apples. If not, grocery stores usually have fresh apple cider on a seasonal basis. Check the refrigerated section. (If you're really lucky, you have a friend with a cider press... but that's a whole 'nother thing.)

 (5) Look around for an apiary - you'd be surprised how easy and affordable it is to find fresh, local honey.  The one near us charges by the pound - we just bring in our own mason jars and stick them under the tap.

(6) These spice quantities are based on apple butter of average (thick applesauce) consistency and is well spiced. If you prefer less bold flavor and/or plan to reduce to a very thick consistency, simply dial back on the honey and spice quantities.

(7) You wouldn't go to all this trouble and use canned nutmeg, would you?  I didn't think so. Not sure where to find the real stuff? I get it from the Atlantic Spice Company - it's a great price but enough to last a lifetime, so you may want to coordinate with friends.

Now that you've sourced all your ingredients, it's time to prep the apples.  This is another place where that free child labor comes in.  (But only with the relative safety of an apple machine for small kiddos, or if you're lucky enough to have ones old enough to trust with knife work.)

I never cease to be amazed how fast the "silly apple machine" works through 10 pounds of apples.  Even hampered  assisted by my awesomesauce sidekick, a total clutz like me can whip through each apple in under a minute.

Someday I hope to get my act together enough to make apple jelly from the peelings... but that's another episode.

No problem if the apple goes on the crank a little crooked and a few seeds get left behind - just clean it up a bit before you drop it in the pot.  I like to cut them in half just to facilitate the fruit breaking down, but it isn't really necessary.

Tune in next time when I actually tell you what to do with that giant pile of honey, spices and peeled apples...

The Great Apple Butter Experiment Part 2: Making and Storing

The Great Sensory Experiment: Apple Butter Hand Pies