Remember that blog post about the day we picked apples at Livesay Orchard? Well, I ate all of those in a few weeks. However, while we were there, I picked up a half bushel of the Arkansas Black variety as they were touted as a prime cooking apple. I immediately took them to my mom's house and tucked them in the back of the fridge until my next visit with time to kill, most likely Thanksgiving. Apple butter was my goal, but that seemed like a daunting task on a turkey coma with so many Christmas movies to watch and decorations to haul up from the basement. Fast forward to the day of thanks and the apples got booted from the fridge to make way for Jell-O salad and sweet potato casserole. There they were, on display, a big bucket of work. We decided to delay the operation until Friday morning, when most of the family had gone home and the ovens had been off long enough for the kitchen to cool down. We made the decision to try the slow cooker method, as that seemed the easiest route, even though we had never made apple butter that way before. Now, this story might not have such a happy ending if not for my brother uncovering the miracle machine from the depths of his cabinet. Read on to learn about this machine and about my value-added Agritourism experience.
First, we rinsed the apples and quartered them. Notice the bright morning sun in the pictures? In anticipation for a long day, we got up and got after it. Well, sort of. It wasn't too early, because holiday. I know what you are thinking ... we forgot to take the peel and core out. Just wait.
Next, we put a few cups of apple juice in two tall pots and turned the burners to medium heat. We threw our quartered apples in the pots. The time it took for the apples to be soft enough for the next step was shorter than it took us to remember how to put the next step together.
Behold, the Squeezo. This semi-antique is a miracle in food processing. Originally designed to make tomato sauce, the Squeezo was first manufactured in 1919. We don't think this one is that old, but it was given to us by a neighbor a long time ago and was heavily used during my childhood but has been on retirement since our old apple tree finally gave up the ghost a decade ago. Soft, boiled apples go in the hopper on the top, delicious, pure apple sauce comes out of the middle and all the "guts," as we used to call it, (peels and cores) come out the end. A truly brilliant machine.
Here's where things get a little dangerous. "Hey mom, take this heavy pot of molton-hot, mushy, glue-like apples and dump it in this tiny hopper while I try to scrape out only the amount that will fit." I highly recommend goggles and heat-resistant gloves. Neither of which I had handy at the time. We did manage to avoid a similar incident to the "great Christmas morning mush burn of '95" but I did have to run cold water on a few places once or twice.
Pretty soon, this beautiful, pink-gold ambrosia started to flow.
After tasting this applesauce, I almost backed out on making the apple butter all together. It didn't need any sugar, or cinnamon. It was heavenly right out of the Squeezo. However, we had come this far so we decided to just reserve a few quarts of sauce for ourselves and proceed with the slow cooker butter.
Here, we take a brief pause to ask each other where Grandma's recipe is. Then, a longer pause to go find the recipe book. Good news though, it doesn't take long to find the recipe ... you just flip the pages until you find the ones that look like this. Decades of lava-like exploding bubbles stuck to the well-worn pages gives it away fairly quickly.
We filled the slow cooker as full as we dared then started adding the spices.
We added very little white and brown sugar because we like our apple butter slightly less sweet than the storebought kind. Don't even ask what the measurements are. This family doesn't believe in measuring ingredients. We use recipes to remind us what ingredients go into a dish, but, even then, improvisation is quite literally the spice of life. And measurements are just suggestions at best.
We are now a mere two hours into the process. Pretty quick considering the giant pile of apples we started with. I know what you are thinking ... a whisk? Don't judge. This is a rented guest retreat when it isn't being used for a family holiday home and the assortment of things in the kitchen is eclectic to say the least. This kitchen is a good lesson in thinking outside the box and being happy with what you have in front of you. Besides, the whisk is a much more versatile kitchen tool than most people give it credit for.
You will notice that the bright sun is gone from the pictures and the apple concoction is much darker. Dusk is setting in on the river and all we have done to the slow cooker is stirred every hour or so. By far, the easiest way any of us have ever made apple butter.
The sunset was magnificent, and since the slow cooker apple butter was so low maintenence, we had time to sit on the deck and enjoy the vast array of birds and wildlife. We even took a nap and watched Will Ferrell's "Elf," one of my absolute favorite holiday classic movies. Don't worry, we watched "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" the night before.
We even had time to make our traditional Thanksgiving Friday pot pie. Yes, that crust is homemade. Yes, I drew that turkey in the crust with a knife. No, I can't draw like that with a pencil and paper. I don't understand either.
Almost exactly 12 hours later, we are ready to can. OK, we cheat at canning. But, we have never been ill after eating anything that we can. So, our family either has a botulism resistance, or cheat canning works just fine. Our half bushel of Arkansas Black apples made 18 half-pint jars of apple butter plus the two quarts of apple sauce we saved out. A vacation day well spent in the kitchen ... and on the deck, and on the couch. Check out our blog "An apple a day" to learn about the orchard these apples came from and put a trip to pick on your calendar for next Fall!