In short, apple picking is the best. A couple of weekends ago, Ed and I ventured about 45 minutes outside of Boston to Shelburne Farms to try our hand at picking-our-own. We could not believe how fun it was. We started by buying a bag of hot and greasy apple cider doughnuts fresh from the fryer. We grabbed two ciders (one hot and one cold) to wash down all that spiced dough. By the time we were good and lethargic from the sugary carbs, we were braced for the toughest decision of the day: were we going to pick a half bushel (20 lbs) or a peck (10 lbs)? We went for a peck. We wandered into the orchard and harvested some for baking (Cortland) and many for snacking (MacIntosh, Macoun, Empire). When our bag was overflowing, we headed back to the farmhouse store to acquire a jug of cider, grilled hot dogs, and a caramel apple with nuts. As we settled back into the car, a question rose up between us “what are we going to do with all of these apples?”
I sort of, kind of, maybe had a plan for the apples. Ed said he wanted an apple pie, so that would take care of a portion of our harvest. For the other seven or so pounds, I figured we’d snack through a few and I could decide by the following weekend what to do with the rest. By week’s end, we had about 4.5 pounds of apples left. With that quantity, there are two common options: applesauce or apple butter (which is basically just applesauce cooked down until it’s spreadable). Sauce was less appealing to me because Ed has a favorite applesauce—a family friend’s carefully guarded recipe—and I just didn’t want to compete with that. Apple butter, on the other hand, seemed like a brave new world. The last and only time I’d had the stuff was during a weeklong summer camp in the hills of West Virginia. All I remember about that week, aside from being homesick, was that apple butter was on the table for every meal. And I loved it: delicious on bread, pancakes, and straight from the jar.
After Googling apple butter recipes, I found this Slate article on an easy, but very flavorful version. It was ridiculously simple to make. Chop up some apples, roast them for a short while, and put them in the Crock Pot / slow cooker with cider, sugar, spice, and other delicious things. Set it and forget it. We didn’t really forget it, though, because the smell was intoxicatingly autumnal. It felt like we were living inside of an apple pie. I could’ve stayed there for days.
Once the apples were completely softened and the mixture turned into thick apple sauce, I puréed it. I used an immersion blender, but you can whirl it in a blender or use a food mill. I decided that my puréed apple butter was not quite thick enough, so I continued to let it cook down for about another hour. There is no precise moment when applesauce becomes apple butter, but there is a telltale creaminess to apple butter that is not present in sauce. It’s a richness that’s part textural and part concentrated apple flavor. It makes you realize why this stuff is called apple butter and not apple jam or apple spread. For the last couple hours of the cooking time, I’d been sneaking little tastes of the bubbling apples and each time, the spices and sweet-tartness made me say “mmm.” I knew I’d hit the money when I went in for a taster and said “mmm… MMMM!” After the first punch of apple, the creaminess came through and I promptly went in for another taste. I ran the immersion blender through the mixture once more and declared victory.
My triumph was short-lived. As I was pouring my FIVE cups of apple butter into a dish to store in the refrigerator (you can also can it and store at room temperature), Ed asked…”what are we going to do with all of that apple butter?” It’s a great question. The good news is that apple butter is really versatile. I’ve added it to oatmeal and yogurt, spread it on toast, used it in grilled cheese, and I plan to bake it in muffins, add it to bbq sauce, and who knows what else. The best use I’ve found is as an ice cream topping. Scooped on to vanilla ice cream, it’s like eating apple pie without the crust. I fear that a milkshake would be even more delicious. One week down and I’ve already dolloped and swirled my way through about a cup. Finding ways to use the apple butter is turning out to be almost as fun as picking the apples themselves.
Slate‘s apple butter recipe is here.
A list of what to do with apple butter can be found on theKitchn here.
Below are some other apple recipes on butter poached:
tendresse aux pommes (apple bread pudding)