The Joy of Real Apples
I love apple butter. Raised on it in the South, I carried my love for apple butter to Oregon. It turns out that one of the great pleasures of Northwest life is not only the amazing apples we grow here, but the phenomenal apple butter we can make from those apples.
The difference? The apples here are real apples, not the pasty, mealy, tastes-like-damp-cardboard stuff you find in most supermarkets nowadays. Bite into a real apple, grown for flavor and vim, and you immediately understand why the apple is so iconic in our culture. A real apple tastes of life and heady pleasures beyond human comprehension; it tastes not only of the apple, but of the essence of sweetness, tartness, and possibility. A real apple doesn't just taste like an apple. It tastes like what an apple is.
You don't have to go far to find a good apple in Oregon. In a front yard right in my own neighborhood, I got my mitts on Gravenstein apples, an old Danish variety that some consider the best apple in the world. One day while walking our dog, Ella, we passed by a house with a sign that said "Gravenstein Apples, call XXX-XXXX".
Having just read Linda Ziedrich's blog post about Gravenstein apples, how could I pass up that opportunity?
The next day I called the number listed on the sign. It turns out the seller planted the tree when she moved into her home, in about 1977-1978. An hour later, my bicycle's cargo crate was groaning with 2 big grocery bags packed with apples. I brought home 20 pounds of Gravensteins, just begging to be made into applesauce and apple butter.
On to the Apple Butter
We adapted this recipe for our 2010 apple butter making, from Linda Ziedrich's The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves. And we have not been disappointed:
- 6 pounds cored and quartered apples, unpeeled
- Approx. 3 cups light brown sugar (next time we'll try using a little less)
- 1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- Optional: A few splashes of spiced rum (for the apple butter. Add a few more if the cook needs some too)
Chuck the apples in a stock pot with a 1/4 c. of water or cider, and cook over low to medium-low heat, covered, about 20-30 minutes, until they're soft.
Puree the apples through the coarse screen of a food mill, then add sugar and spices. Return the spiced puree to the stock pot, and cook over low heat, uncovered, till thick, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Stir regularly.
Prep canning jars according to manufacturer's or your canning guidebook's instructions. Fill jars with apple butter, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Add lids and rings, process 10 minutes in a boiling-water bath. After 10 minutes, turn off heat, remove pot lid and let jars rest 5 minutes. Remove from pot, set on a towel, and leave for 24 hours.
For us, the result was 19 jars of apple butter. Real apples. Real butter. Real apple flavor.
Did I mention 19 jars? 19?
No complaints, mind — we just wound up with WAY more than expected, so there was some mad scrambling to prep more canning jars.
The flavor has been just as we'd hoped: packed with apple goodness, and just a hint of spice to enhance the flavor.
Between the recipe and Gravenstein apples, this is the best damn apple butter we've ever made. I already can't wait for next year's apple butter goodness — and to see what amazing apples are available, in the Eugene area overall, and in my own neighborhood.