In the autumn, my grandmother would start her apples. My grandparents had 12 trees on their property of different apple varieties. The only one there was a double of were the three trees that grew Granny Smith’s, my grandmother’s favorite. The apples were picked throughout the summer as they got ripe and were kept in the root cellar. In October, everyone came together to build the fires, peel the apples, and help with the making of grandma’s apple harvest. She made apple slices, applesauce, and apple pie filings, but my favorite was always the apple butter.
Grandma used large copper cauldron-shaped kettles with paddles to stir the apple butter. The men would start a fire under the kettles and everyone would start peeling and coring and slicing. In the first kettle went all the peelings and cores, along with water and lemons, sliced up. This concoction was used as the liquid for the apple butter as well as for the hard cider my grandma was famous for.
In the other kettles, in would go the apple chunks and all the ingredients. The younger kids (some on stools) would begin stirring at once. It was essential that the mixture be kept moving as long as the cauldron was being heated. The going was rough with all those apple chunks in there, but everyone took turns stirring the pots to keep the apples constantly rotating. Grandpa would come around with the smoker to keep the bees at bay.
The three ways to tell when the apple butter was done:
- The sauce should taste sweeter than you like it to be (foods seem more sugary when they’re hot than when they’re cold).
- It should have turned a beautiful reddish-brown, the darker the better.
- It should have stopped “weeping”: that is, the water should no longer separate from the pulp.
The apple butter was not ready until all three of these requirements are met. When the cooking was almost finished, grandma would mix cinnamon with sugar and blend them into the pot and then add in the remainder of the spices. That sweet, buttery, brown goodness was worth the effort.
When the apple butter was done, the pots were lined up by the back door, ready to go into jars the next morning. This affair started at 6 am and went on until the wee hours of the next morning. We ate in shifts and slept in shifts. Usually we cooked up about 300 pounds of apples a year.
The following recipe is based on my grandma’s apple butter recipe all those years ago, but majorly trimmed down of course. I now cook my apple butter in my slow cookers for up to 48 hours. I like a smoother apple butter, so I use my immersion blender once the apples are soft. And I still use more than one variety of apple, but there are ALWAYS Granny Smiths.
Grandma’s Apple Butter
Makes approximately 15 cups
10 pounds apples – peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I use Granny Smith and a softer, sweet apple like Fuji and/or Winesap)
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- Core, peel, and slice apples, dumping the slices into the crock pot as you go. Stop prepping apples when the crock pot is full (just save the remaining apple slices, sprayed with lemon juice, for later in a Ziploc). Add the lemon rind and juice.
- Dump your peels into a food processor and grind them to a fine puree. Add to the apple slices in the crock pot.
- Mix well and put the crock pot on low for 10 hours. Feel free to stir when you walk by.
- At the end of 10 hours, add in more apple slices. Dump the new apple slices into what’s already cooked down. Mix well. Cook another 10 hours on low.
- Repeat the process of adding new apple slices once more.
- After the apple butter has cooked a good 30-40 hours, use an immersion blender to puree it. (You could probably put through food mill or blender too). Add brown sugar and honey at this stage. Continue cooking until it’s the thickness that you want. If it’s not cooking down enough vent the lid a little. If it gets too thick, add some water or apple juice.
- When your apple butter passes the three tests (sauce should taste sweeter than you like it to be, should have turned a beautiful reddish-brown, and it should have stopped “weeping”), add in the white sugar and spices, cooking for at least another hour to cook through.
- Taste the apple butter and add more spice and sugar to your taste. I usually add the same amount I did the first time, although sometimes I just add a bit more sugar, depending on how sweet the apples are.
PLEASE NOTE: This recipe has NOT been tested and approved for canning, but is perfectly good in airtight containers in the freezer.