For a printable version of this recipe and complete ingredients listing, click here.
Last weekend, I decided to try my hand at something completely foreign to me: canning.
When I saw giant 50-ounce jars of applesauce for $1.77 at the store, I figured I could start with something simple (apple butter) and just see what this method is all about.
I could have made my own applesauce before I made the apple butter, but I really just wanted to see if I get the jars to seal properly and make that satisfying “plink” when they’re cooling. After all, why go to the extra trouble of making your own applesauce from scratch when you don’t even know if you can preserve it properly when it’s done?
Well, suffice to say, my worries were allayed when I whipped up a batch of this apple butter and took my canning kit for its first spin. And maybe I didn’t make the applesauce it started with, but man was this some good apple butter! I don’t even know if I’ll bother with making my own sauce in the future. This seems to work pretty well as it is, and I have no problem claiming it as homemade after it spends eighteen hours in my slowcooker!
1. Prepare the recipe.
Start by filling your Crock Pot with applesauce (homemade or store-bought). I just bought plain old regular, sweetened sauce from the store. You can use unsweetened, but remember that you may have to tinker with the sugar amounts later.
5 cans (50 ounces each) was enough applesauce for me to make two rounds of apple butter in my 4-quart Crock Pot. (I did this over a weekend. Next time, I think I’ll just borrow someone else’s slow cooker so I can do two batches at once.)
Add 3 cups white sugar and 1 cup brown sugar; stir. Mix in: 3 tablespoons
cinnamon, 1 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, 2 tablespoons vanilla extract, and 3 tablespoons lemon juice. Stir well until the mixture turns a light brown color.
2. Cook the apple butter.
Cover the slow cooker, leaving lid a small bit ajar for steam to escape. Unlike cooking stews and roasts when you want to keep the moisture in, you actually want the excess liquid to evaporate from the apple butter. That’s how it will thicken to the right consistency.
Depending on your Crock Pot (size, heat factor, age, etc.) you may need the low setting, the high setting, or a combination of the two. Of my two batches, the one that worked best (made thicker apple butter) was the batch I started on high for a few hours, and then kicked back to low before I went to bed. I let my batches each go about 18 hours in the Crock Pot. It could have gone longer, but I was a bit anxious to start canning, so if it’s a little on the thin side, that’s why. But it looked pretty good to me. 🙂
Check the Crock Pot during any waking hours that it’s running and stir it when you think of it (every hour or two). Don’t worry so much about it while you’re sleeping; just make sure the steam is escaping and all will be well. I wake up a few times in the night most nights anyway, so I peeked in on it a couple of times and mine was doing fine.
The color will darken as the hours go by. Don’t be discouraged if two hours into the cooktime you haven’t noticed any darkening. Making apple butter IS easy, but it still takes time!
3. Blend the apple butter.
After apple butter has achieved desired thickness and color, it’s a good idea to blend it before canning. Unless you like chunky apple butter, of course.
Rather than scooping lava-hot sticky apple butter into a blender a little at a time, I just submerged my cheap immersion blender and kicked it up to high for a few five-to-ten second intervals.
In no time, you’ve got perfectly even consistency and texture. This is when your creation really finally resembles the apple butter you’re used to buying at the store.
Now your apple butter is ready to be eaten or canned.
4. Can the apple butter.
Because apples are high acidity, you don’t need to mess with a pressure canner; a simple water bath will preserve and seal your jars. If you have an official water bath pot already, you probably know how to do this part and don’t need my instruction. If you’re like me, and just starting out learning to can, you can make do with any old stock pot (as long as it’s deep) and wait until you know canning is for you before you spend real money on canning equipment.
I used a regular tall kitchen stock pot and put a jar rack in the bottom. If you don’t have a jar rack, you can use
dishrags or whatever else in the bottom of the pot. The main point is to keep the jars from scooting around and knocking into each other while they’re processing.
Now it’s time to fill the jars. Wash and dry all pieces well. If you’re using a dishwasher, you can start filling as soon as the cycle is done and they will already be sanitized and heated.
If you’re a poor schmuck like me who doesn’t own a dishwasher, you can handwash all parts and then sanitize them on the stove. It’s a good idea to let the jars go about ten minutes (empty and lidless) in some boiling water (not a fast boil, just enough to sanitize and heat) up to about 1″ of the jar tops. Meanwhile, place the flat jar lids in a shallow saucepan and boil in water about 5-10 minutes as well.
Once the jars are heated, begin filling them up to within 1/4″ of the top of the jar. (Leave your slow cooker plugged in and on high while waiting for the jars to heat and sanitize–the goal is to keep everything heated well together so no jars bust or crack when you fill them with hot apple butter of a different temperature than the glasses.) A jar funnel is super handy in this task, but not necessary. If you don’t have one, keep a couple of clean, damp paper towels nearby to wipe the outsides of the jars down after filling.
Place the hot lids on top of the jars and screw the jar rings in place. (I didn’t bother with boiling the rings. It made no difference.) Don’t overscrew the rings too tightly; just make sure they’ll stay in place.
Submerge the covered jars in the water and make sure you have a good inch or two of water covering the tops of the jars. (So make sure before you start that the size jars you want to use will work in the stock pot you’ve got.) Bring the water to a low boil and allow jars to process for about fifteen minutes.♥ (High altitudes might want to go 20 minutes.)
♥Chef’s Note: I used 12-ounce jars for my apple butter. Half-pints seemed kind of shabby and pint-sized seemed awfully big. Fifteen minutes should be plenty for pint-sized jars as well, though.
After fifteen minutes, remove the jars (a jar lifter looks like tongs and can be bought for very little $) and set on a dry dishtowel spaced apart to cool. You can remove the rings during this stage if you want. I just left mine on since it didn’t look like any leaks or seepage had occured. You’ll notice the rings are much looser now that the heated metal has expanded. This is normal.
Over the next few hours of cooling, you should hear an occasional “PLINK!” as the flat lids begin to seal themselves. You can tell which ones have already sealed by pressing down on the center “button” of the lid. If it pops up and down, the jar has not yet sealed. Sealed jar buttons will stay down, just like the jars of food you buy at the store. (The ones wiht the warning that reads, “If button has popped up, do not purchase this jar” and the like.)
After several hours, the lids should all have sealed themselves. If one or two have not, don’ t worry–the contents inside haven’t been infected or anything; you’ll just have to stick those jars in the fridge and eat them soon after. Don’t give those jars away as gifts–just let them be your fridge sample jars!
And that’s all you need to know about making apple butter! Oh, and a good rule of thumb I used was this: For every 125 ounces of applesauce I used, I got about seven 12-ounce jars of finished, thickened apple butter.
Enjoy your canning!