Usually we make apple butter in mid or late October, but between the early season this year giving us a good supply of apples to use and some work schedules that were not aligning well in October we moved it forward.
The process and recipe is fairly straightforward:
1. Get apples. The pot we use comfortably cooks a batch of 2 bushels (but by alternating cooking down and adding apples it can be made to do up to 3 bushels but takes quite a bit longer than a 2 bushel batch). Typically we have primarily used Golden Delicious, but with the selection available from the orchard this year’s mix was mainly Cannon Pearmain supported by Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, and a few Bramley’s Seedling.
2. Get cider. A few days before we had pressed 10 bushels, so an ample supply was on-hand.
3. Put the cider in the pot and start heating it. This provides the initial liquid for the first apples to go in to start cooking in, and the amount needs to be sufficient to allow the apples to not sit on the bottom but not so much that excess liquid has to be boiled off. 1-2 gallons usually works with our pot, 2 gallons is good if apples have been peeled in advance, 1 gallon if peeling and cooking at the same time.
4. Prepare apples and add to the pot. We stand by the Progressive clamp-on “apple machine” that peels, cores, and slices in one operation, but other tools / methods also work. The key thing is to try and limit what else goes into the pot beyond apple flesh – cores, seeds, and skin all will have to be removed later if they make it in. The peeling can be done in advance or on the day (browning isn’t really much of an issue to the finished product), what works well for us is to set up 3 peeling stations with a 4’th person doing a “Quality Control” job and cutting the apples into smaller pieces so they will cook faster, and to start peeling once the pot with the cider begins to steam.
5. Stir. Continue. And continue. The cider by itself can cope with being left alone for a while, but as soon as apples are added the mixture needs to be stirred constantly to keep it from sticking and scorching. Stirring also helps to break down the apples.
6. Adjust the heat. We use a propane burner to heat the pot, and for the initial breaking down of the apples it works best on fairly high heat with new apples being added as soon as the mixture begins to boil, but once all the apples are in the heat needs to be turned down to the point where it doesn’t pop while being stirred but if the stirrer stops it begins to spit hit, sticky, goopy projectiles. This requires fairly frequent adjustment. As a side note, getting a boiling blob of apple butter on your bare skin is not a pleasant experience, so it is good to have basic burn care supplies on hand- and not a bad idea to have a hose with a sprayer attached nearby to douse any areas that do get hit.
7. Eat lunch, clean up the peeling mess (the ejected cores and skin can go through the cider press, or be used for jelly), setup the canning area, etc… But keep stirring….
8. Once it gets close to ready adjust the flavor with sugar and / or red hots candy. For 2 bushels we use maybe 2 cups of sugar and a handfull of red hots.
9. Put in jars.