The Easiest Apple Sauce/ Apple Butter Ever
There were a lot of apples in the neighborhood this year. The Northwest has great tree-fruit climate, and not only do many people seem to choose apples to plant, those cores that get tossed aside frequently choose to grow. Trees growing on the side of the road near empty fields, or overhanging fences are there for anybody, right? Well, no one yelled at me anyway for helping myself to the excess of fruit last fall, and I ended up with many boxes of unknown strains of apples. Most of them were the sour type – not for eating, great for storing - so after filling my spare bedroom with these stored apples, I needed to make something. Something that would require a lot more apples than a simple cobbler.
Spurred on by the success of the blackberry jam, I set out to make apple butter, which is really just well cooked apple sauce. To do this the easy way you need a slow cooker, and an immersion blender. To do it the harder way you need a big pot and a peeler. I go for easy.
If you are choosing a new slow-cooker, I highly recommend getting one with a removable crock as it makes cleaning is so much easier. I've used my cheap slow cooker for years, and it's still going strong. I decided to get a six quart cooker, but you should find the right size and style for you.
Wash your apples and get rid of the assorted bugs that always seem to come with them. Put your fruit in a big bowl and set that on the table in front of the TV. Bring in your slow cooker, a knife, a cutting board, and a bowl or newspaper for the cores. Pop in a movie and you’re all set to start!
Remove the core from the apple, cut out any bad spots on the skin and remove any ugly spots in the flesh. If you want to remove the skins, do that now (and have a second movie lined up), but I just grind them up with the immersion blender when the sauce has cooked.
Chop the apples and put them in the slow cooker as you go. I don't worry much about the size of the chunks since they cook down pretty easily. A full sized apple should be cut into six or eight pieces. If you'll be purchasing apples, remember that the most flavorful applesauce comes from a mix of apple types, each one adding different undertones to the final product. Since most of my apples were sour, I added pears for sweetness. You can also add sugar or honey after your applesauce is cooked to give your product a different sweet note. Fill the crock to the top, as the apples cook down quite a bit.
When your crock is full, set it to ‘low’ and let it cook overnight. Easy, huh? Stir if you have a mind to, but I really do just ignore it. The juice from the apples will come out as they cook and keep anything from burning. If you start the process on high, add a splash of juice or water to keep the sugar in the apples from carmelizing
In the morning, use a plastic or wooden spoon and stir it up a bit to see if all the apples have gotten cooked through to mush. Use your immersion blender to grind up the skins and any apples that are still in chunk form. Give it a (careful) taste. Yum! If you’re stopping at ‘sauce’, now’s the time to add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, whatever you are in the mood for in terms of spices. Stir in some sugar or other sweetener if you want your applesauce a little sweeter. I like adding maple syrup (the real stuff) and sometimes a shot of ground chili peppers (I know, but I like spice in everything).
I prefer an immersion blender with a plastic shank so you have less chance of scratching your pans when you use it. They are inexpensive and I have never regretted getting one.
If it’s not thick enough you can cook a little longer, or stop now and ladle it into your containers. If you are canning you’re set to go, just add lids and boil. If you are putting it in the frig, or freezer, let it cool enough that you don’t melt your containers. I spoon it into plastic freezer bags, lay them on their sides to freeze, then store them standing up, like books.
If your goal is apple butter, all you have to do is keep cooking after you’ve blended up the skins. I usually turn the cooker up to ‘high’ if I’m going to be around and stir the cooking apples every hour or two, but then, I’m impatient. All day on ‘low’ works too.
Just keep cooking until you think it’s thick enough, and you don’t get a watery layer on top when you aren’t stirring. Taste it (carefully – it’s really really hot) and add whatever spices you’d like. I’ve even dumped in a bag of caramels to make caramel-apple butter, but that blows the whole “healthy” aspect of this.
As with the sauce, you can can it, freeze it or just start eating. It will last a couple weeks in the refrigerator, in theory…… I always eat mine in a few days so I can’t say for sure how long.
Mmmm. This dark, rich sauce is so much better than anything you’ll find in a store, and so easy that you may never buy applesauce again. There you have it, cheap and easy, just the way cooking should be.
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(price as of Sep 13, 2016)