Whenever I think of apple butter, I think of water skiing from my youth. I remember the first time I was successful and got up on the skies and made a lap around the tiny lake, the wake, browned by the red dirt of western Kansas, reminded me of apple butter. I shared my ten-year old insight with my mother and she agreed that the dirty lake water did indeed look like apple butter. After I took my first spill, I realized that while it looked like sweet apple butter, it didn’t taste like it.
This last week-end, we stayed over after a conference in Chicago to visit C2 and her boyfriend for the week-end. They recently purchased a house and are settling in as Illinoisans in McHenry. It is a small town that reminds me of so many small towns in the midwest, surrounded by farm land. Our daughter suggested we go apple picking on Saturday. We arrived at the orchard after a short drive, paid $10 each to pick 1/2 peck of apples of different varieties (Gala, Golden, Asian Pear,.Red Delicious, Liberty, and more). The orchard proprietor and staff drove us out to the orchard on a wooden trailer, dropped us off on the edge of the orchard, provided us with a plastic bag to fill our quota, equipped with an apple picker pole (one per group), and some guidance for which variety to pick on which row. Off we go!
The first tree loaded with apples, I picked one and immediately could not resist the urge to taste it. I bit in and it was delicious. There aren’t very many tastes better, than a fresh, crisp apple, plucked directly from the tree with your own hands on a cool autumn day. Our group of four was chilly on the trailer but once in the orchard, the air turned warmer, sheltered by the apple trees and the scent of fermenting apples. The dropped fruit was everywhere in different stages of rot. I speculated that the apples on the ground were what made up the cider mixture heating up in the small stand we passed on our way into the orchard.
It took us about an hour to pick our peck or two, enjoy the apple wood fire that burned adjacent to the orchard, and head back routed around the kiddie games and back to the parking lot. We stopped for hot cider, latte and apple cider donuts (did you know they are not fried, but baked?) and a tour through the gift shop. C2 bought a gallon of cider and we packed our pecks and headed home.
We were inspired to make homemade apple butter with our harvest. Here is our recipe. We canned about 12 small jars with this recipe.
- 4 lbs apples (variety) peeled and chopped — this task is more enjoyable with a daughter by your side, toss with lemon juice (1 lb is about 4-5 small apples)
- 2.5 cups apple cider
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1 tsp of cinnamon
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1 tsp salt
Combine all in a crock pot and cook for at least 12 hours. I opted to put the cooked apples in a food processor and combine so that it was smoother. Then we filled 12 canning jars with the butter, sealed with the lids, boiled in water for 45 minutes and cooled. These jars of sweet fruit will provide warmth and comfort during the cold winter months that are sure to come.
Happy apple picking season and to the smell of apples cooking on the stove. There’s nothing quite as nice
as apple butter cooking slow, the aroma rises through the air and all the neighbors know!