Wednesday, September 29, 2010

...Tastes of Autumn

oh Heavens.  If you had only been in my kitchen yesterday.  But, unfortunately for you, you weren't.  Unless you are Hey, Babe and in that case, "Hey, Babe, I love you!".  If you did happen to be in the vicinity of my kitchen, you would have been enticed by the smells of the apples.  Not so much the first portion of the day because the smell of the cider vinegar was stronger than the smell of the apple butter.  But last night, oh baby.  You missed out.

I was a little nervous about my first attempt at canning.  I have never watched anyone can before.  Since it is an uncommon practice even among people who are quite proficient in the kitchen, I figured there must be a good reason.  But I believe it went well.  Of course, until every jar has been eaten and no cases of food poisoning have resulted, the real results aren't quite in just yet.

Little Man was thrilled to be able to help me.  He stood at the sink giving each apple its final rinse and handing it to me to chop.  We washed and quartered 7 lbs of apples and tossed them into my largest pot. I poured in the water and cider vinegar and placed it all on the stove, covered until it came to a boil.  Then I reduced it to a simmer and let it be until the apples were soft, about 20 minutes or so.

That's a lot of apples. Notice I did not peel or core them first.  That is because I have a food mill, which will strain the seeds and skin out.  This is good because it means that I am not throwing away pectin from the seeds or vitamins from the skin.  It also means I don't have to peel 7 pounds of apples. 

Once the apples were soft, I began scooping them into the top of my food mill set over a large pot.
(the pumpkin in the background might turn into pumpkin butter, but we'll see)

Little Man was again thrilled to be able to help.  He likes to be a part of the action, and in this case, a part of the food.  He kept tasting the apple puree and complaining that it was a little hot.  But he kept going back for more, so it must not have been too hot.  The only problem with his help was that he wanted to turn the crank the wrong way, which, while it won't hurt the food mill, wouldn't finish the job.  Or at least not in a timely manner.

After a bit of cranking, we ended up with this
The pot isn't quite as full as before, but it is looking really good and is ready to be seasoned and cooked for a second time.  Here is where I began my alterations on the recipe.  At this point they wanted me to measure how much puree I had and add 1/2 cup of sugar for each cup of apple puree.  My estimate, based on the size of my pot, was that I had about 8 cups of puree.  I was NOT about to add 4 cups of sugar to my apple butter.  That struck me as being ridiculously too sweet, especially since apples are naturally sweet.  I also tweaked the spices called for.  Instead of doubling the spices, I halved the allspice and cloves, and left the cinnamon alone.  I didn't want it to be too spiced, I wanted it to be mostly apple flavored with just a hint of spice.  Besides, you can always add more later to adjust it to taste.

Setting the stove to a low simmer, I left the pot with a fine mesh strainer set over it as a spatter shield so that it could begin to cook down.  I returned every 20-30 minutes to stir the pot so that a crust would not form on the bottom.  After a while we had this
It was darkening, and beginning to cook down, but we had a long way to go.  I had the option of turning the flame up higher on the stove and standing at the pot stirring constantly, but decided against it.  With Hey, Babe at work and a toddler and baby demanding my attention, I knew that I would not be able to stand there for any extended period of time.  I wouldn't be able to can until the evening anyway.  Once Little Man was in bed and Hey, Babe was free to entertain the Storm Sprite I would have the block of time to do the canning without interruption.  So the pot simmered and bubbled and cooked away, while I occasionally came and gave it a good stir, making sure to get the whole bottom.

I cooked the pot until it was thick and a dollop placed on a plate didn't spread but instead held it's shape a bit.
Notice the blob on the left is much higher than the other two.  These blobs were scooped out at about 10-15 minutes apart and were all about the same amount, the two on the right just spread more and sunk.  The flavor difference between the three was noticeable.  The first was mildly appley and sweet but the last tasted strongly of apple and was quite sweet.  I even wondered if I should have left the sugar out all together but decided that since I was eating it plain, it would probably seem a bit less sweet once it was placed on something.

After filling and closing the jars they were placed in a large pot to boil.

Notice my dishtowel in the bottom of the pot? I don't have a canning rack yet but I will definitely try to purchase one before I can again.  The towel wanted to float away and was a bit of a pain.  I didn't want to commit to the expense (however small it may be) if I ended up hating the whole process of canning. (I borrowed the tongs, funnel, lid grabber, and headspace measurer-thingy from my Mom.)

Ten minutes in the boiling water and we were good to go!  I now have eight 1/2 pint jars of apple butter, plus the one we started last night and had on our pancakes.

It was delicious on some fresh cornbread.

Heaven on a spoon. Do I have to share?

Apple Butter
4 lbs of good cooking apples (I used a mix of Granny Smith & Gala)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
Salt  (I totally forgot this!)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice  
InstructionsEquipment Needed:
1 wide 8-quart pan
A food mill or a chinois sieve (or a food processor, but peel and core those apples!)
6-8 8-ounce canning jars

1. Wash your apples well and then cut into quarters, without peeling or coring them (much of the pectin is in the cores and flavor and vitamins are in the peels), cut out damaged parts.

2. Put them into large pot, add the vinegar and water.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil.  Reducing heat to simmer, cook until the apples are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

3. Ladle apple mixture into a foodmill and puree until you have processed all the apples and juice.  Add 1/4 cup of sugar (more or less) to taste, depending on sweetness of puree.  Be sure to remember that as it cooks down the flavor, and therefore the sweetness, will become more concentrated. Stir to dissolve sugar. Add a dash of salt, and the cinnamon, ground cloves, & allspice. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.

4. Cook uncovered in a large, wide pot on medium low heat, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot while you stir to make sure a crust is not forming at the bottom. Cook until thick and smooth  and holds its shape when a bit is spooned onto a cold plate and allowed to cool.  This will take 1 to 2 hours. You can also cook the purée on low heat (liked I did) stirring only occasionally, but this will take much longer as stirring encourages evaporation. (Note the wider the pan the better, as there is more surface for evaporation.)

5 There are several ways to sterilize your jars for canning. You can run them through a short cycle on your dishwasher. You can place them in a large pot (12 quart) of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don't touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or you can rinse out the jars, dry them, and place them, without lids, in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes.

6. Sterilize your jars by placing them in 200°F oven for 10 minutes.  When filling the jars be sure to leave some headspace at the top.  Before applying the lids, sterilize the lids by placing them in a bowl and pouring boiling water over them. Wipe the rims of the jars clean before applying the lids.  Place jars in a large deep pot of boiling water.  Be sure that there is at least 1 inch of water about the jars and that they are not touching the sides or bottom of the pot, or one another.  Boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars carefully and allow to cool on a wire rack until room temperature.

Makes a little more than 4 pint jars.

Disclaimer: This is my first time canning and I may have missed an important step in the directions.  Please make sure you read a little "how to" about canning before you can for the first time.  Please do NOT base all your knowledge about canning on this recipe.

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