RECIPE: Grandma Dot’s Apple Butter

The Holiday Season doesn’t get going in earnest around our house until the Apple Butter has been made, canned, and labeled, ready to be wrapped up and tucked under the Christmas tree, awaiting the arrival of our extended family and their avid apple butter appetites. Maybe it is the smell of cinnamon that fills the whole house or maybe it is just that it marks the first holiday task crossed from the to-do list. Either way, it is one of my favorite days of the year.

Our Grandma Dot did it up every Fall for our family for years, all by herself. By far the thing looked forward to most come Christmas morning was the little parcel of the delicious brown elixir, without which no biscuit has ever seemed quite complete. A few years back I was tapped to take over apple butter responsibilities once the whole enterprise got to be just too much for Grandma Dot to tangle with. It was time to pass the torch, and the hard work was well worth it: it that gave me the ability to produce the sweet stuff as soon as I ran out. No more waiting for Christmas morning.

With a loving pat on the shoulder I was given the handwritten recipe card and told not to stray too far from the uber-simple recipe. I learned the hard way, those first few years, how powerful comfort food can be. Never, ever mess with a recipe that folks have been eating regularly for 40 years unless you are looking to court controversy (again, sorry, Dad, I’ll never add clove and pear again, promise). However, if your family doesn’t have such long standing opinions about what constitutes proper apple butter why not experiment? I have found that all manner of winter spices work well, as does the addition of other fruits, especially stone fruits. It’s less Classical music than it is Jazz, and a little improv won’t hurt. Just start with fresh produce and give yourself plenty of time. The results are well worth your efforts.

Grandma Dot’s Apple Butter

  • 5 pounds of mixed variety apples
  • about 3 cups of brown sugar, to taste
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 1-2 tablespoon cinnamon powder
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg
  1. First, make applesauce. Core, peel and slice your apples and add them to a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot with a 1/4 cup of water. This couldn’t be easier (or faster!) with a KitchenAid Stand Mixer with Spiralizer Attachment. Heat the apples over medium high heat and stir frequently, about 20 minutes or until the apples are cooked through and falling apart. Remove from heat and allow to cool to a workable temperature, then process the apples with a food mill into sauce.
  2. Next, reduce the applesauce to apple butter. To do this we are going to gently cook it down by about half, and that is as precise a measurement as you are going to get from here on out: from now on we are tasting and making adjustments accordingly. You can reduce the apple sauce on the stovetop but it requires a lot of attention as it can burn very easily. You could also use a slow cooker but the results often take a long, long time for larger batches (and in my estimation there is never a reason to make a small batch). Grandma Dot swore by the oven method, so that’s how we do it: Preheat your oven to 275 degrees with the rack in the center position. Pour your applesauce into a large roasting pan and mix in half of the sugar and spices. Place the pan in the hot oven and begin cooking, making sure to check in and stir every 30 minutes or so.
  3. Taste the apple butter with each stir. After about 2 hours the color should deepen from gold to light brown. Now is the time to decide if more sugar and spice is needed.
  4. When the flavor and consistency you like has been achieved cut the heat and remove the roasting pan from the oven. Allow it to cool on the stovetop and then retrieve and discard the cinnamon sticks.
  5. Set up your canning pot and rack over high heat with enough water to cover the jars you intend to use by at least an inch. Set a saucepan full of water over high heat and add in your caning lids and rings to sterilize them. Once your canning pot has gotten up to a rolling boil you can drop your glass jars in for a brief dip to sterilize those. Don’t forget to sterilize your jar lid lifter, jar tongs and funnel too.
  6. Once everything is sterile go ahead and fill your jars with the apple butter using your sterile funnel and ladle. Make sure to leave 1/4″ of headspace between the apple butter and the rim of the jar. Run a butter knife down the edge and around each jar to dislodge any stuck air bubbles. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth if needed and lid each jar as directed (Kaboodle has some great jars with one-piece lids that make this super easy). Set as many jars as your canning rack can comfortably accommodate and lower into the boiling water for five minutes.
  7. Retrieve the jars using the jar lifter being careful not to scald yourself and set aside on a towel to cool. You should hear a metallic PING as each sealed jar cools and creates a vacuum. Repeat steps 6 and 7 until all the apple butter has been processed. Canned apple butter lasts ages but do remember to refrigerate the jars after opening.

So, what do you do with apple butter? The better question is what CAN’T you do with it! Our family likes it on toast and biscuits, stirred into oatmeal, heated up and spooned onto ice cream, mixed in with apple pie filling for an extra strong apple tang, or used stuffed into a pork loin with sage and manchego cheese. Use your imagination! Or, you know, just eat it with a spoon. No one is going to judge you.

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