I have a huge extended family and we're all very close. Sometimes that makes for extra challenges at the holidays trying to scrape together gifts for everyone. We've done the whole secret Santa bit but it never really works for us. There are too many gift lovers in the group who break the rules. There have been years where I boycotted altogether but usually I try to make little things; knitted hats, framed pictures, cookies and sweets, and jars of preserves top the list. This year I'm doing ketchup for the men and apple butter for the ladies.
I've experimented with apple butter a bunch but have always found it too sweet for my tastes. The batches will vary a lot depending on the type of apples you use (how watery or sweet). I used Empire this time because they're local and I got them for a steal! My recipe is very simple and adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving but has far less sugar. Since sugar does act as a preservative I add a splash of lemon to each jar to prevent spoiling. This is my first year with this recipe though so I can't guarantee it!
I started canning about six years ago and I'm still learning. The biggest mistake that I see people make is to think they can by-pass the whole hot water bath and just let the jars seal with the heat of the filling. I've received so many gorgeous gifts of pickles and sauces that were spoiled when I opened them- always a bummer.
Makes about 9 half pints:
For sealing the jars: get your giant pot of water aka boiling-water canner on to boil. Make sure you fill it with enough water to easily cover the top of your jars once they are submerged. Wash all of your jars and two-piece lids in the dishwater or under super hot water. Put a splash of lemon juice in each jar to help prevent spoiling.
For the apple butter: Peel the apples and slice them into large chunks, removing the cores. Put the apples in a large pot with the water. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the apples are soft and fall apart when poked with a fork.
Puree the apples in a food mill (you could also use a food processor) and return to the pot. Add the spices and sugar and simmer until it's a thick consistency and doesn't slide off the spoon easily (Ball calls this until it "rounds up on a spoon" but that's a bit confusing to me). Ladle the hot mixture into the jars leaving 1/4" of head space to prevent spoiling.
Wipe the edges of the jars clean to allow a tight seal. I'm always sloppy filling the jars so this is a must for me. Place the two piece lids on the jars and tighten each of them. Lower them into the water bath and leave boiling covered on for ten minutes. Be ready with some place to set those hot jars when the time is up!
Remove the jars with the tongs and leave undisturbed for a few hours. You'll hear the lids popping as they seal... I love that sound.
Once these beauties have cooled you can either sit back and feel proud of yourself or go the extra mile and give them a little dressing up to make a very sweet gift. Sometimes I just go with twine and a tag but for this batch I decided to use fabric and yarn. I used a bowl to trace and cut out fabric circles and tied each of them with some yarn left over from a recent project.
I love 'em and hopefully so will everyone who's about to get one as a gift! And just because it's hard to go a whole post without a picture of Little Smith, here he is chewing on some toast with apple butter... yum, yum.
BTW the fabric is "little apples" by Aneela Hoey for Moda. I've still got so much to do before we leave for my mom's tomorrow but at least I can look at these cute little jars and smile!