When we last saw our urban farmers, they had just created a giant measuring cup full of applesauce. Faced with its daunting volume, and with the holidays rapidly approaching, could they transform it into apple butter in time? Or would they be butter off trying to eat it all, and spend Christmas getting sauced?
Fortunately it didn't take us as long to make the apple butter as it did to find time to write about it. Actually, once you've got the applesauce, making apple butter is pretty simple. We followed the recipe from the Ball Blue Book, which is widely considered the gold standard in the world of preserving. Again, following their guidelines helped ensure our canning process was safe from dangerous microbe growth and fit to eat.
We transferred our applesauce into a big (5 quart) saucepot, and added 2 cups sugar, 2 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp cloves. The recipe originally called for 4 cups of sugar, but with the natural sweetness of our local apples, we decided that 2 cups was plenty. This modification doesn't affect the acidity of the product, so it was safe to do without concern. We cooked the mixture on the stove at a simmer until it was thickened to a spreadable consistency, which took about 15 minutes.
In the meantime, we had been cleaning our canning jars in the dishwasher at a high temperature setting to get the jars hot and sterile. We also put the sealing lids into a pot of simmering (not boiling) water to soften the rims for a good seal. And, of course, we filled our canner with enough water to submerge all the jars, and brought it to a boil. Once all these components - jars, lids, canner and butter - were ready to go, we filled the jars using a funnel to keep the rims clean.
Each jar got a sealing lid placed on top, then a threaded ring to hold them in place. Then it was into the boiling water! We used a handy jar lifter (also sold by Ball) to set each jar into the canner without scalding our hands - careful with that steam as well! Since apples are considered a high-acid food, we didn't need to clamp down and pressurize our canner. A boiling water bath gets apple butter sufficiently hot to kill off dangerous organisms. For low-acid foods, it takes an even higher temperature to do this, so you have to use the pressure canning method. Since we were doing apple butter, we simply set the timer to the prescribed 10 minutes, and waited.
After the ten minutes were up, we carefully lifted each jar out, again using the jar lifter and keeping clear of the steam. Then comes the really fun part! You set the jars on the counter, and wait for them to pop. Each jar makes an audible "pop" once the seal is complete and the jar starts to cool. This can happen right away, or it might take up to an hour. Each pop is exciting, because it means another jar just sealed!
We leave the rings on the jars for 24 hours to make certain that the jars seal. After we take them off, we also double-check the seal by lightly pressing on the middle of the sealing lid and making sure it doesn't flex. If all goes well, it should look something like this:
And that's apple butter! You can label the jars with description and/or date, and stock them away in the pantry. That's right, these are now shelf-stable until opened. For best flavor, you should use them within a year. And probably stock up on bread, cuz you'll want to make a lot of toast if you've got this stuff around!