Who doesn’t like apple butter? Seriously. One of the real joys of this humble spread is that it can be made so easily, and with almost no general kitchen aptitude. If you can manage to get a bunch of ingredients into a pot — or, in this case, a slow cooker — you’ve pretty much got it made.
My main quarrel with most of the apple butters I’ve consumed over the years (and a minor one at that) is that they were a tad sweet for my taste; I aimed to veer off a few degrees toward the more savory side, and because I have a thriving rosemary bush immediately adjacent to my house, I decided to employ its bountiful, um, bounty. Basil or thyme would also make excellent partners in the savory apple butter process, but rosemary works magnificently on its own, and it was at hand in abundance.
The first time I made apple butter, I peeled all the apples with a hand-held vegetable peeler. Very old-school, and plenty effective, but it does lend itself to a bit of carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s slow. For just about $20 USD, you can pick up a peeler/corer unit that really speeds up the process, and keeps your wrists supple and cramp-free.
The slow cooker is a perfect match for this recipe, but it’s easily doable on the stove or in the oven; basically, you bring the liquid to a boil, then back off on the heat, and let it cook until it reduces to the desired thickness. If you were putting it in the oven in a covered pot (a Dutch oven, for instance), you’d want to keep it covered for most of the time, and the temp fairly low, say 250˚F/125˚C, and you can leave it overnight.
ROSEMARY APPLE BUTTER
6 Jonagold apples
6 Golden Delicious apples
6 Granny Smith apples
6 Red Delicious apples
½ cup turbinado sugar (honey or agave syrup can be used as a substitute, as can regular cane sugar, white or brown)
Juice of 2 lemons
6 sticks cinnamon
1 cup unfiltered Honeycrisp apple juice
8 star anise
1 branch rosemary (6-8 twigs)
[NOTE: I picked the apples I did due to the fact that they were all on sale; the Red Delicious are definitely the weak sister in the bunch, taste and texture-wise, so you might want to have either eight apiece of the first three varieties, or substitute some other variety for the Red Delicious. As it turned out, the apple butter was delicious (no pun intended), but I think it could have been even better with Romes or Galas or McIntoshes or Fujis or many other options.
Also, the unfiltered Honeycrisp apple juice was on sale, so I opted for it. It’s really quite good, but I expect that pretty much any apple juice is equal to the task.]
Peel, core, and cut up apples and put into a slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients. Leave on high for two hours, then switch to low for another twelve or so until desired consistency is reached. Remove cinnamon sticks, star anise, and rosemary twigs. Process in food processor or with immersion blender. [Be careful if using a food processor, especially if it’s still warm; the steam needs a place to go, so don’t cover your food processor tightly. Just set a towel over the opening.]
After about 12 hours or so, it should look kinda like this.
Some people prefer the rustic lumps and clumps of apple butter as pictured above, but the rosemary had shed some of its leaves, and I wasn’t happy to have them texturally in the finished product. I suppose I could have pulled all the leaves out with tweezers, but that wasn’t a happy prospect, so I let the immersion blender do its work.
At this point, the only decision remaining was whether or not to can. Because I added only a minimal amount of sugar, and because I wasn’t sure how acidic the apple varieties I used were, and because it didn’t yield an unworkable amount of finished product, I decided not to process the final apple butter in the traditional water bath, and opted for refrigeration instead. (My pH strips have since indicated that it’s well within the safe range for canning, so if you care to, go ahead and process the standard way; no need for pressure canning.) I’m guessing that between your own uses and the friends who will be clamoring for it, your apple butter won’t spend a long time on the shelf.
The apple butter pairs well with any sort of stinky cheese in hors d’oeuvres, but it’s also delightful with good old everyday Cheddar, or on a toasted English muffin either with or without butter. It also makes a terrific glaze for pork or chicken, should the occasion arise.