Spicy Apple Butter

Autumn, Sweet Recipes • 5 Oct 2011

Apple picking is a childhood rite of passage. For me, apple picking at our local orchard is one of my earliest memories: crystal clear visions of glistening trees, drooping heavily with ruby red fruit; crisp, cool air laden with the hyperbolically heady scent of stale apples, rotten to the core, fertilizing the ground that gave them life.

Last weekend was my young son’s first apple picking experience. For him, it was a mind-blowing one. Not because he can yet marvel at a tree’s ability to produce life-sustaining food. Nor does he relish the spicy, floral taste of an apple, the experience of biting into its crispy flesh, sticky juice running down his youthfully round chin.

As the memory of the experience fades, we hope he will remember his first major fascination: apples. At 18 months, thoughts of apples consume every fiber of his tiny being. For the past three months, apple has been his favorite word. He has built an impressive and voluminous collection of toy apples, as well as books featuring prominent images of edible garnet and emerald orbs.

Since the munchkin isn’t much of a fan of eating apples but regularly partakes in apple sauce, I thought I’d introduce apple butter. I prefer to make my apple butter with crispy, bracingly tart Macintosh, the epitome of early autumn.

Apple butter is basically a highly concentrated form of applesauce. By slow cooking apples with liquid, the sugar in the apples caramelizes, resulting in a tawny-hued and deeply concentrated puree. Tangy, sweet and spicy, the ambrosial apple butter tastes of the holidays, pungent hints of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg upfront, a smoother, vanilla flavor following, almost reminscent of cherries and chocolate.

I hope the munchkin approves.

Spicy Apple Butter

4 pound Macintosh (peel on) washed, quartered and cored
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups apple cider
2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. In a large heavy-bottomed pot, combine apples, cider and vinegar. Cover pot and bring to a boil. When the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are soft, about 20 to 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

2. Pass the puree through a food mill or chinois. For a smoother texture, add mixture to blender or food processor and blend until very smooth. Pour puree back into the pot and add sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves. Simmer over low heat for one hour, stirring frequently, uncovered.

3. After the first hour, remove two of the four cloves. Add lemon juice and vanilla extract and simmer for another half hour to an hour. Stir frequently to avoid burning, scraping the sides of the pan with a spatula.

4. When the puree has reached desired consistency, remove the cloves. Place hot apple butter in hot sterilized jars. Seal with dry, sterilized lids and rings. Process in water bath for 10 minutes if you intend to store the apple butter long-term. Otherwise, seal jar and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.

Yield: Makes about 6 cups.

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