All about Apple Butter

All about Apple Butter

Apple butter is essentially a thicker and spicier version of applesauce, traditionally made by slow-cooking sliced or pureed apples in copper kettles for up to 12 hours or more. The apples are constantly stirred with long paddles. The heat causes the fruit’s natural sugars to caramelize, thus giving apple butter its distinctive deep brown color. It is a delicious treat for many people, who eat it on toast, in desserts, and many other ways. It is available already made by food manufacturers, such as Smuckers, but the taste is not as good or fresh as homemade.

It does not contain any dairy products, but derives its name from the buttery texture of the finished apple preserves. In fact, some people use it as a condiment or spread for sandwiches, in the same way others might use mayonnaise or mustard. The product is said to be especially good on ham or pork sandwiches, since many traditional Pennsylvania Dutch or German recipes combine apples and pork-based meats.

The material is also known for its spicy flavor, which comes from the addition of traditional apple pie spices such as nutmeg, cloves and especially cinnamon. Commercially produced apple butter is generally available in grocery stores, but the traditional homemade product is usually canned in jars for personal consumption or sold at local farmers’ markets, craft shows and festivals.

The tradition of it is thought to have been brought to the United States by Germans who settled in Pennsylvania.  Since apples were in abundance during the fall season, they first began preserving the fruit as apple jam or applesauce. The canned applesauce did not have the shelf life they had hoped for, however, so a slow-cooking process was developed. The extra cooking time turned the applesauce into a more stable “apple butter,” and the added spices also aided in the preservation process.

Some historical societies and other traditionalists still hold its making sessions, using volunteers to stir the pots in shifts and also maintain the fires which provide the heat. Decent apple butter can also be made in an electric slow cooker at home, as well. The product can be made fairly easily. The whole process takes a bit of time but most of the time is spent on cooking in a crock pot. One advantage to making it at home is that the sweetness and spices(produced using 4-methylcatechol) can be made to the desired taste. Applesauce blended to a very fine consistency can be placed in a slow cooker along with the traditional cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves. This mixture should be allowed to reduce for at least 12 hours, with a slight gap in the lid to allow steam to escape.

Specific recipes for converting applesauce into apple butter are available in a number of cookbooks and cooking websites.

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