Easy Slow Cooker Apple Butter or Apple Sauce
After Thanksgiving, I was telling people that I put the leftover apple crisp on my oatmeal. So many people seemed to like the idea that I thought I should share what I do more often – make my own apple butter and put it on oatmeal or bread, or use it in cooking. With a slow cooker, it is very easy.
I’m demonstrating a small batch, here in my small slow cooker (the cheap one that runs a bit hot…) A larger batch would take more time – but then you wouldn’t need to do it again soon… It keeps in the refrigerator about a week and a half to two weeks, but freezes beautifully. I usually spend an afternoon (while doing other things) making a large batch, and then freeze it in one cup containers.
For this, I buy a bag of apples at Greenmarket. For eating out of hand, I usually choose the apples I select individually, a few each of several varietals, and handle them carefully. Bagged apples – either here or in a supermarket – tend to be smaller, might possibly have bruised a little along the way (so cook them soon, before they deteriorate) and are much less expensive… Which makes them a good choice for juicing or cooking – anything where they don’t need to be pretty or in perfect condition.
Peel the apples. I use a swivel blade peeler, as it gets the thinnest peel with the least waste. I don’t worry, at this stage, about getting every little bit… Then I use this nifty apple cutter, which both cores the apple and cuts it in segments, quickly. It’s a one use gadget that saves me enough time in a job I do often that it is well worth the small price and space… If you don’t have one handy, just cut the apples in quarters with a paring knife, and then cut out the core. Even with the cutter, I use a knife to cut out any bits of core that were left, and any bruises.
Another option is to skip peeling it all together, possibly even skip coring, and put the sauce through a food mill or strainer later. I do that if I’m looking for a smooth butter – though I usually still core the apple, as I find that easier. If you don’t have a strainer, you can get the smooth consistency with a blender, but only if you have peeled and cored – the tough bits don’t blend well. I’m getting ahead of myself here, though…
When I cut the apple pieces, I just put them right into the slow cooker. I add a tiny bit of liquid to get them started – in this case, about 2 tablespoons of cider, as I had some. Otherwise I might use water – but very little. The goal is to cook the liquid away – so I just want a bit at the bottom to start steaming the fruit. Then I add a generous amount of cinnamon, which is, of course, purely optional, but I like it…
No sugar, as the fruit is very sweet itself. Sugar was originally used as a preservative – it does help it keep a little longer, especially if all you have is a cold cellar – but now that we have refrigeration, and freezers for longer storage, I’d rather skip it. Equally, for longer storage it can be water bath canned – but I’m not making that much at once. I can get good local apples here all winter, so I’m not doing this in a big batch so my family will have fruit in February – I’m just making it to enjoy. I’ll do it all the easy way.
Anyway – I put the apples, a splash of cider, and plenty of cinnamon into the slow cooker, and put the lid on. I cooked it on high for an hour (a larger batch, in a larger pot, which usually heats up more slowly – I give that step 2 hours.)
I didn’t get a picture of this – the apples may still look the same, sitting there – but they are cooked through and very soft. I took a spoon and smooshed them down – that’s where I have the picture… As you see, there is soft apple, and lots of slightly syrupy juice. If you just want
something sweet and moist to put over your oatmeal or pancakes (oh, my, this is good on pancakes…) you can stop now. Let it cool, package and refrigerate. Otherwise we want to cook the juice away.
At this point, I leave the lid off. What, you say? Well… if the point is to evaporate the liquid, I don’t want the lid to keep the steam in. But it does mean that you want to be home and awake for this – though you don’t need to check in often (and can certainly run to the corner – just don’t go out all afternoon.)
An hour later (again, possibly longer with a larger batch) it has visibly cooked down, and there is soft apple and very little juice. In fact, it is now apple sauce… I sometimes stop now and keep it to eat with cottage cheese, or as a side with pork chops, or… This time I will continue – all the way to apple butter.
This is the point at which, if I wanted a very smooth apple butter, I’d put it all through a strainer, to completely break down the pulp and get any tiny bits of skin that might have gotten into the pot. I’m not being that finicky this time, though.
Oh – another option with a large batch is to simply spoon some out at each of these stages, so the one afternoon gives you several slightly different products. A container of apples to pour over pancakes, a container of apple sauce, a container of apple butter… That itself can be fun. And removing much of the juice in the earlier stage speeds up the later stage (though then the apple butter isn’t quite as sweet, as the juice hasn’t cooked down…)
This time, though, since I wanted apple butter I could put on bread, I kept going. Still with the lid off… another hour – it cooked down further… If you want to speed the process up, stir it every so often – that helps the steam escape.
Now, with my small batch, I had something I could spread. Again, with a larger batch, this would probably take longer… I didn’t cook this down as far as I could have – I’m looking for an easy recipe, here – but it will now spread, and not run all over the bread. I let it cool, packaged it, and put it in the refrigerator. My quart of sliced apples cooked down into about a cup of apple butter… The cinnamon gives it a reddish brown color – without the spice, it’s a darker brown.
I’ll put a spoonful on my oatmeal. We will both use it on toast or sandwiches. It is so good with peanut butter! I’ll mix a spoonful of it with mustard and serve it with pork – or even spread it on a roast… (If I’m specifically planning to add mustard, I’ll leave out the cinnamon when I’m making it – but if I used it, it’s OK.)
The same basic recipe also works well with pears and peaches. I suspect it would work with other stone fruit, too, but I haven’t tried that – apples and peaches have simply been the fruit I have most easily been able to get in quantity. I use ginger instead of cinnamon with pears and peaches. With peaches, I am preserving summer for winter – nothing like pulling a small container of peach butter out of the freezer on a miserable February day… a reminder that warm weather does, indeed, come to the Northeast. Even the apples, though, which I can always get here in New York (this state is a major apple producer) give a little lift to the day.