Definitely NOT Parkay

Anyone who goes to farmer’s markets or buys lots of fruits and vegetables for their family has had this happen to them.

I got a good deal.

It was a rainy Wednesday and I was hemming and hawing over some small, bright but light red, apples at one of the organic farmers.  Then he told me he wanted to leave and he’d give me a deal if I took the rest of his stock.  He didn’t know the breed, but that it was a heritage apple from a 30-foot tall that was on his farm when he bought it.

I’m a sucker for a deal and a story.  The apples weighed in at over 4 lbs and he gave me three bucks off the price.

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So Pretty

I originally planned to use them for juicing.  But in the end, it turned out to not be a good juicing week.  (The reasons I normally make us juice are 1) we’re eating very healthy and want to continue on the smug health streak 2) we’re eating incredibly unhealthy and let’s at least make our vodka fight cancer 3) we’re sick and have a specific nutrient we want to get into our bodies 4) we have too much produce.  Lately we’ve been falling into the fifth, non-juicing category of “eating barely healthy enough and have enough time on our hands so I should prepare whole vegetables and fruits to consume before worrying about juice.”)

So I decided to whip out my Ball Book of Preserves and learn how to make apple butter.

(It’s very easy to make apple butter.)

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Even Prettier on the Inside…Just Like You.

With each recipe I try, I learn a bit more about the process in general.  Today I wanted to use some tiny 4oz jars so I have more small giveaways for presents.  But all of my recipes are for ½ pint (8 oz) or pint (16 oz) jars.  It took me a while to find the answer in the comments section of a canning article – you use the same processing time for pints and anything smaller.  I.e. the processing time for a pint is the least amount of time you’ll ever use.

Here I got stuck writing this blog post because I thought I stumbled upon another good tidbit but I found conflicting information.  It’s very unclear to me what to do with filled jar #1 while I fill jar #2-etc.  Does it sit on the counter?  Can it go back in the canner?  You definitely want to work quickly enough that this isn’t a huge issue, but it severely bugs me that no recipe I’ve found is specific.  Right after I found an article listing, “Put all the jars into the canner” (i.e. – leave it out) I found one that said, “fill the jar, lid-ring-la-di-dah, put it back into the canner and continue filling your jars.”  As long as the rings are holding the lids on to the point they won’t let in more water, and the water in the canner isn’t boiling yet (so some jars don’t process longer than others – it can affect the consistency of your food), I don’t think it’s a big deal?  Question mark?  Bueller?

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Here!  Ignore my ignorance regarding the subject on which I’m writing with this pretty photo of apples cooking…

I mentioned once before that the Ball book of Preserving gives lots of tips and insights in areas other than the recipes so sometimes I write out the steps fully for myself as well as follow the recipe.  For example, the way you test if fruit butter has “set” is to put a small amount on a chilled plate.  This isn’t in the actual recipe, but in the preface to this entire section.  So I wrote out my steps to include putting a plate in the freezer before anything else.  It’s a little thing, but canning can get hectic and it’s nice to have this added level of anal retentive in the throes of battle.

The little heritage apples weren’t quite enough for me to make a full recipe of apple butter, so I threw in the local Mackintoshes Tom bought the week earlier.  While the recipe suggests using apple cider as the liquid for cooking the apples down, I didn’t have any so I followed the directions for using straight water.  Except that I skimped on the sugar.  This is the biggest thing I’ve learned about canning recipes so far – you do not always have to use the entire amount of sugar in a recipe.  Not that you can take a recipe with 10 cups down to one – the sugar plays a big role in making jams/jellies set right and it also acts as a preservative itself.  But less sugar does not mean your jam will fail or be unsafe.  It just takes some practice and you should be aware the shelf life is less.

In this recipe, I’d say the butter is a little soft – almost apple sauce consistency.  I’m not sure if it’s due to the lower sugar or not letting it set enough.  (It was nearing the end of the maximum cooking time suggested in the recipe.) Although I should mention I have not eaten a jar of the completely processed stuff; that may have set just fine.

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Looks Fine To Me.  Mighty Fine.

(In just about every recipe, you’re going to get weird amounts.  Some people go ahead and fill a jar only half full to process the remains but to me that’s a waste of a lid.  I find some container and store it in the fridge.)

You might also wonder how the heck I’m eating all this stuff.  I mean, you can only make so many peanut butter and homemade jam sandwiches, right?  WRONG.  THERE ARE INFINITE PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICHES.  SHUT YOUR MOUTH.

In all seriousness, we tend to eat plain steel cut oats at least once a week for breakfast.  Instead of adding honey or brown sugar to sweeten my bowl, I put a couple spoonfuls or some fruit-based canned good.  Sugar and fiber and home-grown-smugness all at once!  What more does your hot breakfast cereal need?

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