Sunday, March 03, 2013

Apple Butter and Adventures in Home Canning

Yes, I can.   I have a can-do attitude about home canning.   Let’s do the can-can in my kitchen.  How about I kick the can around and see what I can come up with?

OK, I’ll knock it off.  But, I have always had a certain fascination with home canning.   Perhaps it is something about those perfect vegetables or luscious jams and spreads preserved – seemingly for years – in glistening glass jars.   A jar of homemade preserves exudes a certain rustic charm.  My farming immersion of the past several years has continued to stoke an interest in canning.  Just how many ways can you preserve all that stuff that pops out of the soil between June and October?  Yes, I’m fascinated, but I’m also fearful.   There seem to be an awful lot of warnings associated with home canning.

So, when Caroline Fanning – head grower at Restoration Farm – suggested a home canning workshop for CSA members, I relished the chance to learn more.  
Caroline walked us through the basics – high acid and low acid foods, boiling-water processing and steam-pressure processing, and sterilization of jars, bands and lids.  We processed jars of apple butter, which were delicious.   Within two hours or so, I’d gained the confidence to strike out on my own. 
For my maiden voyage, I decide to stick to what I know, and plan to cook up a batch of apple butter.   Caroline had made hers overnight in a slow cooker, which I consider ingenious, yet here’s where I start to encounter some problems.   Every recipe is different, and the one I select contains two cups of cider and a quarter cup of lemon juice.   That’s a lot of liquid, and when I wake up on “canning morning” my diced apple chunks are floating in a lovely cinnamon-scented soup.   It doesn’t come close to “butter,” looks alarmingly un-spreadable and I’m certain it won’t “can” appropriately.  There’s also a lot of sugar in the recipe.   I have a sweet tooth, but I’m not a sugar addict.  Batch #1 is stored in the refrigerator and will make a decent applesauce dessert for the next week or two.  
I go back to Caroline for her recipe.   She demurs that her approach is “not anything worth committing to paper” but I’ve tasted the results already, and it’s good.   Here’s what Caroline recommends:   “I peel, core, and slice enough apples to fill a crockpot (or several crockpots).  Then I set it on low for 8-10 hours, or high for 6-8 hours (I usually do this before going to bed).  After the apples are mushy enough to stir with a spoon, I add a generous sprinkling of cinnamon and a less generous sprinkling of cloves.  It’s very unscientific, but my results are surprisingly uniform.”
I give it a shot.  (For anyone who’s counting, I’ve probably purchased about 10 pounds of apples for round one and two of this little kitchen project.)  I slice up Granny Smith apples, use a teaspoon of roasted Saigon cinnamon, a ¼ teaspoon of cloves and a ¼ teaspoon of roasted ground ginger because I like it.   The apples release some liquid, but the result is much chunkier and spreadable.   The recipe is still sweet, without any added sugar.  Sometimes, art wins over science.  And, the house smells fabulous, too.
With the apple butter bubbling away in the trusty crockpot, it’s time to start the canning process.   From here, it’s relatively simple. First, you have to sterilize the jars, lids and bands in simmering water.   I’m now the proud owner of a boiling-water canner, which is roughly the size of one of those water tanks that sits on top of a typical New York City apartment building.
The hot jars are filled with hot apple butter.   You have to leave a ¼ inch of head space at the top of each half-pint jar, and then you use a magnetic “wand” to lift the lid from a pot of simmering water and place it on the top of the jar.   Then, the band is screwed on lightly.  
The filled jars are submerged in the vat of boiling water and the pot cover is placed on top.  There is steam everywhere.  I can feel my pores opening up.   
The recipe has filled seven half-pint jars.    Not a bad outcome for a first try.   Apple butter is a high-acid food that is processed in a boiling-water canner.  The jars are processed for ten minutes. A temperature of 212° F kills any pathogens.   That’s a plus as I’m a little neurotic about food safety.  
When the ten minutes are up, I remove the cover, and let it sit for five minutes.  Then, each jar is removed from the bath to the counter.   You can hear the lids ping as the vacuum seals are completed.   A concave lid indicates a good vacuum seal. 
The collection of finished jars of apple butter looks impressive.  I’m proud of myself.  I’ve conquered my fear of canning and I’m on the start of a new culinary journey.  If you’re fearful of home canning, just think of me and read the instructions.  And, if you have the ability to observe a friend canning, it is hugely helpful.  It can be done. (Has anyone noticed how often the word “can” appears in the average sentence?)  I can see myself producing some nice blueberry jam after picking out on the East End of Long Island next summer. But, I’m not going to go crazy and start canning everything in sight.   Pickled beets?  I don’t think so. No intervention will be necessary.

The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving is an excellent and easy-to-understand resource for anyone who wants to learn the basics of home canning.  

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved


Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

What a fun winter project and I don't know anyone who doesn't love apple butter. Caroline's recipe reminds me of my mother, who, although a fabulous cook, never would commit her recipes to paper. There's a lot to be said for people who can cook by feel and taste. I'm glad to see she didn't kill it with sugar too.

Very nice post T.W. No pickled beets for me either...

Barbara said...

Your post had me smiling all the through! :) Good for you, accomplishing the canning feat. My mother canned all the time, but I confess, I've never done it myself. I used to help my Aunt Irene make and can chili sauce, I guess that counts. It was a pretty tart smell in the kitchen...I think I'd prefer the apple fragrance.
Your apple butter looks delicious!

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Clearly, you're going to need a bigger pantry.

Anonymous said...

Do you cook the apples in the crockpot with the lid on or off? All the pictures have the lid off.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Lydia - you know me too well. It doesn't take much to spark a new kitchen renovation ...

Hi Sandra - the lid stays on during cooking, but I removed it periodically to stir the apples so they would break down a bit into a mash.

Zany said...

I would love to learn how to can! Glad your apple butter (and subsequent steam facial) turned out well!

Mary Bergfeld said...

I probably shouldn't commit this to the ether because purists will go for my jugular, but I can't resist pointing out that canning kettles are also perfect vessels for cooking lobster or complete shore dinners. Putting food by is an enormously satisfying effort. I think it appeals to the pioneer instinct in all of us. Your apple butter sounds delicious and I can't wait for harvest season to see what else you plan to share with us. Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

Velva said...

Last year, I embarked on my own canning journey. I am hooked. Apple butter and pickles were some of the first things i learned to can.

Your apple butter is going to be delicious on your toast as a gift for a friend. Wait till after spring/summer harvest. The canning options are endless.

I have romantic notions of canning tomatoes this season. Last season, my tomatoes were not plentiful enough (sigh).


Gloria Baker said...

I love this post !
Normally the only thing I canned is jam but I would love canned apple butter sounds yummy!!!

Anonymous said...

What a lovely canning project!

That's so cool for all of the members of this farm! I could use these teaching skills about canning! I think that I am not so good in it yet. My mom can do it! I will ask her!

A lovely read too, my dear friend! :) A yummy endresult too!

Kalyn Denny said...

When I was a kid my mom would can and I always had to help peel and dice things. That cured me of canning for life.

Axelle the french cook said...

This looks very good ! Is it a kind of compote ? I never tried to can food by myself. But I like this idea of comfort food :)

Deana Sidney said...

I am always a little afraid of my canning skills. I often stick my products in the fridge 'just in case" so I don't sicken my house. Silly, right? Your apple butter looks lovely. I need to eat through my jars before starting any more!! Thanks for all the great tips.

Kat said...

I have been canning since 1976, and my heart still flutters when I hear that "ping" of the lid. I did not know you can make apple butter without the sugar. Be warned: Jellies and Jams take ALOT of sugar. But you only use a teaspoon at a time on the bread. I Love the Blue Ball Book. Someone made off with mine, probably me making the mistake of letting someone borrow it and never returning it. Glad you got to experience that. I see a lot of jars with food in them lining your cabinets in the future. Good Job!!

~~louise~~ said...

Well, well listen to you, I can "hear" the excitement in your "voice."

I myself have never canned a single thing ever, it surprises me because I think it's such a wonderful way of preserving summer's bounty. I always have this fear of making someone/anyone deathly sick. I know, I should just get past it.

Congratulations to you and your hearty persistence. Just thinking about future meals with that apple butter sends me in a whirl. Pork with Apple Butter comes to mind:)

Thanks for sharing, T.W. Kudos to YOU!

laura luciano said...

Thank You for posting this! My husband and I are so looking forward to doing alot of canning once our home is built out east. Right now in NYC I do a little jam here and there which I refrigerate immediately and consume. (I am as well a bit nervous about preserving and keeping on a shelf). What is the typically shelf life when canning! Looking forward to a canning class soon. :)