Thursday, October 11, 2012

Of Apples and Autumn

Empire Apples, Masker Orchards
There is something about this time of year that drives me back to the kitchen with renewed interest. The cooler weather, shorter days and intersection of last-gasp summer and just-ripe fall produce at the farmer's markets makes cooking much more interesting. I love summer, just ask anyone with a beach house who knows me! And I adore the simplicity of summer cooking with amazing in-season ingredients. But when the air gets that chill and the sun starts to set before we've finished with dinner, I look forward nights of braised meats, roasted root vegetables and apples. Crunchy, juicy, apples.

For a family of three we eat an astonishing amount of apples. And we enjoy picking them ourselves. Over time we have developed a family tradition. We pick our apples at Masker Orchards in Warwick, NY. Nothing fancy. Just your basic pick-your-own place.  We make a day of it.  First we pick and eat ourselves into an apple-colored daze. Then we pay for our apples (29.1 lbs of them this year to be precise), buy some cider and head into town for lunch (this year we stumbled across Eddie's Roadhouse. The burgers are fantastic - ground in-house, flavorful and juicy - and they have an interesting and varied selection of beers on tap.  Ask for some garlic aioli for your fries). Afterwards we head to Bellvale Creamery for their pumpkin ice cream. Then we come home and contemplate the apples.

Apple pie.  Apple crisp.  Baked apples.  Plain old apples.  Apple sauce.  I make it all.  Then this year I was struck by inspiration.  What better way to get rid of make use of these delicious specimens than apple butter?  My love affair with slow cooking has endured and I decided that I would attempt to make apple butter in the slow cooker. Is it OK to call myself a genius? The slow cooker broke down the apples while concentrating all of their flavor. The result was a luscious, highly flavorful, caramel-brown, spice-scented spread. If you have an abundance of apples I recommend trying your hand at apple butter.

Apple butter is wonderful as an addition to oatmeal or other hot cereals, on a bagel or pumpkin bread with cream cheese, as an accompaniment to a cheese platter, as a spread on sandwiches or, for some of us, right off the spoon.

World’s Easiest Apple Butter

  • Approximately 6 lbs of apples (a mix of sweet and tart), peeled, cored and cut into 1” chunks
  • ½ cup water, apple cider, or orange juice
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 2 cups of sugar (if you don’t plan on canning this you can cut down on the sugar but since I often use this with cheese the sweetness provides a nice contrast especially with sharp cheeses)
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • Other spices to your taste – I usually toss in a few star anise and cardamom pods (just remove them once the butter is done).  Fresh ginger would be good too, if you have it on-hand.

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate them.  
  2. Stir well to mix and make sure the liquid and sugar is evenly distributed.  
  3. Toss into your slow cooker, set it to low and let it cook for 10 hours.  
  4. Wake up to the best smell and delicious apple butter.  Alternatively, come home from work to the best smell and delicious apple butter.

You can also make this on the stovetop; it just requires a little more vigilance.  Once the ingredients are combined pour them into a large, non-reactive pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally until it reaches the consistency of extremely thick applesauce and the color of dark caramel.

If desired you can process the apple butter and can it.  It makes a nice holiday gift for teachers.  You can find detailed canning information and instructions here.

The child, clearly enjoying the fruits of her labor.  Pun intended.