Homemade applesauce and apple butter are wonderful treats for any age, and my boys particularly love them. I grew up enjoying my grandparent's homemade apple butter, which they faithfully canned for many years. They are both gone now, and I never did get the recipe from them, but I keep hoping that a relative will suddenly announce that they've found the long lost family recipe and kindly share it with me. Family heirlooms like that should be preserved (pun intended).
This particular recipe is adapted from a new cookbook that I'm reviewing, Cooking with Shelburne Farms: Food and Stories from Vermont. The cookbook is rich with recipes from the famous Vermont farm estate, now a national historic site and non-profit environmental education center.
The recipe is in two parts, so if you want to just make applesauce, simply stop after Part 1. Both the sauce and the butter start the same way, by tossing apple slices with apple cider, maple syrup, and cinnamon sticks in a large roasting pan, then baking for 30 to 45 minutes. The aroma of the cooking apples is intoxicating, though ultimately for me there wasn't enough cinnamon flavor in the apple butter base, so I added more cinnamon along with other spices.
In addition to refrigerating or freezing, you can also preserve the apple butter using the boiling water method. Instructions below.
The homemade applesauce made me desire to only eat this kind of applesauce for the rest of my life. It is so good. The color comes out rich and golden, not pale like most commercial applesauce. I've never had an apple butter or sauce made with maple syrup, and I was delighted with the flavor. The maple-infused apple butter tasted delicious on our homemade biscuits, and I'm tempted to try it on Ina Garten's Maple Oatmeal Scones. We used a New York maple syrup that Michael's parents brought to us on their last visit, a Grade A Dark Amber, which has a light flavor. A Grade B syrup will give more flavor, and the book recommends using that grade if you can find it. The recipe calls for star anise, but neither Michael nor I enjoy anise flavor, so we skipped it and opted for other flavors in the apple butter.
I made full batches of both applesauce and apple butter because we had plenty of apples from our recent apple-picking excursion to Tarara Winery, but that meant prepping 10 pounds of apples and running all of those cooked apples through the food mill. To speed the prep along, I skipped peeling the apples per the recipe and just cleaned them well and used an apple slicer which cored and divided the apples all in one stroke. That helped a lot on the front end prep. Then before putting the cooked apples into the food mill, I quickly took a potato masher through them, which helped make the texture easier for the food mill to handle. Remember, the food mill is not only for grinding the apples but also separating the peels from the flesh, so taking a minute to mash them up a bit beforehand will likely save you some time later.
If you don't want to bother with the food mill, then you need to peel the apples before roasting, but then you can use a food processor for mashing at the end. Either way, if you've got an extra pair of hands nearby, then ask for help and bribe with homemade applesauce and apple butter!
[Updated January 24, 2010.]
Oven-Roasted Applesauce and Apple Butter
- large, heavy roasting pan
- knife or apple slicer
- food mill, with fine blade for apple butter or coarse blade for applesauce (optional)
- potato masher (optional)
- food processor or blender (optional)
- 5 pounds apples (cored and cut into 8 wedges - Use one of those apple slicers if you have one.)
- ½ cup apple cider (or natural apple juice)
- ¼ cup maple syrup (up to ½ cup, depending on the tartness of the apples, Grade B recommended for strongest flavor )
- 4 whole cinnamon sticks
Spices for Apple Butter
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
Step 1 - Applesauce
- Preheat the oven to 350° F/175° C.
- In the large roasting pan, toss the apples with the cider and maple syrup, then lay the cinnamon sticks around in the apples. Roast until the apples are very soft and mash easily, 30 to 45 minutes.
- Remove the cinnamon sticks. If you left the peels on, mash the apples slightly with a potato masher, then run them through the food mill. Use the fine blade for apple butter and the coarse blade for apple sauce. If you peeled the apples before roasting, then process the cooked apples in a food processor. Applesauce is finished, just set aside to cool, then put into containers and refrigerate or freeze. You can also keep a cup or two of applesauce and turn the rest of the mixture into apple butter, just make sure that the mixture is finely ground so that you get that nice, smooth texture for which apple butter is famous.
Step 2 - Apple Butter
- Reduce oven temperature to 300° F/150° C. Stir the milled apples with any remaining liquid from the roasting pan and the ground cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. Add more maple syrup if desired.
- Spread the mixture into the roasting pan, making sure to spread evenly throughout the pan. Cook in the oven for 1 to 1-½ hours, depending on how much you started with. Stir every 30 minutes, working the edges into the middle. Test for doneness by dropping a spoonful onto a plate. If no liquid is released, then the apple butter is ready.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Spoon into containers and refrigerate or freeze.
- To can the apple butter, prepare the jars according the directions for boiling water canning. Skip step 6 above (cooling) and add the hot apple butter to the hot jars, leaving ¼-inch (0.5 cm) head space. Remove the air bubbles and adjust the air space by adding more butter if necessary. Make sure head space is precisely ¼-inch (0.5 cm), or the jars will not seal properly. Wipe the rim clean and center the lid on the jar. Screw the band on just until finger tight. Do not over tighten.
- Process jars according to the boiling water canning directions for 10 minutes with the lid on. Remove the canner lid and wait 5 more minutes, then remove the jars. Allow them to cool completely, then store in a dark location for up to one year.