Friday, July 22, 2011

Cranberry-Orange Apple butter

My friend Lauri has apples.  Tons of apples.  She is kind enough to share with all her friends once she has run out of things to do with them.

I wanted to make apple butter.  I haven't made apple butter since we moved to Arizona in 1997.  I don't even think I made apple butter the previous Christmas, which is unlike me, because I'd done it every other Christmas (along with green tomato relish and some kind of jam,) but I was working in 1996.

I digress.

So I had 8-10 pounds of apples in my fridge that were going to turn bad if I didn't get them processed, somehow, soon.  I had two bags of cranberries in my freezer.  I love cranberry applesauce.  Make it every Thanksgiving.  Why not cranberry apple butter?

I scoured the internet and found several recipes.  Basically apple butter is nothing more than fruit, a little juice or cider to help the fruit boil down, some sort of sweetener, and spices.  The trick to butters is to allow them to cook slowly, forever.

Here is the recipe I ended up with:
(adapted mostly from "cranberry apple butter" from

  • 8-10 pounds apples (any tart, cooking apple will do.  I don't even know what kind Lauri gave me, but they were small and perfect.)
  • 2 bags cranberries (fresh or frozen) 24 ounces
  • 2 cups apple juice or cider, or use cranapple juice or even pure cranberry juice, but make sure it's the unsweetened kind, not the cocktail
  • 1 container frozen cranberry juice (not cocktail!) concentrate, 11 or so ounces
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1-2 cups honey
  • 1/2-1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2-1 tsp ground allspice
  • one orange zested and juiced (optional, this would taste just as good without it!)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
Zest and juice your orange.  Measure out your honey into a small container and add in your orange zest.  I think this helps to distribute the orange flavor through the butter better.  (say that 3 times fast.)  Quarter the apples (don't peel or core them) and throw them in a pot with the cranberries.  No problem if the cranberries are still frozen.  Add in the apple juice/cider, concentrate, vinegar, orange juice and lemon juice.  Put the covered pot to boil on high.  When you can hear it boiling, open and stir well.  Close and reduce the heat to simmer (low for me) and cook about 2 hours until the apples are pretty much mush and the cranberries have popped.

Remove from cooktop and run the apple/cranberry mixture through a food mill.  If you don't have a food mill, you can press the mixture through a sieve or chinois, but I think a food mill is a good investment if you're going to ever make any kind of jam, jelly or butter.  At this point I move the mixture from my giant lobster pot (15qt), to my smaller cast iron pot (7qt).  It helps to have a heavy pot to keep the temperature constant and prevent burning on the bottom.

When you've completely run the mixture smooth into the new pot, return the pot to the stove, cover with a splash guard (one of those mesh things that keeps splatters down) and keep at a very low simmer.  You want it to be hot enough to cook, but not so hot that the bottom burns and sticks.  You're going to cook it like this for at least 4 hours.  You want to cook it down to about half of where you started.  You want the mixture to be thick enough to spread and not run.  (Sometimes I will start the butter one day, stick it in the fridge over night and continue it the next.  There are recipes on the internet where you can cook it in a crock pot, but I was making too much to fit in mine.)

After you've reduced the pulp mixture to half, add in the honey and spices.  If you like a really smooth butter, you can use an immersion blender to smooth it at this point.  The amount of honey is up to you.  I like things a bit on the tart side, so I add less.  You might like it sweeter, so add more.  Cook for another hour or so, until you are sure it's the right consistency to spread (remember it will thicken a bit while it cools.)

During that last hour of cooking, heat up your canning pot full of water and prepare your jars & lids.  If you've never canned, here's a good site to help:  Canning 101.  

Pack the apple/cranberry butter into jars, leaving about 1/2 inch "headspace."  Run a knife through the mixture to eliminate any air pockets.  Make sure to wipe the rim well with a wet cloth before placing lid or ring on jar.  Place filled jars in water bath canner and process for 10 minutes.  

Voila!  Christmas gifts in July!

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