I love apple season. When I was young my parents would take me and my brothers apple picking in the bluffs near my hometown. I loved picking the apples, but also going into the barn and tasting all the different kinds of apples that tasted so different than the ones we had at home (usually Granny Smith or Braeburn). When I was in college, I would go to this place on weekends to pick up a bag of apples and a caramel apple.
This past weekend, my parents visited from Wisconsin and we were excited to share with them a wonderful local agricultural region known as Apple Hill. Though a bit touristy in some places for my taste, there are so many wonderful farms selling different kinds of apples, baked goods, winter squashes, pumpkins, and honey. There is also some good wine being made up there, my two favorites being this place (which makes an incredible smokey Pinot Noir) and this place (which focuses on natural, organic practices and sources as much as they can locally).
We brought home a 20-lb box and two 5-lb bags of apples from Larsen Orchards. My mom and I made an apple pie together, as is tradition; I've been making pies with my mom since I was little. After my parents left, however, I found I had a lot of apples that weren't going to last much longer. After doing some research, I mixed and adapted a few recipes to make apple butter, which is one of my favorite fall treats. This recipe is great because you can make it in a crock pot (meaning it doesn't require a lot of attention).
So, in addition to apple butter bubbling away in my crock pot, I sliced up several apples and put them in my dehydrator. Dried apples are great as a snack, in oatmeal or homemade granola. If you don't have a dehydrator, look around online and you'll probably find a recipe that is adapted for drying apples in an oven. For a little twist - and to make your house smell even more amazing - sprinkle some cinnamon on the apples prior to dehydrating.
This recipe makes a lot of apple butter, so give it away right away or plan on canning it. It will last about a week when refrigerated.
Now all I need is some homemade bread to go with it :)
Homemade Apple Butter
Makes about 5 cups
12 large tart apples, quartered around the core (toss the core)
2 c apple cider
1 scant cup sugar*
3 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
Place the apples in a large crock pot; add the apple cider. Cover and cook on low for 10-18 hours, until apples are very soft. Put the softened apples through a food mill to remove the skins or, if you don't have a food mill, push the apples through a sieve or colander using a large wooden spoon to remove the skins. Pour the fruit back into the crock pot. Add the sugar and spices; stir well. Cover the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours, stirring every two hours or so. Remove cover after three hours to allow the fruit to cook down.
If you are canning the apple butter, add the hot fruit to hot canning jars and proceed with the canning process. You can also freeze the apple butter by spooning into freezer containers, but make sure you let the apple butter cool before putting in the freezer.
*Note: the original recipe called for three cups of sugar (1 c per 2 c of fruit), which seemed like a lot to me. I recommend starting with one and checking the flavor over time. You can always add more later if you like.