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picking crab apples for apple butter

I have a crab apple tree. It is nestled comfortable between my maple trees. For four summers I have watch those tart little apples drop to the ground and sit there, undisturbed, while they compost throughout the winter. I planned to let the same thing happen again this year because I didn’t think they had any purpose other than to feed the birds.  Then I had this wonderfully terrible thought: why don’t I “Google” it?

Crab apples make very good crab apple butter. I was recently given a jar of apple butter by a friend and it tasted like apple pie on toast. I LOVE apple pie! (If you are local and want to give me one I won’t turn you down!)

Here is the story of my quest for apple butter:

1. Go to Google to find a recipe.

2. Google how to get the apples off the tree and discover that I’m supposed to shake them off. They make it sound so easy. It is, in fact, quite a workout. Put on a long sleeved shirt (the branches scratch something fierce!) or hire someone with strong, energetic arms (I told my husband that it would be a great family bonding activity). Plus get a couple of adorable little boogs with buckets to pick them up. Dump trucks work too. picking crab apples with little helpers
3. The recipe told me to cut off blossoms and stems: You could probably just take a shortcut and leave the blossoms. You’re going to strain them out anyway. And give yourself some time! Estimated time: 3.5 hours.

4. Cover with water and cook till really mushy: Make sure that the correct burner is on so you don’t accidentally burn your nice bamboo mixer. Estimated cooking time: (not including the burner mistake) 2 hours.
 how to tell when crab apples are ready to use
5. Strain: Wow There has got to be an easier way! The recipe called for a “coarse” sieve so, naturally, I grabbed my fine metal one. Decided it was taking too long so I upped the ante: my blue coarse pasta strainer. That one was not sturdy enough for me to mash through. Grabbed my big metal colander. Worked decently but took forever! The holes were in the wrong spot. So I downgraded again to my blue one. Nope, still not sturdy enough. Back to the fine mesh metal one. I should have just stuck with this one because it ended up being the simplest to use. Grabbed my spatula and started mashing. Then went to bed, woke up, did chores, and mashed some more.
Estimated time to strain all the apples: 4 hours
straining apples for apple butter
6. Spice, sugar and cook: I figured it was all downhill from here. All I had to do was add some spices and cook it, right? Well, I have a few tips:
  • apple butter splatterIt splatters. A lot. I managed to get burned. Several times. (Then I got smart and started using an oven mitt while mixing it). I’m so glad that my aloe vera plant managed to recover from it’s near death experience after I first bought it. It’s coming in really handy.
  • Also, the recipe told me it would need to simmer for 2 hours. That’s a little off. Mine simmered for a total of 24 hours. Note to self (and anyone else who makes it this far in their quest for apple butter): If it still looks like apple sauce, don’t try to can it! I was super excited after two hours to get out my jars and have my first try at canning. I had my pots all ready, tools within reach, filled my jars, and then had a thought: What is the difference between apple butter and apple sauce? So I Googled it. The difference is very small: To make apple butter you add spices and simmer longer. Much, much longer. I poured my apple sauce back into my pot.
  • puree apple butter for better textureYou get a much better texture if you blend it. I used my stick mixer but you can use whatever you have on hand.

7. Canning: The simplest way that I could find to tell if the apple sauce has turned into apple butter is to put a teaspoon on the counter and wait for 5 minutes. If there is no water pooling around it then it’s ready to can. Since I had never even seen someone else can anything I needed to give myself a quick tutorial. So, of course, I went to my trusty friend, Google. I was lucky enough to find out that somewhere along the way I managed to acquire some tools for canning (jar lifting tongs and a metal rack for the bottom of my pot). I still have no idea where they came from but I’m glad that I kept them!
apple butter in jars
8. Enjoy: I used 2 cup jars and have 7.5 of them. I’m not ready to look at them yet. Maybe when my burns heal and the rest of the crab apples fall of the tree I will be ready to move to this stage. I thought I might give the jars as gifts but, as much as I don’t even want to look at them right now, I’m going to be selfish. I worked hard for that butter and one day I’m going to enjoy it!