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In the Kitchen With Ricky: It’s like butter – apple butter! – for the first day of fall

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

It is officially apple season! It’s almost as if apples are the bridge between summer and fall, and I always get so excited and inspired upon their arrival. Do yourself a favor and get out to Green Bluff these next couple of weeks to pick some of the dozens of varieties available here in the Inland Northwest.

As a baker and a chef, it’s always front of mind to celebrate the utmost of seasonal produce. We are always trying to push forward with new ideas and recipes for classic ingredients such as the apple. However, this recipe is a staple I make every fall. To me, it is a sign of cooler days and earlier sunsets to come.

I give you loose guidelines here, and it’s really up to you to explore. Try different varieties of apples and pears, or even sneak in pumpkin for a different fall flavor. Feel free to experiment with other spices or herbs and mix up the sugars, such as using demerara, maple or even coconut for a whole other flavor profile.

I like to use white and brown sugar, as the addition of brown sugar gives the finished product a slight hint of caramel. Warning: The aromas about to fill your home are intoxicating! This recipe makes five pints, plus a little extra that you’ll just have to eat right away.

Slow-Cooked Apple Butter

I love using apple butter as an ingredient inside a cake batter or spread between cake layers, simply on buttered toast or spooned over vanilla ice cream and even as a filling in grilled cheese sandwiches made with great bread and cheddar cheese. It also is a great base for barbecue sauce or used in your favorite pork dish.

5 pounds of apples (I used Honeycrisp from Hidden Acres Orchards in Green Bluff)

¾ cups granulated sugar (add more to taste or if canning)

½ cup brown sugar

¼ cup lemon juice

1 cup fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1 cinnamon stick

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

1 bay leaf

Peel, core and dice the apples, then place them into a large slow cooker. Add all the ingredients on top of the apples and stir together.

Cook on high for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Turn the heat down to low and leave the lid ajar, continuing to cook for about 8 hours, or until the apple butter is thickened and dark brown.

I like to do this overnight, that way I wake up the next morning to the most wonderful smell filling the house. I highly recommend making oatmeal and topping a bowl that morning with this delicious apple butter.

I prefer texture and like when apple chunks remain, but if you want it more like “butter,” use a food mill, ricer or immersion blender to achieve the desired texture.

Divide the hot apple butter among cleaned jars and place the lids on top, screwing in place if using. Cool and store in a refrigerator or freezer. In the refrigerator, the apple butter will last for at least 2 weeks and in the freezer 6 months.

To make this apple butter shelf stable, you will need to go through the canning process. You’ll also need to increase the granulated sugar by ½ cup, prepare and sterilize the jars and fill the sterile jars with the hot apple butter. Process the jars within 10 minutes of filling using a method for jams/jellies.

Note: I use a slow cooker for this recipe, as it is the easiest and most efficient way to concentrate the flavors and caramelize the sugars, which is what differentiates apple butter from applesauce.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, feel free to combine all the ingredients and cook in a heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over low heat for 3-5 hours, or until dark brown in color. Make sure to stir often and scrape the bottom so a skin doesn’t form and the apple butter doesn’t burn.

Local award-winning chef and Rind and Wheat owner Ricky Webster can be reached at Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.