The September 2010 Daring Cooks’ challenge was hosted by John of Eat4Fun. John chose to challenge The Daring Cooks to learn about food preservation, mainly in the form of canning and freezing. He challenged everyone to make a recipe and preserve it. John’s source for food preservation information was from The National Center for Home Food Preservation.
Reduced Sugar Apple Butter Recipe
I used used sweet apples from my neighbour's tree, so the need for sugar was reduced.
5 pounds apples
1 cup apple cider or water
1/2 cup sweetener such as honey, agave syrup or sugar to taste (I only used a few tablespoons of agave syrup as my apples were quite sweet to begin with)
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1. Wash apples well and remove stems. Cut apples into quarters or eighths and remove cores. Note: I ended up peeling the apple at this step.
2. Combine unpeeled apples and cider in 8-quart (about 7 1⁄2 litre) saucepan. Cook slowly and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until apples are very soft (falling apart).
3. Position a food mill or strainer securely over a large bowl. Press cooked apples with cider through the food mill or strainer to make a pulp. Be sure to collect all the pulp that comes through the food mill or strainer; for example, scrape any pulp clinging under the food mill into the bowl.
(My apples were very soft at this point, so did not need to do this step. I simply mashed them with a potato masher)
4. Combine pulp with sweetener and spices in an 8-quart (about 7 1⁄2 litre) saucepan. Simmer over low heat, stirring frequently.
Note: A stick blender was used to mix the spices and creates a smoother apple butter. Also, when cooking down the apples, you want to leave the lid ajar or use a splatter screen. This will allow for evaporation. Another trick is to support the lid by laying two wooden spoons across the top of the pot.
5. To test for doneness, spoon a small quantity onto a clean plate; when the butter mounds on the plate without liquid separating around the edge of the butter, it is ready for processing. Another way to test for doneness is to remove a spoonful of the cooked butter on a spoon and hold it away from steam for 2 minutes. It is done if the butter remains mounded on the spoon.
6. Pour contents into desired storage container or multiple containers and process accordingly.
The Finished Apple Butter
Apple Butter is often used as a spread. However, apple butter can also be used as a condiment (pork chops or in marinades) or as an ingredient to an apple quick bread.
You can use a freezer bag where I expelled as much air as possible and minimized the gaps in the bag. Freezer bags work well for storage since they can lay flatter in the freezer than containers.
With a container, you need to ensure you have “headspace”. Headspace is the gap between the food (or liquid level) and the top of the container. Typical, headspace when freezing foods is 1/2 “ (1.27 cm) for straight sided containers. As mentioned previously, water expands when freezing. The headspace allows room for expansion.
Thawing: The best method (Food Safety) is to thaw in the refrigerator for a day. Cold water, 70F (21C) or lower, can be used for as quicker way to defrost. The frozen food is submerged under running water. An alternative to running water is to change the water every 30 minutes. If you need an even faster method to defrost and you plan to cook the food immediately, the microwave is another method (of last resort).
Boiling Water Canning
For our challenge, apples are high acid foods. Golden delicious apples have an approximate pH of 3.6. Boiling Water Canning is an appropriate method of preserving apple butter.
Apple Butter processing information: Headspace when canning apple butter is 1/4 “ (0.64 cm)
Processing Time: 15 minutes for altitude of 0 ft (0 m) to 1,000 ft (305 m) 20 minutes for altitude of 1,001 ft (305.1 m) to 6,000 ft (1828.8 m) 25 minutes altitudes above 6,000 ft (1828.8 m)
For boiling water canning, you need a pot that is high enough to cover the jars with at least 1” (2.5 cm) of water. Also, a rack, to prevent thermal shock, is used to keep the jars off the bottom of the pot. Any type of rack will work – a tea towel, a trivet, tying together unused bands... etc.
Jars are filled using a wide mouth funnel. A plastic bubble remover is run along the sides of the jar, in an up and down motion, to remove air pockets. Headspace is measured to 1⁄4" (6.5mm). The top and side of the jar are wiped down with a damp paper towel.
Lids are placed in a pan of hot water (180F or 82C) to soften the sealing compound. The lid is seated, centered on the jar and the band is screwed on. The purpose of the band is to hold the lid down, but not too tightly. Air from the jar needs to escape into the boiling water.
Screw down the bands only until finger tight.
The jars are lowered into the hot water canner. Water temperature is about 180F (82.2C). The water level is checked to ensure there is at least 1” (2.54 cm) of water above the jars. Next, pot is covered and heat turned to high. When the water comes to a boil, the timer is started (15 minutes). The heat can be lowered as long as the water remains at a boil.
After the 15 minutes are up, the whole canner is removed off the burner and uncovered. Jars are left in the canner for 5 more minutes.
After 5 minutes, the jars are lifted out level. The temptation is to tilt the jars to drain the water off the top of the lids. Do NOT do that! You don’t want to contents of the jar to running under the seal.
Jars are placed on a dish towel to minimize thermal shock and allowed to cool for 12 to 24 hours. While the jars are cooling, you may hear a ping or a pop from the lid as it seals. That ping is a good sound.
After 24 hours, test the seal. The lid should be bowed down (concave), when you press down the lid should not move or pop up. Also, try lifting the jar by the lid only. The lid should stay on if properly sealed. The final thing is to look at the lid to see if there are any cracks or debris caught between the jar and the lid.
Storing – Once the integrity of the lids have been checked, it’s best to store the jars in a cool, dark space. The rings are removed. The rings have done their job of holding down the lids in the boiling water canner and are not needed for storage.
Remember to check the lid before you open a jar. If the lid has become unsealed during storage or the lid is bulging, throw it out. If the food has mold, become oddly discolored or has an off odor, throw it out.
The canned apple butter can easily store on a shelf for one year.