Aroma of apple butter cooking means fall is here


Chilly, damp weather is here, which doesn’t seem fair since winter was so long and at times it seemed spring would never come. But autumn is officially here, whether we’re ready or not, and our apple harvest is underway.

Modern apples (Malus domestica) are descendents of wild trees growing in the mountains of central Asia from what today is Kazakhstan to western China. They were crossed both naturally and later by humans with wild crab apple trees, and today’s cultivated apples are more closely related to crab apples than their original wild relatives. Crab apples (Malus sylvestris) are the only apples native to the Americas.

My husband loves grafting, so we have an assortment of apple trees. ‘Red Rome Beauty’ was the first. Since then we’ve added lots of new selections — ‘Honeycrisp,’ ‘Blushing Golden,’ ‘Fuji,’ ‘Gala’, Spurmac’ and ‘Hoople’s Antique Gold.’  Some are micro-miniature trees, others are grafted branches on our original tree.

We’re eating a lot of them fresh. It’s nice to have lunch outside and finish up by grabbing an apple for dessert. Since we don’t use pesticides, we pick, peel off the protective bag that’s kept out apple maggots (and now hungry yellow jackets) and munch.

Not all of the apples were bagged. It’s hard to find all of them when they’re small, and not all of them are worth bagging. So the chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons and possums have plenty of apples to eat, too. The dogs are happy to pick up the critter-nibbled remains the wasps don’t swarm, so everybody is happily feasting these days.

Bagging doesn’t guarantee perfect fruit. Sometimes insects or disease still mar the apples. That’s why apple butter was cooking in the kitchen this weekend. The name is deceptive since there’s no butter involved in the preparation. The name refers to the smooth texture of the resulting preserves. It’s about the easiest way to have apple flavor all winter.

Step 1: A selection of lightly damaged apples are peeled, cored and chopped up. The mix of different apples gives a complex flavor to the finished product.

Step 2: Add some water and a little sugar to a kettle along with the chopped apples. Cook them until they can be mashed.

Step 3: Put the mashed apples in a Crock-Pot, season with ground cinnamon and allspice and put a spoon under the edge of the lid so the simmering mash can dehydrate. Stir every couple of hours. Slowly, the mixture thickens, caramelizes and develops a silky texture.

The Crock-Pot method needs much less tending than reducing on the range, and it’s almost impossible to burn the apple butter, which gently simmers without heat adjustment in the Crock-Pot. The only drawback is having the house smell like apple pie all day long. It’s hard not to salivate every time you walk through the kitchen.

Other apples will be turned into frozen pies, but the bulk of our harvest will be eaten fresh. The apple harvest makes a sweet good-bye to summer that can last through the cold coming months of winter.



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