In this challenging economy, most of us are working harder to make ends meet and balance is elusive. Expressing creativity is one way I stay centered. Last month, I managed to carve out an entire afternoon to visit Sebastopol with my daughter and buy 25 pounds of apples from a local farm. My intention was to make several apple pies and freeze them. Predictably, there was no time. A month went by—apples still in the box. Although they were only $1 per lb, I felt guilty about letting them go to waste. One early morning, a childhood memory came floating back—a wonderful memory of apple butter steaming fragrantly away on my best friend’s mom’s stove. I arose early, found a couple of recipes on the internet and started cooking. The house smelled pleasantly of apples & cinnamon for two days, and there’s nothing better on toast in the morning. Double or Triple the recipe for extra jars to can or share with friends.

Homemade apple butter does double duty as a holiday gift. Below are two recipes—the slow way tastes better but both are a treat. Use as a sandwich spread, on pancakes & waffles and as an accompaniment to meats. It’s fantastic with roast pork – I tried it with an inexpensive pork roast, coated a couple of hours before cooking with a mixture of whole grain mustard, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.

The creativity come into play by decorating the extra jars with ribbon and giving them away as hostess gifts; and altering the recipe to suit my personal taste and the memories of a kind-hearted neighbor’s technique—a warm childhood experience indeed. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

The Slow Way (In both recipes, add more spice as needed. It should be thick and brown when finished.)

4 pounds fresh apples cut into 2 inch pieces (don’t peel or core)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2-3 cups water, enough to cover 1/3 of the apples
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 tbsp ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Zest & juice of one lemon
Quarter cup of brandy or Calvados (optional)

  1. In a large pot, cook apples, water & vinegar over high heat until boiling.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low heat and simmer until soft, about 35 minutes.
  3. Put the fruit & liquid through a strainer & discard the separated skin & seeds.
  4. Put the apple pulp, spice and lemon juice back into the cooking pot. Bring to a boil, add Calvados.
  5. Simmer the mixture over medium-low, stirring every 15 minutes, for 6 hours or until thick and brown. (Do not let the mixture stick. When finished it should be thicker than applesauce.)
  6. Pour into clean jars & refrigerate, use within two weeks.

The Fast Way

  1. Peel, cut & core the apples. Follow steps 1 & 2 above.
  2. In a food processor, pulse mixture for a few seconds until the size of small peas. Don’t overprocess!
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients in a large pot & cook over medium-high heat.
  4. Stir constantly with a rubber spatula until thicker than applesauce—about an hour. Do not allow mixture to stick. Follow step 6 above.