Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sweet Cider Apple Butter or Canning Experiment #1

Apparently I can't do anything the easy way. When I first made my own pasta Will stood dumbfounded, not having realized that pasta was something people made and didn't just get out of a box. This from a man who brews his own beer. I've made a few attempts at bread, but nothing worth reporting on as of yet. But this past weekend I really may have gone to the dark side of DIY projects, becoming a person who just can't buy food off the damn shelf like a normal person. Last Sunday, I canned.

It's something I've been dying to get started with for quite awhile. As the strawberries came and went this spring, I mourned my lack of jam. As Will made refrigerated brandied cherries I lamented that they would not be the dark, wrinkly ones that cooking the cherries produces. But now we were headed into tomato and apple season dammit. I was not letting more produce slip by without cramming it into a boiling hot jar and sealing on a lid.

In this project I've had a number of supporters. First and foremost were two of the Jacobson ladies, my friend Megan and her mother. You might remember these culinarily inspirational women from previous blogs, Mrs. Jacobson was responsible for gifting me with my cherished Le Cruset pot when I got married, and Megan has been plying me with cookbooks and vanilla beans since I started this blog. No food blogger should be without a support team like this. On a visit to their house last July I expressed an interest in canning and they were more than happy to back me up. From the depths of the basement came Mrs. Jacobson's pot and a canning rack (apparently they had been retired some time ago) and Megan began my education with the Ball Blue Book, otherwise known as the canning bible. A short while later she shipped me a copy, and I sat in bed drooling over jams, jellys, and preserves.

Picture from SweetDeliveranceNYC.com
Still, despite Megan's instruction that if I followed the steps outlined in the book EXACTLY canning was perfectly easy and safe, I was still a bit concerned about killing someone. Horror stories of botulism always seem to arise as soon as someone picks up a canning funnel. There's nothing like watching someone else do it first, and to be able to ask questions. Back to a Brooklyn Kitchen class I went. When you tell someone you've been to a jam making class, I think the image that they think of is someone's Grandma, a little old lady that has been ladling preserves into jars since the depression.  My teacher was not some one's Grandma. I had the good fortune to be in the class of Kelly Geary who owns the Sweet Deliverance, a company that makes and delivers organic meals based out of Brooklyn, which has been selling jam throughout the city. She was tiny, young, tattooed, and ready to teach us a thing or two about canning. One of the first things she did was promise that we probably wouldn't kill anyone. At least not anyone who wasn't stupid enough to eat jam from a jar that was seeping, smelly and gross. Apparently botulism is pretty obvious.

I wont give you a blow by blow of the whole class. For the most part it is what you would find in a canning book, but for a visual learner like me it was extremely helpful. I got some great tips too, like putting a saucer in the freezer and using it to cool down a sample of your jam quickly so you can see if it's holding together. She warned us not to add the full amount of sugar a recipe calls for immediately; you should add some and taste as some fruits can be sweeter then others. We learned a lot about food acidity needed for canning, very important if you are creating your own recipes. She also recommended Pomona's Universal Pectin as being particularly awesome, and though I didn't need pectin this particular time I bought a package anyway for the future. The insert comes with a Jamline you can call and ask questions about jam making (kinda like the Butterball Turkey Talk Line that runs in November and December to help home cooks). I love a company that will talk me down from cooking panic.

Kelly also suggested that for our first time out on canning, we might not want to work alone. It's helpful to have someone to stir while you read the recipe, to plunk lids on the jars while you ladle, or at the very least to pour you another glass of wine. My friend Anne ventured all the way to Queens from the Upper West Side to help me out, and took most of the pictures that appear here, which is why you will notice drastically increased quality in the images. If I ever write a cookbook, she's photographing it.

I am not going to give you step by step instructions on how to can, because I am not an expert and since this really could make someone sick, you shouldn't listen to me on how to do it. There are a number of great books, and if you don't want to buy a book, the USDA is so invested in making sure you don't kill someone they give their complete guide to canning safely away on their website, which even has recipes. I will say that if you are boiling your jars in a huge pot, start the water early. On my tiny stove it took nearly an hour to get a rolling boil.

Making and Canning Sweet Cider Apple Butter
Recipe from Ball Blue Book
Makes about 4 pints

- 6 pounds of apples (I used Gala, as they were $1 a pound at the farmers market)
- 2 cups sweet cider
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

Prepare pulp: Core, peel, and quarter your apples. (An assembly line with a friend shortens this process considerably, thanks Anne!) Combine apples and cider in a large saucepot. Simmer until apples are soft, you should be able to cut them in half with a wooden spoon. Puree with food processor or immersion blender, being careful not to liquefy. (I had a few chunks of apple in the final product, but I kinda liked it that way.) Measure 3 quarts apple pulp.

Make butter: Combine apple pulp, spices, and about half the sugar in a large saucepot, stirring until sugar dissolves. TASTE. If you want more sugar, add that now; if it tastes sweet enough to you, leave it out. I probably only used 2 cups of sugar in mine. Cook slowly until thick enough to round up on a spoon. As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking. Do your cold saucer test now. When I did it the spoonful I plunked on the plate kept its shape perfectly when sliding around on the plate. Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (this is where that whole sterilized equipment canning part comes into play). Remove air bubbles. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water canner.

So a few things things. One, I forgot to get the bubbles out around the side of the jar. They tell you how to do it in my book, but I forgot and there are some tiny bubble I can see on the side of my jars. Hopefully this does not make things grow in there. Fingers crossed. Second, this really resembles applesauce quite a bit. It is much less water, and does function perfectly as a spread, but heads up that you will look at this and your first thought will be "Mmm, applesauce." Third, I didn't so much do the "Measure 3 quarts apple pulp" part. I kinda eyeballed it. And while I should have gotten eight 8oz jars, I got 9. And then a little bit more in a tupperware. Not that I'm complaining.

I am quite proud of myself overall. I only burned myself once, and not very seriously, which for me is an accomplishment for any day of cooking. I am looking forward to next year, when pounds of fruit will be piled high on my counter ready to go into jars. I may not be able to wait that long. I'm already eyeing recipes for canned tomato sauce. God help all of my friends, I know what they are getting for Christmas....



Great post! And I have everything I need for the apple butter!

Megan said...

You definitely need one of those apple peeler-corer-slicers that cuts the apple in one long spiral if you're going to do this again!

As for jar sterilization - run them through a good hot dishwasher cycle (if you're lucky enough to have a dishwasher) - and keep them in a 250 degree oven until you need them. They'll stay good and hot in there.

I'm probably doing more tomatoes and black berries (maybe freezing the berries) this weekend. Want to come help?

Epicurette said...

Ha, dishwasher, that's funny.

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