I’ve been canning since I was a teenager and have entered many county fairs with my jams and preserves. I even have some 1st place wins at the LA County Fair and I’ve taught seniors to can in church programs, but I still relished this challenge. There are so many variables in canning, that every new batch is a challenge.
Apple butter is essentially an apple sauce that’s been cooked down with spices to form a thick spread. No “real” butter is used in the making of apple butter. “Butter” just refers to the spreadable consistency of the final product.
Apple butter is actually a very simple recipe, so please do not be discouraged by the information and jargon used in this write-up.
Why Preserve Foods?
There are many reasons – save the harvest from our garden for later in the year, control the ingredients that go into our food, nostalgia (memories of our parents or grandparents), make gifts, satisfaction of making it yourself… etc. For me, it’s curiosity, controlling what I eat and just the satisfaction of making it myself.
Why foods go bad?
Before we start preserving foods, we need to know why foods spoil.
The two main culprits are:
1) The obvious culprit is bacteria, molds and yeast/fungi. I call them “bad bugs.” There are “good bugs” that help with fermentation (yogurt, beer, wine, sourdough breads and pickles), but the bad bugs rots foods, gives foods an off taste and can make us sick.
2) The other culprit is enzymes. Enzymes are molecules that occur naturally in food which encourage chemical changes, some of which are desirable – help ripen fruit by converting starch to sugar, soften fruits or vegetables, or reduce acidity level. Some changes are not desirable, browning when an apple is cut, or the fruit becomes overripe where the flesh becomes soft and mushy.
The other supporting culprits are oxygen and unintentional moisture loss. Fortunately, when we eliminate microorganisms, the rest of the culprits are taken care off at the same time.
|Brief summary of how each food preservation method works.
||Storing foods at 0F (-17.8C) or lower
|Boiling Water Canner (high acid foods)/Pressure Canner (low acid )
||Some foods can be acidified using vinegar or lemon juice
||Heats foods to kill bad bugs and neutralize enzymes
||Jars form a vacuum seal – creates a low oxygen environment
|Pickling and Fermentation
||Food is acidified by using vinegar or natural bacteria creating lactic acid
||Brines (salted water) and sugars reduce fresh water
||Removes up to 90% of the moisture
|Jam and Jellies
||Vinegar or Lemon juice, Fruits naturally acidic
||Cooking, canning or Freezing
||Canning will create a vacuum seal
||Sugar reduces water available
For this daring challenge, we will be focusing on Freezing and Boiling Water Canning.
Freezing refers to storing foods in airtight containers at 0ºF (-17.8ºC) or lower. Freezing does not kill bad bugs. The cold temperature causes the microorganisms to go into hibernation/suspended animation.
Freezing is the easiest food preservation method, especially with modern freezers.
The main pointers for freezing:
- Freeze foods quickly. Quickly freezing creates smaller ice crystals. Water is a funny substance where water expands when frozen. This means larger ice crystals can puncture cell walls (such as whole berries) so when defrosted you end up with a mushy mass.
- Try not to freeze too much at once. Typical advice 2 to 3 lbs (1 kg) per cubic foot (28 Liters) of freezer space.
- Containers should be airtight and leak proof.
- Minimize air and gaps in the packaging. This reduces the chance for freezer burn – drying.
- Label and date the package. Frozen foods tend to look the same over time, especially when a layer of ice has formed.
- Vegetables can be blanched to deactivate enzymes. Blanching is quick cooking in boiling water for a few minutes and cooled rapidly in ice water.
- For initial freezing using pliable freezer bags, freeze on a smooth, flat surface to prevent the bag from molding itself to the rack.
Boiling Water Canning:
Boiling water canning sterilizes the food using the temperature of boiling water. The jars form a vacuum seal which creates a low air/oxygen environment.
The temperature that water boils varies with altitude. At sea level, water boils at 212ºF (100ºC) while at 5,000 ft (1524 m) water boils at 203ºF (95ºC). What this means is canning (processing) times increase with altitude. Fortunately, we don’t need to do the math. Canning recipes include processing times for different altitudes.
Boiling water canning is appropriate for high acid foods (foods with pH values lower than 4.6). Typically, fruits are high acid foods while vegetables are low acid. There are a few fruits that are on the border (pH 4.6), such as, tomatoes. However, some borderline pH foods can be acidified by adding vinegar or lemon juice. In home canning, lemon juice (and lime juice) refer to bottled concentrate, unless the recipe calls for fresh. Also, vinegar refers to vinegar with 5% acidity. The percentage strength can be found on the label.
In the USA, home canning uses Mason jars, a thick-walled jar. The lid is a two piece assembly – the lid with a reddish sealing compound and a metal band/ring.
Jars should be inspected before each use – looking for cracks and chips. Washed with detergent dish soap and dried. To reduce thermal shock (hot food cracking a cold jar), the jars should be kept hot. Clean jars can be kept hot by submerging in the boiling water canner or in a dishwasher. Also, a warm oven can be used.
For processing (canning) times less than 10 minutes, the jars need to be sterilized for 10 minutes in boiling water. For altitudes higher than a 1,000 ft (305 meters), an additional minute is added for each 1,000 ft (305 meters) above sea level.
The basic steps for using a boiling water canning.
- Check your jars for chips, cracks and nicks. Wash and preheat your jars.
- Fill you canner half full with water. Preheat water to 140ºF (60ºC) for raw packing foods or 180ºF (82ºC) for hot packing foods.
- Fill jars with food prepared according to the recipe, remove bubbles and adjust headspace.
- Load jars into the canner. It’s important to keep the jars level.
- Add more hot water, as needed, so the jars are submerged by at least 1 inch (2.54 cm) of water.
- Cover the canner with the lid and turn the heat to high.
- Set timer when the water comes to a vigorous boil. You can lower the heat, but the boil must be maintained.
- When the time is up, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Wait 5 more minutes.
- Remove jars making sure the jars are level and set on a towel. Allow to cool to room temperature, undisturbed for 12 to 24 hours.
- Headspace – is the gap between the top of the container to the level of the liquid or food. For freezing, headspace is important to ensure there is room in the container for the expanding food. For canning, headspace ensures that a proper vacuum seal will form without the food spilling out of the jars while canning.
- Raw Pack (canning) – foods are placed in jars raw and, typically, a flavored liquid is added to the jars before processing. Advantages: Food is not cooked twice. Retains shape better. Disadvantages: Uses more jars. Foods may float due to trapped air.
- Hot Pack (canning) – foods are cooked before jarring. Advantages: Foods are cooked down so more can be packed into a jar. Less air in food. Disadvantages: Original shape is lost.
|Recipe: Reduced Sugar Apple Butter
||Cut into eights, stem and blossom end removed
||Optional: Water or Juice
||Optional: Honey, Agave or Sugar – to taste
Note: * If you used peeled and cored apples. I recommend buying 5 lbs (2.26 kg) of apples.
Gala and Golden Delicious Apples
- 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.
- Combine unpeeled apples and cider in 8-quart (about 7 ½ litre) saucepan. Cook slowly and stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Cook until apples are very soft (falling apart).
- 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. Note: Since the apples were peeled, I just mashed in the pot.
- Combine pulp with Sucralose and spices in an 8-quart (about 7 ½ 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.
- 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. Note: It may be difficult to see, but the sample on the left is the apples sauce from step 3. The apple sauce left a liquid ring while the apple butter did not.
- Pour contents into desired storage container or multiple containers. I stored my apple butter in 1-cup (250ml) plastic containers with screw on tops. Refrigerate up to 2 weeks, freeze up to a year, and home canning is good for a year.
* 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.
I used 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.
The best method (Food Safety) is to thaw in the refrigerator for a day.
Cold water, 70ºF (21ºC) 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)
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. I improvised a rack by tying metal bands to a bamboo sushi mat.
- 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.
- The top and side of the jar are wiped down with a damp paper towel.
- Headspace is measured to ¼” (6.5mm).
- Lids are placed in a pan of hot water (180ºF or 82ºC) to soften the sealing compound. Do this prior to beginning to fill your jars so it sits in the hot water about 10 minutes.
- 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. I generally screw down the bands (using two fingers) until resistance stops the band. After which, I give a slight additional 1/4″ (6.5mm) twist.
- The jars are lowered into the hot water canner. Water temperature is about 180ºF (82.2ºC).
- 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 (I have an electric stove) 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. For these three jars, they all pinged within a minute.
- 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.