Slow-Cooker Apple Butter
Making apple butter is a hallmark of Appalachian cooking. With a variety of apples in the mountainous region, farmers and other locals have traditionally looked for different ways to preserve the abundance nature provided. Home cooks dried and fried them, pressed them into cider, and stored them in cellars. For a real treat, they canned jars of apple butter, a sweet, smooth spread that’s similar to applesauce but cooked much longer for a thick, jamlike consistency. Apple butter is traditionally served over hot biscuits or fluffy pancakes, but it also adds flavor to our favorite apple desserts such as Apple Butter Doughnuts with Salted-Caramel Glaze or Apple Butter Cinnamon Rolls with Apple Cider Glaze. Like syrup making, preparing apple butter was a seasonal community event. For generations, families and friends gathered around large copper kettles set over open fires and shared in the laborious, daylong work of peeling, coring, chopping, seasoning, and boiling apples. After many hours of tending the pots, they were rewarded with delicious caramel-colored apple butter. This method for crock-pot apple butter is not as labor-intensive, but you get the same delicious results. Walter Harrill of Imladris Farm in Spring Mountain, North Carolina, is well acquainted with this tradition. He lives and works on land settled by his great-grandparents and grew up watching his grandmother make apple butter in her own kettle on the stove. Today, he continues the custom with a few modern adaptations, but he still insists on using a mixed variety of apples flavored with spices and cooked for long hours. Harrill follows his grandmother’s method, which he sells to the public ($8 for a 12-oz. jar, imladrisfarm.com). We adapted his recipe using a mix of sweet and tart apples. Instead of standing for hours at the stovetop, you can use your convenient slow cooker to do the all the work.