I opened up a jar of homemade apple butter today and made myself an apple butter sandwich. I don’t know why it tasted so amazing, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that it was one of my first canning projects last fall. I love the idea that I can enjoy and savor something that reminds me of crisp fall days while I’m in the middle of winter, with barren trees waiting for spring buds. (For more on my thoughts on winter, go to There Will Be Chickens (Of Course!)).
My first canning attempts began last August when one of my best friends gave me everything I needed to start canning, from the Granite-Ware pot to the Mason jars to the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. As an adult, it’s a rare occasion for me to get really excited about birthday gifts, but I’m pretty sure I squealed with delight when I saw the big, blue, granite pot full of utensils.
As a kid, I remember my Aunt Barb canning every year. She had metal shelving that seemed to go on forever, with jars of green beans, tomatoes, and corn. Looking back, I have a lot of admiration for her resourcefulness and frugal nature. At the time, it all just looked like a bunch of funny glass jars, almost foreign objects compared to the canned vegetables my mom bought at the grocery store and kept on pantry shelves. Green Giant and Del Monte won out in my formidable years. And GMO and sodium content weren’t a “thing” at that time.
These days as I look back on certain periods of time in my youth, taking things for granted was a recurring theme. I can now better appreciate how extraordinary life can be if we are only willing to invest a little more time. I always went for quick and convenient. Ironically, as time unwinds, I find the slower path so much more intriguing.
So, when I set about making apple butter last fall, I gave this consideration as I worked through the process of my apple butter recipe. After going through the steps to place the softened apples through a food mill — once the peels have been removed — you return it to the burner to simmer. Applesauce comes first as you constantly stir and watch the pot (contrary to popular belief that a watched pot never boils). This stirring and watching continues for a fair amount of time as the apples become hot enough to caramelize and turn brown.
I was a little worried that I might have a mishap that resulted in failure. Probably worth mentioning I had an early (epic) fail with hot pepper jelly. I had carefully chosen a set of square canning jars, beautiful cloth for the lids, and a vintage, silver-plate jelly spoon. By no means am I bragging (as you’ll soon learn), but the finished product was almost a work of art, so beautiful were the peppers floating in the jelly. Turns out the peppers were not so much “floating” as they were permanently “set” in my jelly jars ... The closest consistency comparison I can come up with is that of Jello Jigglers (but firmer). Turns out that the pectin I bought online from Amazon was a larger package than that referenced in my Ball recipe. I will know better next time!
But I’m getting sidetracked. I was talking about apple butter. I was a little afraid that if I focused solely on preparing and canning apple butter, I might make a mistake and have nothing to show for my hard work. At the last minute, I decided to pull a few jars of applesauce from the saucepan at mid-point. It was a success, and I was able to store a few jars of both apple butter and applesauce. I put it next to the strawberry jam that was my first project and success (It made it through the Christmas season until it was shared as a gift and used as the main ingredient for thumbprint cookies).
In a way, everything we do in life is based upon risk and reward. Is the time required worth the results? What if you invest the extra time and it somehow still doesn’t work out? You may never know for certain if something was worth the risk if you never try.
This lesson was a safe bet, at least for cooking. Applesauce takes less time to make and is almost as tasty as apple butter. Apple butter takes a really, really long time to make, but when done right, it’s worth the trouble.
Here’s hoping we can all recognize that any choice we make in life is an important one, and we shouldn’t rely solely on immediate gratification or a sure thing. Sometimes what requires the greatest effort is more rewarding than a quick and easy win. So, when you consider your next decision point inside or outside the kitchen, remember that some of the toughest decisions are worth the trouble just as some of the hardest recipes result in the most rewarding outcomes. And the more you practice, the more adept you’ll be in seeing the difference, one ingredient at a time.
Mary Niehaus Ralles