I did it the other day, in fact--took a trip down to the basement for something else and came up with a jar of the stuff in my hand. "Yum!" my girls exclaimed, and for just a moment, I was whisked back to my own girl days.
On an all-too-seldom occasion my dad would come home from work bearing a jar of Aunt Mickey's apple butter. He might have been a wiseman bring gold, frankincense or myrrh. I savored every bite of that rich-brown sweetness spread on toast. But that rare delight was something Aunt Mickey made. Not anyone else. And it certainly wasn't found in a store. Once or twice, feeling heretical, I tried apple butter in a restaurant, but it wasn't real. Not like Aunt Mickey's.
And then I grew up. I saw a chef on TV making apple butter and it didn't seem so hard. Hey, I thought, I can do that. So I did. And it was good. Really good. But Aunt Mickey's still loomed in my mind as the ultimate in apple butters.
Years went by and I ran into my cousin, Lori, Aunt Mickey's daughter. Timidly, afraid to find out that the holy grail of apple butters had been lost to the world, I asked her if, by chance, she had her mother's recipe. Yes, she told me. She did. Hallelujah.
I made the recipe she gave me. And it was good. Really good. But I found there were things I missed from the other recipe I'd been using, the lemon peel and the nutmeg. I was aghast. Could it be that what I'd thought of as perfection could be improved?
Since then, I've continued to tweak, and believe it or not, I did reach perfection with one batch. That one was simmered in a crockpot, not on the stove, and was made with Granny Smith apples from my own tree--a perfect storm of deliciousness that might never be achieved again.
Here's the recipe. Take your own stab at perfection.
Apple Butter on warm homemade bread. Not much better than this.
Aunt Mickey's Apple Butter, Alison's version
16 cups thick apple pulp
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
8 cups sugar (half white, half brown, for me)
4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1 scant tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
zest from one lemon
For apple pulp: core and quarter apples, but do not peel. Add only enough water to cook apples until soft. Press through fine sieve and measure. Combine all ingredients. Cook until mixture remains in a smooth mass when a little is cooled. This will require about 1-1/2 hours boiling. During cooking, stir frequently to prevent burning. Pour into pint jars or smaller. Process in a water bath canner, 5-15 minutes, depending on altitude.
Crockpot directions: Combine ingredients in a large, 6 or 7 quart crockpot. Cook on high 8-10 hours. Remove lid halfway through cooking time. Use same doneness test as for stove cooking. Process as directed.