Whether your backyard apple tree is producing bushels, or if you bought a lot at your local farmers market or you-pick orchard, it’s time to preserve the harvest!
Some apple varieties are good keepers, and can be stored in a cool place to enjoy through the winter, but not all the apples you harvest can be kept this way. If even one of your apples is damaged in any way, that bad apple will spoil the rest if they are all stored together. These less than perfect apples, and any apples that are not good keepers, are better used for making preserves. Preserves are also a good way to enjoy apples all year long, as even the best keepers won’t last past the winter.
Select and Sort the Harvest
If you’re planning on expanding your orchard or are purchasing your apples from a local farm, plan ahead to select the best varieties for making applesauce, apple butter, apple pie filling, apple jelly, and other canned apple preserves. While any apple can be used to make these, some varieties have better flavor and texture when cooked. Cortland, Empire, McIntosh, Cox Orange Pippin, and Granny Smith are a few good choices.
Once you’ve brought in the harvest, you’ll need to sort and prepare the apples for preserving. Only use firm, ripe apples. Apples that are still green, or that are over-ripe and soft, can be unsafe (not to mention having a bad flavor). Bruised apples or apples with codling moth damage can be used once the bad areas are trimmed away. Never use any apples that are rotten or have an off scent or flavor.
Apple Preserving Basics
When making your preserves, follow the recipe as it is written. Do not try to make a low-sugar version or use sugar substitutes, because the sugar level in your recipe is needed to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and mold. If you require low-sugar preserves, select a recipe that has already been tested for this.
One pound of whole apples makes about 3 cups of chopped apples (exact conversion will vary by variety, and if you need to cut out much damaged area). As you chop your apples, submerge the finished pieces in water with some food-grade ascorbic acid to prevent browning, if you are making a recipe where discoloration would be a problem.
Mom’s Easy Apple Butter
12 cups peeled, cored and chopped apples
3 cups sugar
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
Scant ¼ tsp cloves
Scant ¼ tsp salt
Place the apples in a 3 ½ quart slow cooker. In a medium bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Pour this over the apples and mix well. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Reduce the heat to low and cook 12 to 24 hours, stirring occasionally, until it is thick and dark brown. Uncover and cook on low another 1 hour, stirring occasionally with a whisk to make it smooth.
Spoon your apple butter into sterilized jars. Using a water bath canner, process your jars for 5 minutes (10 if over 1,000 ft elevation, or 15 if over 6,000 ft elevation or if using quart-size jars). Set the jars aside to cool, making sure that all the lids “pop” and have a good seal. If they did not seal properly, you can either store them in the fridge and use them first, or you can process them in the water bath canner again using a new jar and lid.
For more apple preserving tips and recipes, check out the University of California Cooperative Extension.