Another apple stir is in the books! I have to admit, last year was our first year and it was a hot mess. This year we had the knowledge of everything that didn't work the previous year and had the opportunity to attend another stir so we could remember all the steps. Extended family on my husband's side have a copper kettle that has been in their family for generations. Thy had done an apple butter stir every year until a few years ago and then passed the kettle from Ohio to Wisconsin so the tradition could continue. We attended the apple butter stir several years ago in Ohio and loved the whole experience. Last year we were fortunate enough to go in Wisconsin and still loved it. Between the two 'seasoned' apple butter stirs and our 'hot mess' of a stir, we had pretty good idea of what we wanted this one to look like. My husband's extended family let us use THE kettle and paddle and the question became applesauce or apple butter? In case you're wondering, applesauce is just apples that have been cooked down into a sauce and apple butter is cooked down longer and has sugar, cinnamon, anise, and clove in it (the clove is something we added that wasn't in the original family recipe). We settled on a combination stir. When the apples had cooked down to a sauce we filled a big stock pot with applesauce and let the rest of it keep cooking. Here's how we did it!
Step 1: Collect your supplies. Jars (the amount of apples you're working with will determine how many jars you need), unused lids and bands (these are the jar rings that screw on the jar and keep the lid on), ladle, jar funnel, and plenty of dishcloths. You'll want to make sure you sanitize your jars (you can do it in the dishwasher just leave plenty of time. The sanitize cycle often takes much longer than a regular cycle) and find a place to store them while you stir. The clear totes that have squared edges are good because you see what you have and they have a nice lid. Apples. This may seem like a no brainer, but apple trees commonly produce every other year. Last year we had more apples than we knew what to do with and this year we had 12. Thankfully friends and family brought plenty of apples. We had a little over 4 bushels of apples. A bushel is about 40 pounds, so we had about 160 lbs of apples. That's a lot of apples! And a kettle. Like I said, we borrowed a kettle that has been in the same family for generations. Its is 20 gallons and made of copper. The copper is perfect because it distributes the heat well and keeps the temperature perfect. Last year we tried to use an aluminum kettle that we had acquired, but the aluminum reacts with the acid in the apples and it had a metallic taste:(
Step 2: Peel, core, and cut ALL the apples. Our first year we thought we could do this all in one day. We learned very quickly that this is a 2 day job. On Friday evening we recruited friends and family to join in the fun. Some people prefer to leave the peels in, but we prefer to have ours peeled. After they're peeled and cored we cut them up. Smaller chunks cook down faster and you can fit more in the kettle.
Step 3: Store the apples for the stir. There are a few different ways to do this. Many people use clean garbage bags to hold them until the next day. We stored ours in 5 gallon buckets and coolers with water and citric acid to keep them from turning brown. Since we were using some apples for sauce and some for apple butter, we wanted to keep them from turning brown. We saved all the scraps for our pigs, but you can do lots of different thing like compost them, or use them for making jelly or vinegar.
Step 4: Wash the peelers and go to bed. Seriously. You might be tempted to stay up visiting, but you need to get up early to start stirring.
Step 5: Get up when the rooster crows...or earlier. Start the fire, drain the apples and put the kettle on the fire. We added a gallon of apple juice to keep the apples from sticking. Garin's uncle always added a silver dollar to the bottom of the kettle to keep the apples from sticking. Some people swear by adding apple cider. Its up to you. When your apples are drained put them in the kettle over the fire. If the apples don't fit, don't worry, you can keep adding them as they cook down and make more room.
Step 6: Start stirring. Keep stirring. Don't stop stirring. Every person in attendance takes a turn, even if its just a quick turn. It adds extra love to the batch. There is not right or wrong way to stir. Just keep the sauce moving. The kettle we used had a rounded bottom so the paddle continually scraped the kettle. If you don't have a rounded bottom you'll just want to be aware that you need to keep scraping the bottom. You want a low fire. If the fire is too hot, the sauce will boil over. It helps to have a person on standby with a spatula and a spoon to get any leaves or things that may fall into the kettle. Its amazing watching it go from chunks of apples to a beautiful sauce consistency.
Step 7: If you are making applesauce, you're ready to start the jarring process when the sauce looks ready to you. Some people like it really chunky, some like it really saucy. Its up to you. If you are making apple butter, you'll add your sugar and spice and everything nice. We did 10 lbs of sugar (we could have done more), about 6 drops of cinnamon, 3 drops of anise, and 3 drops of clove. We let it keep cooking another hour. Our butter was not as thick as we would have liked, but it was 6pm and we didn't want to be trying to jar the butter in the dark.
Step 8: Get to jarring. We had an 8 foot table with 'stations' on each side. We had the filler, the wiper (it's essential to make sure the jars are wiped so the lid seals), and the lid person. The lid person put the flat lid on and then added the band. You don't want the band screwed on really tight because it can compromise the seal and make it difficult to take off. We also had someone who to take the full jar
and set them on another table and someone who would keep replenishing supplies. We did a variety of jar sizes, but you can figure out what works for you. For a proper seal, it is important to make sure you unused lids. And if you are going to water bath your jars, you must have jars that are specified MASON jars. Old mayonnaise and jelly jars aren't tempered like mason jars and can crack during processing.