Apple butter is a sweet, smooth, spicy spread made from apples. There is no butter in apple butter; it gets its name from the smooth texture and the way it spreads so nicely on buttered toast. Apple butter is easy to make, but a bit time consuming. There is no need to peel or core the apples, so the prep is quick. It is the cooking that takes time. In order for the spread to come out smooth and creamy, the apple butter must be cooked for at least an hour, sometimes longer.
Cooking the apples
Cut the apples into quarters, do not core or peel them. Place them in a large pot with the apple cider. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring often so the apples do not stick to the bottom of the pot. Cover and reduce heat, simmering the apple mixture until the apples are soft; about 30 minutes.
Run batches of cooked apples through food mill into a large bowl. The mill will separate the peelings and seeds, leaving a thick apple pulp. Continue milling the apples until all have been reduced to pulp. Discard the peelings and seeds.
Put the apple pulp into a large, thick-bottomed kettle, adding about 1/2 cup light brown sugar per one cup of apple pulp. Add spices and lemon. Stir and add a little salt to taste. Cook over low heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the kettle frequently to prevent sticking. Stir and cook until the apple butter is thick and smooth. This can take several hours. To shorten the cooking process, increase the heat to medium-low and stir constantly to prevent burning.
Freezing the apple butter
Test the apple butter by dropping a little into a bowl. Allow it to cool, then taste it. If the apple butter is thick and creamy, it is ready to freeze. Remove the kettle from the heat and allow it to cool. Once it is cool to the touch, ladle it in to the freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch head space in each one. Seal the containers and place in the freezer.
Store the apple butter safely in the freezer for several months, up to a year. Once it is thawed out, keep it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks. It will probably be OK after three weeks, but it is best to discard it if it has not been used after a month.
Thaw the apple butter by placing the freezer container in the refrigerator overnight. Do not thaw it on the counter top. Keep the thawed apple butter in the refrigerator.
Clean the apples thoroughly, but don't worry about little bruises. They will cook right out.
Make sure your freezer containers are clean and dry before adding the cooled apple butter.