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One of my favorite “Dutchie” treats is apple butter. I love the sweet and spiced flavor, and I spread it on anything I can toast (bread, English muffins…) or on baked goods like scones or muffins. But my favorite way to enjoy apple butter is one very familiar to us in the Coal Region – apple butter on cottage cheese (“smearcase” as cottage cheese is known in Pennsylvania Dutch)
Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country in apple production, behind only Washington, New York and Michigan. Apples are grown in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania with Adams, Frankllin, Bedford and York counties having the highest concentration of orchards. There are 20,000 acres of apple-bearing land in Pennsylvania. (Source: Penn State University)
Growing up in Schuylkill County in the Coal Region during the ’60’s and ’70’s, it was a regular event for my family to buy fresh produce and fruits in season from the abundance of farmers’ markets and road-side stands that dotted Schuylkill and surrounding counties.
We found plenty to choose from across all the markets and stands, but when fall came to the county, the air took on a crispness, the leaves started to turn and drop, and locally grown apples started to appear in boxes, pecks, and bushels everywhere you turned, my family headed to Hegins (Pa.), an area of Schuylkill County that hosts rich, fertile farmland and a population of generations of Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch folk.
As Pop loaded the family up in the Buick Electra (and I entertained myself with the wonderful new-fangled feature on the car — electric windows), we headed up Route 25 and down the mountain into Hegins (Pa.) As the highway took a pronounced bend, a sign for our destination appeared situated right off the roadway, snuggled up to the outer rows of an orchard, fruit trees lovingly pruned and cared for.
Pop turned off the highway and down a lane as we headed toward the stand at the orchard. We had arrived at our destination — Blazer’s Orchard. Not only did Blazer’s have fresh, crisp, sweet apples, but at the time, carried a plethora of other tasty seasonal offerings throughout the summer months and delicious baked goods (some of which usually followed us home if they were not already sold out!).
We would load up on several varieties of apples, Nana and I would discuss what might be created from our haul as we chatted away in the back seat, and I always made sure to grab a sample apple from our basket to “test” on the trip back over the mountain, nibbling away at the best apple I ever had while the juices ran down my sleeve.
Applesauce, apple pie, canned apple filling, and my favorite — apple butter — were sure to grace the shelves and supper table of our family for days – and months – to come.
I moved away from my beloved Schuylkill County for nearly two decades and had not thought about those family outings to Blazer’s for years. Going through my files and realizing it is now apple-picking and harvest time in Pennsylvania brought back those fond memories of days gone by.
Nowadays, my ability to stand to babysit a simmering pot of apple butter is severely limited so I use the slow-cooker method to make my apple butter. Rheumatoid arthritis in my hands means I no longer peel and core apples with a paring knife in quantity for recipes like this — I use an apple peeler/corer which makes quick work of it all.
I use a mix of apples, depending on what I can get good and fresh, just-picked, and local; Gala, Red Delicious, Jonagolds, Rome, Macintosh and definitely Honey Crisp when I can get them. Apple butter is one of those recipes where there are thousands of versions, each just a little different than the others. It is very well suited for adapting to your taste — sweeter, not so sweet, more spices, fewer spices… This recipe is presented to you as a starting point and the one I like and which makes the process of creating apple butter much easier for me.
This makes about 5 pints (actual yield depends on how much you cook it down). It can be canned for shelf storage using the hot water bath method or kept in the refrigerator for use within 3 months. It makes wonderful holiday gifts when processed in half-pint jars.
If you find you want thicker apple butter after the recommended cook time, simple remove the lid to the slow cooker and allow it to continue to cook. Watch it carefully and stir frequently to avoid chance or scorching.
Slow Cooker Pennsylvania Dutch Apple ButterCourse: Appetizers, SpreadsCuisine: Pa. Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Easy
6 pounds. mixed variety of apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 3/4 cups apple cider
2 cups granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon. ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Place all ingredients in the slow cooker and mix well.
- Cook on the HIGH for 2 hours, stirring periodically.
- Set the slow cooker to LOW and continue to cook for 8 hours.
- Adjust sweetness or spices to your taste if needed.
- Puree to your desired consistency with a stick blender or carefully puree in small batches in a blender.
- Can using hot water bath method timed for your altitude or freeze.
- NOTE: If the apple butter is not thick enough for your taste, remove the lid at the end of the 8 hour cooking time and continue to cook for another hour or so. The amount of liquid in the batch will depend on the apples used.