This is a no-nonsense (okay, minimal nonsense) guide to canning apple butter. Please note that different types of food have different canning requirements, and this method isn’t right for all of them. Before using this method on other treats and tasties, please do a little research, or you may poison someone you care about. Accidentally. Not like that other time.
I was intimidated the first time I thought about preserving the fruits of my labor. I had watched my grandmother in the kitchen as a child, and it seemed that canning involved a lot of sweating, swearing, and steam, and since she used a pressure cooker to can, an element of fear, as well. I don’t go within 100 yards of a stove-top pressure cooker, so I did a bit of research before deciding to attempt canning on my own. I had to figure it all out by reading the jar packaging and filling in some really big blanks. But you don’t. You have me. You’re so lucky!
And here’s the beauty of it. We don’t have to use a pressure cooker! Apple butter can be preserved using something called a hot-bath, which is nothing more than a large pot filled with water and lined on the bottom with a towel.
If you followed my apple butter recipe and really heaped those apples into the slow cooker until you couldn’t get the lid on, you’ll have enough goodies to make 8 half-pint jars and some left over for yourself. So let’s start.
What you’ll need:
8 half-pint jars with lids and rings- I prefer Ball’s jelly jars. They make prettier gifts, but more importantly, the decorative scoring on the sides of the jars provide a better grip with your tongs. They also come with adorable labels and have more pronounced dimple in the lid when they are sealed. You can use rings more than once, but lids must be brand-spanky new.
***Jars are plentiful right now because it is harvest time. Buy some while you can find them easily. For first-time buyers, if you buy a box of jars, they will come with the lids and rings that you need.***
plastic knife – yes, it needs to be plastic. Apple butter is acidic, and a metal knife may lend a weird taste.
ladle – if you choose one that’s too big, filling the jars may get a little messy
hand towels- I have a lot on hand before I start. You’ll notice my collection is mismatched. I have a gas stove and usually set fire to at least one towel every time I can. My sister reads about it in my blog and buys me new ones for Christmas. I love my sister.
large, heavy pot- For my hot bath, I use the largest pot that came with my cookware set. My stock pot is actually bigger, but using something that deep puts you at serious risk for a scald when you try to remove the jars. Not kidding here. Steam will tear you up. The pot needs to be about an inch deeper than the jars are tall.
another big pot- this one doesn’t have to be as deep. You’ll use it to sterilize your jars
a tea kettle- I always keep extra boiling water available while I’m canning. You should, too. Better to have it and not need it…
A pair of tongs: Rubber-coated handle is a good thing. Less slippery and won’t conduct heat as quickly.
about two hours- you may not need this long. It took an hour and a half today, but it’s better to pad your schedule the first couple of times.
A word to the wise: Hot goes into hot! Always. Every single time. What this cryptic phrase means is that you want to can your apple butter while it is still hot. Best case scenario, the jar won’t seal. Worst case scenario, you have an explosion. Explosions are bad things. Hot goes into hot. My recipe takes around 13 hours, so I try not to even plug in the pot unless I’ll be ready to can it when it’s finished.
While I’m getting everything ready, I go ahead and fill the hot-bath pot, the sterilization pot, and the tea kettle and start them boiling.
STEP ONE: wash and sterilize your jars. Wash them in warm soapy water, and then put them in the shallower pot, which should now be boiling. Toss in the lids and rings, too, and let them bubble for 15 minutes. If you use your tongs to offer rats to your snake, go ahead and sterilize those, too.
Step Two: Fill your sterilized jars with yummy stuff to about 1/4 inch from the top.
Step Three: Use plastic knife to get out air bubbles. Carefully run the knife around the edge of the jar. Lightly thump the jar on the counter a couple of times, and run the knife around again. Air bubbles= spoiled food. Get rid of them.
Step Four: Wipe the rim carefully. You want to get rid of any food or water droplets that will prevent your lid from making a seal. Once the rim is wiped, center the lid on the jar and screw on the ring.
Step Five: Add to hot-bath. Once you’ve got all of your jars in the bath (my pot holds four or five), turn the heat up and cover the jars with boiling water. You want to cover them with at least an inch of water.
Step Six: Start your timer after the water in the hot-bath has reached a steady boil. A bubble or two doesn’t count. A good, hard boil means that you can start your timer. Boil for 15-20 minutes. I like having a good chance at a seal, so I aim for 20. Use tongs. The water is hot, the apple butter is hot, everything is all splashy. If you ignore this advice, study up on some good swear words. You’ll be needing them.
Step Seven: Monitor your jars. Inevitably, some water will boil off, splash out, etc. You need to keep the water level fairly constant. Add water from the kettle as needed. Jars need to remain upright.
Step Eight: Remove the jars. Again, please use the tongs. You have them right there. Use them. Set the jars on towel on a counter where you won’t have to touch them for a bit. They are hot. And you’re waiting for them to seal.
The most satisfying part of canning for me is the sound of the jars sealing themselves. If you hear a noise like a distant gunshot, chances are good that a jar has sealed. If you are in the middle of a high-crime area, feel free to hit the deck, anyway, because safety always comes first. But if that muffled *pop* isn’t followed by sirens, give yourself a big high-five while you’re down there on the floor. Your venture into canning has been successful.
Seals that have not set within 12 hours aren’t going to. You’ll want to get a fresh lid and try it again from the beginning. Hot goes into hot, remember? And after 12 hours, it’s just not anymore. If you are unsure if your jar has sealed, push down on the middle of it. A sealed jar is one whose lid has no “give.” If it is slightly indented in the middle and doesn’t pop back up when gently pressed, it’s sealed. Congratulations. You’ve done it! If your lid initially has give, but it doesn’t pop back up after you’ve pressed on it, you’ve worked some magic and sealed it at that very second. It counts. Again, congrats!
All you have left to do is label the jars with the product and the date you created it, and you’re ready to make out your gift list. Apple butter stored by this method can keep for a year if it is unsealed. A caveat. Even if you seem to have done everything right, if you open the jar and there are little bubbles in it or if it smells weird, don’t eat it. Not worth it. That hasn’t happened to me yet, but I read about it and thought it might be important to pass on.