Slow-Cooker Apple Butter

Since we became parents, we’ve kept a running list unofficially titled: Things That Sound Like Fun with Kids, But Are Actually Not at All.* Parades fall into this category. Street fairs. Any event with the words “Harvest Fest” in its name. Beach day-trips made a brief appearance on the list, when Phoebe was four months old and we decided it would be superfun to go to Long Island’s Robert Moses State Park and stroll her in the Snap-and-Go (you know, the thing with wheels) across miles of hot, soft sand. I think Andy is still scarred from that one.

Last weekend, we were tempted to add another one to the list: Apple Picking. I know, I know. It’s heresy to say that on a food blog in October so I will qualify the statement a little by saying: Apple Picking in an Un-vetted Orchard. That’s where we ended up last Sunday.

Earlier in the afternoon, a postcard-perfect fall day, we were sitting on the sidelines of — where else? — a soccer game in rural Connecticut when Andy decided he didn’t want to return home without a bushel of Macouns or Cortlands. So at the half, we started googling. We DM’d a friend or two for recommendations. We googled more. We landed on a place that was about half way between the field and our house, a place that shall remain nameless.

Curse you Google!

Once, when the girls were about 2 and 3, we went apple picking in Saratoga. There were orchards bursting with every variety imaginable. There was a charming little market store that sold apples, pumpkins, and most crucially, bags of warm cider doughnuts. It was probably crowded, but since the orchards were spread across so many acres, it was hard to even know.

Ohmygod, not the case on last weekend’s sojourn. We should’ve probably turned around as soon as we felt — not heard, felt — the DJ blasting Kanye from miles away. Pulling in, we were greeted by a neon jumpy castle and a staff of about eight million, most of whom were holding those batons used by air traffic controllers to direct runway traffic. It was difficult to find a spot, but not nearly as difficult as it was to find the actual apple trees. Were they next to the artisanal coffee truck that was all out of artisanal coffee? Were they next to the Hard Cider Bar populated by tipsy, black-clad city folks? Were they behind the hayride, which was manned by teenagers who wore overalls, straw hats, and dead-in-the-eyes expressions that said I would rather be anywhere than here.

I could relate to those teenagers!

We found the trees, most of which were plucked completely barren except for the very tippy tops. I was ready to short-circuit, but Andy was determined. He somehow found one of those picking poles and, with the help of the girls, filled our $30 sack to the brim.

“Mom, why are you so grumpy?” Abby asked.

“You don’t want me to answer that question.”

We were outta there about 20 minutes later.

I’m happy to report that the visit was redeemed pretty easily by an apple cobbler later that night. (Andy used our classic fruit cobbler recipe, with great results.) But the bag of Macouns sat in the corner of our kitchen and taunted me for days…weeks. Don’t let us go to waste! They said. It’s your final shot at closure! So yesterday, with about a day left on their clocks, I decided to toss every last one into the slow cooker, in the manner that a witch might if she’s crafting a potion to exorcise a demon or two. Eight hours later, the house smelled divine, and I had reduced the day to an eight-ounce jar of apple butter. Victory.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter
Makes enough to just about fill an 8-ounce jar. 

6 cups sliced, peeled apples (preferably baking apples, but all will work; I used about a dozen small macouns)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick
1 slice lemon, any pits removed
1/2 cup water

Throw all the ingredients into a slow cooker on 8-hour low setting, lid slightly ajar. Stir every few hours or so. When the apples look soupy, rich, and brown, let cool. Remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel, then puree with an immersion blender or whirl in a food processor. Store in a jar and keep in the refrigerator for 7 to 10 days. Spread on popovers or croissants, stir into yogurt with walnuts, or serve with pork chops.

*Things That Sound Like Fun with Kids, But Are Actually Not at All, The Complete List
While I was writing this post, I emailed Andy “What else is on that list?” Floodgates: Open.

  • Swimming lessons
  • Wiggles concerts
  • Mommy and Me music classes
  • Any music class
  • Laser tag parties
  • Pottery classes
  • Ice skating
  • Sand art
  • Watching a Yankees game
  • Children’s museums
  • Art museums
  • Museums
  • High End Hot Chocolate Places
  • Reading “Magic Treehouse” books
  • Watching The Sound of Music
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46 Comments

Alison

Love your list, highly relate. I know these things are subjective, but I humbly submit another activity for your list: anything requiring me to sit on the floor, cross-legged, without back support of ANY KIND, while my tot runs around/climbs upon me.

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Monica Rae

I thought the same thing. Curious why because I’ve been wondering when I can watch it with my little girl but not sure if she would really be interested. Maybe just watch some of the songs on YouTube for now. Haha

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Laura

Maybe because it is four hours long. When my girls were little we watched it over two nights.

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Lea

To that list I would also add Fireworks. First there’s the need to kill time because you had to get there early to find parking and jockey into a good viewing spot. And then when the fireworks start you are either too far away to really be awed by the explosions or so close that it’s too loud for young ears.

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Carrie White

We still go “apple picking” but no longer actually pick the apples. There was the year no apples were left, the year we wandered into burr-central and needed to be airlifted out by Daddy, and the year with the odd teenager with a bloody nose giving instructions on how to pick an apple. Good times.
To add to the list of things that seemed great but weren’t are family pictures, inviting your kids along to your anniversary trip, and Legoland.

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Ivy

The build a bear store
Making homemade bath salts
Pumpkin carving with someone not old enough to handle sharp objects
The overly commercial Santa

I love slow cooker apple butter. I remove stems and blend whole, skins cores and all. So much easier.

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Awads

We are headed out to an orchard this weekend, but it’s legit…rural maryland with tons of apples and very little else. To your list of things less fun with kids, i’d add: renaissance festivals, high-end hotels, school concerts, any professional sporting event and/or tailgate, and “Into the Woods”.

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Angie S.

I submit corn mazes to the list. Sounds like fun until about 10 minutes in, when you’re contemplating how the news story of the family lost for days in the corn maze will play out.

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Karen

We have a corn maze at our local apple orchard. Thankfully my husband is tall enough to see over the sad little corn they use, but still. We’ve begun to learn that as fun as it sounds, just getting the bag of apples at the store or farmers market is much better. 🙂

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Wendy R.

I’ll add road trips since our recent visit to Yosemite with an 11-month old took years off my life. The beach is still top of my list, though. The sand. The sand!

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Carol

One of the happiest days of my life was the day I realized that my kids were old enough to go to Six Flags Over Texas by themselves….dropped them off at the front gate at 10 AM and picked them up at the front gate 10 hours later….bliss!

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Diane

Great idea! (But what do you do with apple butter?)

Hubby took the kids apple picking last weekend, and made the rookie mistake of letting them EACH fill a peck-sized bags. I’ll be eating apples until the end of the universe.

Other things that seem better in principle:
Judy Moody
Special events at public attractions – side-eye directly at Boo at the Zoo.
Weddings

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Laura

My girls are 10 and 12 now and I am realizing that I should have just stayed home until very recently. Apple picking, sporting events, harvest fest…torture with a 3 and 5 year old. Wonderful with an 8-12 year old!

We actually couldn’t afford vacations until they were 8-10 and now I think it was a blessing in disguise.

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Mala

Love your blog (and books), and found myself laughing out loud at this particular entry. I’m going to try the apple butter. To your list, I add anything crafty, especially dealing with stickers, play doh, and glitter.

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sarah

LOVE this list and story. agreed!
i’ll add mommy and me yoga (!!?) and going to the all-school Harvest Sampler Supper with my kindergartener….sounds very autumnal and lovely, but eating a bunch of food prepared by strangers and germ covered kiddos running amok is not really something i’m looking forward to… BUT i think i’lll make your apple butter. so thanks 🙂

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Lori

Okay, I know this is the last website I should use to say this, but I really need to add cooking with kids to the list. Is it just me?

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Susie

This sounds amazing, and now I want to take my kids to a vetted, adorable apple orchard. But I will say that I would take “Magic Treehouse” books over the current favorite “Rainbow Magic Fairy” books any day and twice on Sunday!

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Heather

Back to the apple butter: what heat setting on the slow cooker? High? Low? Lid on or off?

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Jenny

These list additions are so funny — and yes, @lori, agree re: cooking with kids when they are little. Torture. Not in any way fun. @heather As for what setting – it’s low, with lid slightly ajar. See fixes in recipe. Thanks everyone!

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Kelly

Love this post – made me feel so much better about myself! I have a 5, 3 and 15 month old and every year I eagerly seek out fall festivals, summer festivals, activities galore. And they are all a HUGE disappointment. The kids end up having more fun at the McDonalds playground that we stopped at on the way home. Grrrr
Now maybe if I just wait a few more years it will actually be enjoyable to do these things 🙂

Thanks to all that commented also – hilarious!

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Andrea

I could probably add to that list, but I’m on board with all of it. I just made slow cooker applesauce, which is underwhelming. Now I will have to think about cooking down further, to butter state….might be too late for this batch of lame, generic apples, however.

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Shell

Fun post to read. My sons are young adults now, but when they were young (kindergarten +), we did schedule in at least one appropriate museum visit for one day of a family trip. Knowing how much time to stay is important and not going hungry either, but usually a 2 or 3 hour visit roaming through a museum (natural history, science, children’s, art, etc.) paired with an afternoon swimming at the hotel pool made the day more enjoyable for both children and parents. More importantly, it fostered an appreciation and awareness of the wider world (beyond entertainment and digital). I think when young people realize “learning” isn’t just reserved for school they become life long learners. So, try museums again: walk, talk about things that you see and move on, read the little signs, and when the little ones are tiring, leave.

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Haley

Yes! I have a similar list – I’m mentally preparing myself for the inevitable Disney trip that is still years away..

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pmm

Apple butter question. I don’t have a slow cooker (I REALLY need to get one this year!!). Can I do this on my stove? I assume it would have to simmer for ages. Your advice please…

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Jenny

I’ve never tried it on the stovetop, but my guess is just keeping it at low heat for an hour or two, stirring every now and then, and then, once it reduces and concentrates to rich brown color, remove, cool, and puree. Let me know how it goes.

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pmm

We tried it on the stove top this weekend…we’ve already eaten it all! It was fantastic. I was a little nervous about how long it was on the stove, so it was not as deep brown as regular apple butter. But, we are doing another batch this weekend and will let it go longer.

Had it on scones, toast, and grilled pork chops…

THANK YOU!

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Veronica

Yum! I am going apple picking this weekend so this is perfect.

Any idea if this would still be good without all the sugar? I mean, I realize apple butter is supposed to be super sweet but I am just curious if it would still be sweet enough without it?

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Jenny

Of course. Taste your apples — they might be sweet enough. This is one of those non-recipe recipes. Adjust as you see fit. It’s very flexible.

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Jamie

Taking a three year old from Cobble Hill to the Museum of Natural History by subway. With a stroller. Alone. That should be an Olympic sport.

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Sasha

I want to try this with apples picked from a friends tree this weekend, but I”m confused about them lemon. Is it once slice of lemon, or one lemon, sliced? Thanks!

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Jenny

It’s a single lemon slice (you do not want a whole lemon!) You can skip the lemon entirely, but I like the rind-y flavor it imparts. Just remember to remove it before you puree.

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Gina

Love this. So true. Agree about fireworks. I love this because these are all the things that people joyously post that they did on Facebook and you think “how come we don’t do these fun things” and then you realize you don’t really want to but feel like you’re missing something.

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Barb

Chuck E Cheese, or really any child’s venue filled with children. An arcade might be worse (hosted 8 ten year old boys there– oh, the noise! that is a particular circle of hell, to be sure).

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Alissa

Love that! Love that you said what I had been thinking all these years. The beach used to be on my list but now my daughter is old enough where I can sit in a chair and watch from the sand sidelines!

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Luisa

DYING. I am just now discovering how little fun so many of these things are with children and was feeling like such a grinch, until now! Thank goodness, thank you for the hysterical validation. Can you make the next post about the unexpectedly fun things one CAN do with kids? Specifically 3.5 year olds? :)))

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Aleisa

Add to the list:

Movie night (with a favorite movie from childhood) and popcorn
Parades (all of them)
Any kind of craft
Making complicated cookies

-A

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Sharleen

Thanks for the lovely explanation of your google adventure. Sorry you did not enjoy yourself.
But at least you got a cobbler and some apple butter out of the bad visit.
Your recipe sounds very yummy and I want to give it a try as soon as I can.
Thanks for sharing.
Hugs!

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