make: apple preservation

i love traditions and i love autumn, so naturally we have many seasonal traditions this time of year. one tradition is every year we pick up half a bushel of apples from a local orchard. half a bushel is about 20 lbs of apples, so that’s a lot of fruit! we eat some fresh, but most of it is preserved. today i’m writing about what we do with our apple haul.

for the last few years, we’ve used the bulk of our apples to make apple butter, and then vinegar with all the scraps. we don’t make cider because we don’t like cider, but that’s another good option for preservation. you could also make unsweetened applesauce, or canned diced apples.

there are a lot of apple butter recipes on the internet, but they are all for four or five apples. so i’m writing this post for the homesteader or diy queen who finds themselves with a large surplus of apples.

apple butter is a thick, jammy spread made from peeled and cored apples, sugar, and spices. i’ve tried a number of iterations of apple butter, from naked (no sugar added) to the ball blue book tons of sugar variety. i’ve settled on a recipe that contains enough sugar to jell the butter but not so much that it’s ridiculously sweet. this compromise is a healthier too.

i even added a little extra to my apple butter this year, supplementing it with powdered adaptogenic herbs in addition to my spices. in herbal medicine, adaptogens are herbs that assist the body in adapting to stressors – environmental (hectic holiday season), emotional, mental, and physical stressors.

last year we broke down and bought a $20 peeler to assist in preparing the apples. i normally hate buying one-use gadgets… but it used to take us hours, like four hours to peel and core our half bushel with two people. with the corer, one person can take care of it in under an hour. so i think it was worth the one-time investment.

peeling and coring half a bushel of apples creates an enormous amount of scraps. we run our homestead based on the zero waste 5 R’s – refuse – reduce – reuse – recycle – rot. so we could just rot (compost) the scraps, but before we do that we reuse them by making apple cider vinegar. this practice of getting the most out of everything that comes into your home is to me the core of being a homesteader. it’s a practice of efficiency, modeled after how things work in nature.

without further ado, here’s our recipes for processing a large quantity of apples!

adaptogenic apple butter

makes ~ 24-26 cups of butter

  • half a bushel of apples (about 20 lbs)
  • one quart unfiltered apple juice (we used whole foods brand this year and i was very satisfied)
  • 3 cups sugar (i recommend using evaporated cane juice)
  • spices – i used 2 TB ground cinnamon, 1/4 cup diced fresh ginger (homegrown!), 2 TB crushed whole cardamom pods, 2 TB star anise, and 1 TB cloves – that’s about 1 cup dried whole spices and 1/4 cup fresh
  • 3-4 TB powdered adaptogenic herb – i used shatavari, but other good choices are ashwagandha, reishi, cordyceps, or schisandria

peel and core all apples, saving the scraps aside in a bag. dice apples and place in a large pot with a heavy bottom (i usually use our pressure canner) along with the quart of juice. simmer on medium for an hour or until the apples soften and start to cook down.

place all whole spices into a muslin or cheesecloth bag. add to pot along with sugar, and stir well. you need to stir well throughout the entire process to make sure apples don’t burn to the bottom of the pan.

cook for 3-4 more hours. the butter will darken and thicken. i like mine pretty thick – i start testing the consistency about 2 hours after the spices are added. i scoop some out on a spoon and stick it in the freezer to flash cool it, until i like the consistency. around hour 2 when it really begins to thicken, i added the powedered adaptogens.

once you like the consistency, it’s time to either freeze or can the butter. i can my butter in half pint and 4 oz jelly jars to give away as gifts for the holidays, keeping a couple pint jars for ourselves. this batch made 2 pints, 12 half pints and 16 4 oz jelly jars.

follow ball water bath canning recommendations here. i leave 1/4″ headspace.

if you don’t know how to can, it’s super easy to teach yourself and a great skill to have as a homesteader. you can snag a water bath canning setup for about $30, or even less via craigslist or thrift store. i just scored one for $14 at my local goodwill. if you are new to canning, i recommend the ball blue book, which you should be able to find at any library in america!


now for the scraps. making vinegar requires a bit more specialized equipment, but you can easily improvise or scale down if it’s your first time. we use raw apple cider vinegar (acv) for SO many things – as a hair tonic, as a facial toner, to make herbal oxymels and fire cider, and obviously for cooking. it’s a great heath food to have around, and getting the good raw organic kind from the store can be a bit pricey.

first, you need to decide how much vinegar you want to make. if it’s your first time, i would say start with a half gallon container – you can get a half gal canning jar at most grocers, michael’s, or other superstores. we use all our scraps and usually make use of our beloved ohio stoneware crock and weights to make 2-3 gallons of vinegar. this year we’re transitioning between homes and that’s all in storage, so we made use of a few large glass containers.

homemade apple scrap vinegar

step one is to make a cider with the apple scraps. fill whatever container(s) you are using 3/4 of the way full with scraps – just loosely full, don’t tamp them down hard. fill the rest of the way with filtered or distilled water – do not use tap water because it contains chlorine, which kills the beneficial micro-organisms that ferment the apple scraps into cider. for every cup of water you add, add 1 TB sugar (again, i like to use evaporated cane juice). do not use honey as it is also anti-microbial and will kill the good guys.

place a plate, jar full of rocks, or any other clean object on top of the scraps to weigh them down and keep them submerged. scraps that are not fully submerged cold mold and ruin your vinegar. cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth or fabric – i just use scrap fabric. secure with rubber bands.

let this sit for 2-3 weeks until it smells boozy and the liquid is darker in color. strain all the scraps and compost them. put the liquid back in the container, recover, and allow to sit 4-6 weeks. i fortify with additional sugar at 2 week intervals to raise the acidity, beginning when it’s strained. add 1 tsp sugar per quart of liquid to fortify.

if you’re new to making vinegar, you can just taste it until it reaches an acidity level you like. or you can buy a fancy acid test kit at a home brew store to measure the exact acidity content – it should be between 2-4% to store properly. once you are satisfied with the vinegar, bottle and store for up to a year (until you make another batch next autumn!).

i hope you find this little guide helpful if you are looking to get into apple preservation!

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