Adventures with Apple Butter: Canning at Home

Posted by Becky Brackett on Thu, Oct 04, 2012
describe the image

Well, I’ve taken my first class, time to put that skill to good use! It was hard to set aside a few hours in my busy schedule for such a project, but somehow I made it work. (Sensing the sarcasm here?)

I ended up choosing apple butter as my first attempt since apples are the most seasonable item right now and finding fresh, crisp apples is pretty easy. I bought about 4 lbs of Granny Smith apples so I adjusted the Velvet Apple Butter recipe slightly from the one we used in class since it was for 6 lbs. I also didn’t want to buy the cinnamon sticks (they’re pricey and I’m in early retirement, remember?) so I used ground cinnamon instead.

Luckily for me, my mom has a large canning pot with the tray that sits in it, and some extra Ball jars. The rest of what you need are mostly household items: saucepan for the apples and sterilizing rings, tongs, cutting board, knives, etc. Also lucky for me, my roommates (ahem, my parents) live in a brand new house and I get to reap the benefits of their fancy kitchen!

I started prepping my apples and since I didn’t work on the apple prep in class, I wasn’t sure if they had to be peeled. Assuming they did, I peeled them all and let me tell you, the peeler I used was not nearly as efficient as the one at the BCAE. Guess I know what I’ll be buying the next time I wander into Crate & Barrel. Anyway, I peeled all my apples, keeping the cores, which I placed into cheesecloth (you can buy this at any grocery store) along with all the spices.

apples in the pot
ingredients in the saucepan

The apples went into a large saucepan of water and sugar, along with the cheesecloth. It looked like there wasn’t enough liquid so I added about 2 more cups of water. I brought all this to a boil and let it cook. For a long time. You want the apples to break down and thicken, essentially into a more buttery substance. Who would have thought?! It was taking forever, and I knew it was because I had too much liquid so early on I removed some and added 2 more apples to help thicken it. Not ideal, but I didn’t want to ruin the whole batch.


apples in the saucepan // Ball jars in the canning bath

Eventually it evolved to an applesauce consistency, and it continued to thicken from there, though I’m not sure it made it quite to the ‘butter’ stage. Finally, I took out the cheesecloth and orange slices and I pureed the sauce until it was as smooth as possible. I put the butter in each sterilized ball jar, wiped the rim, and topped them off with the lid and ring.

Adding the jars safely to the canning bath was tough because my canning tray didn’t fit with the half-pint jars I was using, but I found a spot for them all. They hung out for about 12-14 minutes, and then I took them out. It was a little tricky, requiring some awkward handling of tongs and slotted spoons, but I got them all out safely. As I was pulling out the second jar, I heard my first ‘pop!’ – music to a canner’s ears. It worked! By the time I turned off the boil on the canning bath, all my jars had popped and I was a happy canner.

ready for lids

ready for lids!

The apple butter tasted yummy from the pan and now it’s successfully in cans, but it wasn’t a completely smooth ride though. Here’s a few things I’ll take away for next time:

  • I didn’t have the tongs specific to canning and I wish I did; with regular tongs it’s difficult to get a good grip on the jars when taking them in and out of the bath.
  • Follow the recipe! I added too much water and had to remove some, when I should have just followed the original recipe.
  • Having the correct tray in the canning bath that fit the size of ball jars would have been ideal, and safer. 
  • Patience! Apple butter takes awhile to break down and thicken. Make sure you have the time and patience to wait. You’ll be happy with the result!

finished product

the finished product!

Topics: BCAE cooking classes, Katie Petrillo, Autumn in a Jar, Molly Loveday, Boston cooking

Autumn in a Jar: Learning to Can at the BCAE

Posted by Becky Brackett on Thu, Sep 27, 2012

Katie's Got Class

We're kicking off a new student blogging series! Over the coming weeks you’ll be able to follow Katie Petrillo as she explores her interests, gets “back to basics,” and makes full use of her newfound free time. She’ll be reporting about each of the classes she takes here at the BCAE and we can’t wait to hear about what she learns and who she meets!


I have no shortage of free time these days. I left my full-time job in June to bike across the country for affordable housing this summer. Yup, all the way across: Portsmouth, NH to Vancouver, BC in 70 days with the non-profit Bike & Build. Now I’m back in Massachusetts in early retirement and not sure quite what to do with myself while I go on the epic job search.

While on the trip this summer, my 31 co-riders and I lived simply: eat, sleep, bike, build. All of our belongings fit into a duffle bag, except our bikes, which took us to a new destination each day. Who needs a car when you have a bike? It got me thinking about what else I could be doing on my own, rather than using modern technology. Planting a garden and eating organic; learning to can my own veggies and fruits; baking bread from scratch; knitting my own scarves and hats. These are all feasible, I just need to learn how, and what better time to kick off these new hobbies?

That’s how I found myself walking into the Jams & Preserves class at BCAE. As the first one to arrive, I had time to chat with the teacher, Chef Molly Loveday, who has been in the Barbara Lynch family and is now the chef at Saltbox Farm in Concord, MA. Molly certainly doesn’t have the free time that I do; she heads up the catering portion of Saltbox Farm, works on the farm, teaches classes around Boston, and she is getting married in 3 weeks!

class set-up

Getting set up for class.

That didn't mean she was any less prepared for class; when I arrived, the student stations were set up, prep work was done, and the canning bath was boiling. As each student arrived, Molly made a point to know everyone’s name and we did quick introductions. When asked what scared us about canning, a few students said, “I don’t want to kill someone.” Molly ensured us that would not happen; we kicked off class by walking through each step of the canning procedure, with an emphasis on safety. Canning requires putting glass jars into boiling water to sterilize and process the contents, and this can be both tricky and dangerous.


Chopping and prepping

Once we all had a better grasp on the process, Molly set us to work. We had three recipes on the docket: Preserved Bartlett Pears, Velvet Apple Butter, and Winter Squash Chutney. Chopping up fruits and veggies was the first order of business, while other students put together the syrup for the pears and the spices for the chutney. Cooking with 12 eager, but not necessarily skilled sous chefs is never easy, but Molly did a great job ensuring everyone had a task while answering questions and chatting the whole time.

Chef Molly Loveday

Chef Molly Loveday dropping jars into the canning bath.

The pears were a perfect intro to canning; we cut the pears and let them cook in a spiced simple syrup for a few minutes. Then each of us dropped a few pears into sterilized (boiled for 5 minutes) ball jars, placed the lid on top, and screwed on the ring. These steps mean the product is canned, but next we must preserve them, which ensures the lid is securely adhered to the jar, therefore keeping all oxygen and bacteria out, and allowing the can to sit on a shelf for 6 months to a year. We processed the pears for about 20 minutes in the boiling canning bath, and as they are removed you should hear a ‘pop.’ This means the food has been successfully sealed.

ball jars

Canned pears

We followed a similar process to create the apple butter and squash chutney, and at the end of the night we each had 3 canned treats to take home as inspiration to try canning on our own. From my perspective, canning doesn’t seem so overwhelming after all! That was the general consensus of many students in class. I’m ready to go buy a few pints of some freshly-picked berries at the Copley Farmer’s Market and bring them home to make my first round of jam.

Cheers to my first of many new hobbies!

Topics: BCAE classes, Katie Petrillo, Autumn in a Jar, cooking classes, jams and preserves