There is a contrary part of my nature that loves the process of taking something that seems totally useless and making it into something great. Which might explain my compulsion to turn crabapples into apple butter every year. (For those of you who don't know, regular apple butter is basically a thickened applesauce. It's sweeter and also spreadable.)
Crabapple butter is fantastic on toast or a topping for hot cereal. You could throw some of it in a smoothie or on top of ice cream. Our kids even love to eat it plain, though it is pretty tart. You can make it with or without sugar.
The process is fairly straightforward.
First you pick a bunch of crabapples, avoiding any that have holes or are bruised. Don't worry if they still have stems, though.
Part way through harvesting we decided to spread a big sheet out on the ground to catch those that fall because when they're ripe, for every one crabapple that you pick, five will shake themselves out of the tree.
Rinse them well. Add more water to the pot with them. If you've got a smaller batch, you can add enough to just cover them. But for the bigger batches, I've found that adding 5 or 6 cups and then keeping the lid on will do the trick. (If you add enough water to cover a big batch, you'll end up with way too much water in the end.) Just make sure that it doesn't all evaporate when it's cooking. You can add more as necessary.
Now you can simmer these guys until the skin starts to split and they are really soft. Turn off the heat and let them cool a bit because this next part can be messy, and if they're still hot, it'll be messy *and* painful.
Now comes the one piece of kitchen equipment that you may not already have, a food mill. I got mine from Aurora (who was selling it at a garage sale) and even though it's sort of wobbly to use, it does get the job done.
The kids love to use it, so, you know, free labor.
Scoop the apples in there and rotate the handle while pushing down. You'll need to use your other hand, or a helper, to keep the thing steady. I'm sure there are more expensive models that work better than mine, but I've learned to make do.
As you turn it clockwise, it pushes the apples through the sieve at the bottom. If you turn it counterclockwise, it cleans the holes by scraping off the skin and seeds. If you don't have one of these, you can also use a spoon and a fine meshed sieve, working the mixture through with the back of the spoon.
What you'll have at this point is basically pink, tart applesauce, well, crabapplesauce if you want to be technical about it.
You can keep it plain, or add spices and sugar. I usually add just one thing... cardamom. I really like its flavor with the crabapples. I usually add about a half teaspoon for every four cups of sauce. And part of the appeal of using crabapples, is that they're so tart, so we don't add much, if any, sugar (maybe a half cup per batch). But feel free to add as much as you like.
To turn this applesauce into "butter" I usually cook it down on the stove until it's nice and thick. Though, this year I tried it in the oven, which I preferred. Pour all the sauce into an oven proof pot, or if you've got a huge batch, into two oven proof pots. I used an enameled cast-iron and the ceramic insert from my slow cooker. Clean off the sides of the pot really well with a spatula. Set the oven for 325 degrees. Put the pots in and cook for 2 or 3 hours, stirring occasionally. What this does is cook out much of the water, reducing the volume and thickening the mixture. When it's done, it'll look like this.
Just scoop out the non-charcoaled stuff at the bottom. I'm guessing that if I'd been more diligent about scraping the sides of the pot with a spatula both before and during cooking, there'd be less black. But I'm fine with this because it didn't require me to stand over the stove for hours on end.
I canned this in little half pint jars using the waterbath method. If you haven't canned before, please know that it isn't particularly difficult, you just need to follow the directions.
The original plan was to make these for Christmas presents. But if Joey has her way, I doubt there will be any left by then.