Homemade apple butter is a sweet, rich spread made from cooked apples and spices. Though the name implies a dairy product, apple butter has no cream or milk in it. Apple butter derives its name from its consistency, and its use as a topping for bread or biscuits. Though the exact origins of apple butter is unclear, it is thought to have originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch and in the Appalachian regions, with earliest printed references to the spread seen during the early 18th century.
Wash, peel and core five apples. Use a mix of McIntosh and Granny Smith apples if possible. Cut the apples into chunks approximately 1 1/2 to 2 inches in size. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over the apples to keep them from browning. Set aside.
Bring 1 cup of apple cider to a low boil in a large pot. Do not use apple cider vinegar as this will make the apple butter too tart.
Add the apples to the cider and turn the heat up to regain the boil. Turn the heat down to low and allow the apples to simmer for approximately 30 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft.
Work in small batches to puree the mixture. Use a food mill or food processor and process the mixture so it resembles applesauce.
Return the mixture to the pot and turn the heat up to medium high. Slowly stir in approximately 2 cups of brown sugar or 1-1/2 cups of white granulated sugar. The mixture should begin to thicken slightly.
Add 1 tbsp. of cinnamon, 1 tsp. of nutmeg and 1/4 tsp. of cloves. Substitute 1/4 tsp. of minced ginger for cloves, if desired. Stir the spices into the mixture and adjust the heat so the mixture remains at a low boil and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning.
Turn the heat down to low and stir to bring the mixture to a simmer. Allow the mixture to simmer over low heat for approximately one hour, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Cook until the mixture is thickened.
Sterilize one 1-qt. jar or the equivalent in smaller jars. If preserving the apple butter, use canning jars and seals, and process the apple butter in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. If using the apple butter right away, spoon the cooked apple butter into the sterilized jar and allow the mixture to cool before capping. Store the apple butter in the refrigerator for up to one month.