This is the recipe to use when you over-bought on apples last weekend and just can't eat another caramel-dipped slice. It's mostly hands-off once you get the apples peeled and cored, but it does take all day to make - perfect for a Sunday full of chores or football. I like an apple butter that is fruity and spicy, better for serving with a pork roast than putting in a dessert. I've included traditional spices here but it would also be delicious with something creative like five-spice powder, rosemary, or ground ginger. The teeny tiny slow cooker called for below was a $15 impulse purchase, but a great one: I recommend picking one up for small-batch preserving, like here, or for making soup for two. An immersion blender is by far the easiest tool for taking the mixture from chunky to buttery in consistency, but I suppose a blender or food processor could be used as well. I use whatever kind of apple I have lying around but have found the results are much more flavorful with local apples from an orchard or farmers market as opposed to the standard supermarket Red Delicious; if you're using the latter, it's just that much more important to cook them down as much as possible to really concentrate the flavor. —Meaghan F
Quarter, peel and core the apples; save yourself a bowl and throw them right into the slow cooker insert as you go.
Add salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar plus apple cider & lemon juice if using. Stir to combine.
Turn slow cooker to High and let cook for approximately five hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft brown in color and most (but not all) of the liquid has evaporated. If you cook it on the stove, you'll need to stir more frequently and keep an eye on your heat level; note that the overall cooking time will vary depending on your stove and the pot you use.
Turn heat to Low and let cook an additional four to five hours, or until it's dark brown and thick. Stir once or twice an hour, maybe every fifteen minutes for the last hour or so. (For stovetop, stir every fifteen to thirty minutes at this stage. Scorching will be a real threat for you.) If you're not sure if it's done, don't be afraid to taste to gauge how concentrated the flavors have become.
Use the immersion blender until you reach the desired consistency, or carefully transfer to a food processor. Taste and adjust your seasonings as necessary.
You can go further and jar this to make it shelf-stable, but I usually just let it cool and store it in the fridge.