I’m making a lot of an incredibly good apple butter these days, and it all started with the oatmeal. And habits. Which I haven’t always been great at forming. It’s taken some time and thought to recognize this about myself, and to try to correct course wherever possible.

In my journals dating back as far as I can remember, I implore of myself to do certain things. Over and over again I make little lists, and it’s stunning to see how over and over again, the lists have been the same, going back years. I know this because one of the rather hellish exercises I did during the therapy I undertook before, during, and after going through a divorce was to read all of my journals. The first of them was a small, pretty book, white with tiny colorful flowers on it and a golden lock, filled with my third-grade musings. Along the way there were both colorful and plain writing booklets and tablets and spiral bound notebooks. But the journal-writing itself was a sketchy habit, with gaps of months or even years here and there.

The thing is, nobody told me: go read those journals, it’ll show you something important about yourself. I just happened to do it, and I don’t know what got me rolling but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.

The writing was wicked but it didn’t matter, I was going to eyeball this thing until I eked out every possible byway and highway that had led me where I was. Then I saw my lists appearing so regularly that they were like road signs along the way, perched above the road, along the shoulder, off to the side…all in my face, but having driven that way so many times, I was hardly noticing them anymore as I wrote.

Thank God for the lists though, because otherwise the journals would have probably killed me, they were so excruciating to review. I don’t recommend going back and reading yours (if you don’t have journals, I envy you) unless you have some kind of subconscious need to go exploring. In which case, take a Sherpa with you. Mine was a special one, a doctor of Sherpa-ing, and I’ve trusted her along some treacherous terrain.

At the top of those little lists peppered throughout my journals was always the reminder to write more. Write often. Write well.

Then:

Pray more. Pray often. Pray well.

Read more, often, well.

Find solitude. More often.

Eat breakfast. Exercise. Take vitamins.

Eat breakfast? Well, yes, misfit as it may seem among the list-gravitas. It’s as though I thought that habitually listing the eating of breakfast would help me form the habit of actually doing it. The writing, the solitude, the reading, the prayer—those are going to be lifelong works-in-progress; eating breakfast is one I ought to be able to check off my list.

I’d be doing myself a favor if I could learn to love the oatmeal, to keep me coming back for more. It fills you up, and its many powers are right up my bad-cholesterol-genes alley. When I worked for a short time in Chicago for an organization that had its own decent cafeteria, there was oatmeal that didn’t resemble the gluey stuff I made on occasion at home. I ate it every day on the job, and it seemed like that was the job. I remember apples, cinnamon and spice more than the oatmeal itself.

Now I’m back on the oatmeal wagon again, and not because I’ve been digging into journals. It’s because of this intensely good apple butter that I want to make again and again. It’s got nothing to do with actual butter other than it’s beautiful texture. The slow-cooking reminds me of the lifelong journaling, but I also like it because it works like a charm on the fruit, keeping the whole world subtly infused with the scent of apples and spices for hours. This apple butter is perfection eaten simply off the end of a spoon; in a bowl of oatmeal every morning, it’s the stuff habits are made of.

Apple Butter, Slow Cooked
This apple butter is like deep, dark gold, it’s so intensely flavorful. Use a sweet-tart mixture of apples, like Honeycrisp, Cortland, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. The effort to peel, core and slice all of the apples is going to pay off…you can use a melon baller to remove the cores. Swirl a spoonful into your oatmeal, or spread the butter on something toasty. It’s also delicious with pork, and the best eaten straight from the (Weck) jar.

6 1/2 pounds applescored, peeled, and sliced
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Place the apples in a slow cooker and set the temperature to low. In a medium bowl, whisk the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg cloves and salt. Pour over the apples and mix until all of the apples are coated.

Cook on low in the slow cooker for 10 hours (total time is 12 hours), stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and dark brown.

Stir in the vanilla and cook another 2 hours uncovered to release more of the moisture and further thicken the apple butter.

Puree the mixture in a blender or in the pot using an immersion blender.

Spoon into clean jars and cool. Cover with lids and refrigerate or freeze immediately—we have not canned for pantry shelf-life. The apple butter will keep for about two weeks in the refrigerator.

Recipe adapted from My Baking Addiction. Print this recipe here.

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