There are lots of reasons to love apple butter. Firstly, cinnamon. To be honest, if cinnamon doesn't float your boat, look away now. I cook with it constantly. My daughter can't get enough of it. It is one of the most comforting scents and flavours I can think of. Secondly, caramelised sugar. That's what happens when you cook apple butter for at least 3 hours. The result is a really deep, mellow sweetness, which puts apple butter leagues ahead of any apple sauce or compote you have ever had. Thirdly: apples. What's not to like? Well, soulless supermarket apples, actually. For this recipe, beg, borrow or scrump some proper apples. You're bound to know someone with a tree, and the crop this year is amazing - they'll be delighted to offload some on you. The greeny, sharp bag of apples I brought home from Devon perfumed the car on the journey, and my kitchen for the following week while I decided what to do with them. Every now and again I'd put my nose in the bag and just have a big old whiff - it was the smell of Halloween when I was 9. Put your nose inside a bag of supermarket apples: what can you smell? Wax, maybe. Nuff said. Fourthly, the Amish. I have really happy childhood memories of visits to Pennsylvania Dutch Country. When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would reply: "Amish." Later, when my dad lived near Lancaster, I would visit the local farmer's market and speculatively squeeze produce I couldn't even identify just so I had an excuse to talk to the women in their white bonnets, selling their wares - I was like a Mennonite stalker. Part of me still wants to be Amish, but I am trying to figure out a way to smuggle in my iPhone. Anyway, apple butter was always for sale in the Amish farmers' market - as was shoo-fly pie, but that's a culinary adventure for another day...
So apple butter is not just a delicious spread to put on your toast in the mornings (and to use in muffins, sauces, or just smear thickly onto a wodge of parkin): its some of the best memories of my childhood distilled into a jar. My daughter returns from her school trip to Japan on Wednesday. She's never had apple butter in her life. I can't wait to get her hooked.
- 6 - 7 lb apples
- 1 pint water
- 1 - 2 pints dry cider (Americans: this is "hard" cider. if you only have the non-alcoholic kind, make it about 1/3 cider vinegar)
- Sugar (amount will be determined later, but have at least 3 lbs to hand)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Wash the apples thoroughly, and cut out any bruised bits. Cut into quarters - DO NOT peel or core the apples.
- Place in a large pan with water and cider.
- Bring to a boil, and simmer till apples are losing their shape and look fluffy.
- Using a ladle or wooden spoon, push the pulp through a fine mesh sieve in small batches. Discard remaining skin, core and other lees. Measure out the sieved pulp.
- Measure out 1/2 a cup of sugar for each cup of pulp.
- Return the pulp to the pan and simmer until it is reduced and thickening.
- Add the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, lemon juice and zest.
- Boil, stirring frequently, until it is very thick (about 3 hours). A teaspoonful on a chilled plate will not run or pool.
- Spoon into clean, dry, warm, sterilized jars.