Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Apple Butter Adventure

Every now and again, I crave something that I know I haven't tasted in at least 20 years - that is to say, since before I came to live in England. The change of the seasons is particularly likely to make me go all food-nostalgic. When my friends John and Mandy down in Devon gave me 7lbs of cooking apples which had escaped mauling from their Springer Spaniel, Bailey (who thinks apples are magic toys that fall from the sky), I decided to make something that I crave every year around this time: apple butter.

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
  1. Wash the apples thoroughly, and cut out any bruised bits. Cut into quarters - DO NOT peel or core the apples.
  2. Place in a large pan with water and cider.
  3. Bring to a boil, and simmer till apples are losing their shape and look fluffy.
  4. 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.
  5. Measure out 1/2 a cup of sugar for each cup of pulp.
  6. Return the pulp to the pan and simmer until it is reduced and thickening.
  7. Add the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, lemon juice and zest.
  8. Boil, stirring frequently, until it is very thick (about 3 hours). A teaspoonful on a chilled plate will not run or pool.
  9. Spoon into clean, dry, warm, sterilized jars.

No comments:

Post a Comment