While I like jams and jellies, my true fruit weak spot is fruit butters.
Like jams and jellies, a butter is a preserved fruit. In this case you are going to end up with a smooth paste a bit thicker than peanut butter. It’s going to be a bit darker and more complex in flavor than a jam or jelly. The main reason is simple. You’ve begun to caramelize some of the sugars in the fruits. Oh, there’s a bit more, but that’s the big deal.
Look, let’s make an easy batch of apple butter. It will not be the best possible, but it’s going to give you a hint of what you can expect further down this road. We’re only going to make a fairly small batch instead of canning jars and jars of it (this time).
Now in decades past a butter meant hours of time at a stove. Today just about every kitchen has the perfect tool – their crockpot. You need a crockpot. You need natural (unsweetened) applesauce. You need sugar. You want some spices – in this case we’ll keep it simple with a classic apple pie mix of cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.
Here’s the simple overview. You’re going to put applesauce in the pot. You’ll add the other stuff. You’ll turn it on low, and let it go 8 to 12 hours – all day long – till the sauce is reduced by about half. Knowing this will help you make more sense of the more detailed instructions.
In a perfect world you only want about a cup of apple butter open at a time just to slow you down in eating it. The big thing that’s going to drive you, however, is your crockpot. You want at least a couple of inches in the bottom so it comes together correctly. If you’ve got a standard 5.5 quart pot, you’re going to want at least a quart of applesauce in the bottom. It wouldn’t hurt to have an extra pint standing by. Though you’ll adjust to your taste in later batches, you want to stir in 1/2 cup of sugar for each quart of applesauce in the pot. Yes, this means if you’ve got a pint standing by you should have a quarter cup of sugar around as well. Finally you’re going to add the spices. In this case I’d go with a teaspoon of cinnamon and a quarter teaspoon each of cloves and allspice – feel free to adjust, of course.
Turn on the pot, put on the lid, and… do not walk away, not yet. See, your lid is on too tight. You’re wanting the moisture to leave. So do something to prop up the lid by a quarter to half inch. A couple of table knives stretched across will work. If you’ve a pottery hook that’s food save, that’ll work. Basically, anything that’ll let the moisture leave is fine. NOW you can walk away for about four hours.
At the four hour point come back. Now remember should take 8 to 12 hours to finish. You’ll want to stir down what’s sticking on the sides. If it seems to be racing to finish early, stir in that pint of applesauce and quarter cup of sugar – don’t worry about more spices, but you can if you wish.
Eight hour check. If you added your reserve and it’s down by half, go ahead and pull it. If you haven’t added your reserve and it’s down by half you have a choice – add the reserve or quit. If it’s not down by half, just walk away and go for 12 hours.
If you didn’t pull it at 8 hours, pull it at 12. Pour it into a pint container. Now if we were making more than one container we’d worry about canning rules – sterilized jars, processing, and all the other things you do to keep this from being a feast for bacteria. But one pint? Odds are it’s gone in a week. Just put it in the jar, let it cool, and move straight to the refrigerator.
Well, no, let’s pause a moment. See, this is your opportunity to taste and get a hint. So… got some vanilla ice cream? Spoon some of the hot apple butter – which should be a deep, dark brown from the caramelization process – over a dish of ice cream. Inverse apple pie. Spread it thinly on a piece of pork. Spread it on toast just as you would any jam or jelly.
Now the odds are as good as this is, it can be better. Not least, you can start by making your own applesauce. Peel, quarter, and core some sweet apples – no granny smiths here, you need the sugar. Barely cover them with water, and boil them for about half an hour. Then run them through a mill or the food processor. If you picked good apples, you’ll be able to tell at this point.
By the way you can also make apple sauce in the microwave, but it’s not really going to save you any labor. Put the apples with a bit of water in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave for a few minutes, stir, microwave, stir, repeat till the apples break down. See? Not really a savings.
In general, four pounds of apples will make a bit over a quart of applesauce.
Now what I just gave is the classic for apple butter. You can do this for pears and peaches and several other fruits, but there are a few in which you can be, well, special. In particular I’m speaking of plums and cherries.
If you make jelly from plums and cherries, you know you make that from the juice of the fruit. The pulp gets, well, it’s tough and kind of dry and… oh, wait. We just saved some time in making our butter. (grin). Now, you’ll definitely want to get rid of the pits, and you might want to get rid of the skins. On the other hand, a good blender can let the skins add an underlying tartness that’s surprisingly appetizing. It’s really your choice, just know it IS a choice. Anyway, follow the basic recipe: a bunch of pulp, some sugar, some spices, and a long slow cook. And now you get both jelly AND butter.
Before I end, I really want to hit the safety point again. I haven’t discussed canning. Unless you sterilize the jars and take appropriate care during filling and process the jars afterward, do NOT put these away on a shelf for later. On the other hand, if you DO use proper canning techniques your butter will last 18 months to two years – assuming you don’t eat it all up. But if you don’t process it correctly and don’t put it in the refrigerator it WILL grow its own life forms. you have been warned.