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Archive for October, 2014

Confession time: I really, REALLY like putting stuff in jars. Specifically, I love making jam.

Arty jam shelf

Every year, I pack the cupboard with micro batches of local fruit jam, my way of hanging onto the best parts of summer. Peach is the house favorite, but I’m partial to plum & cherry, as well. Home canning isn’t nearly as intimidating as I’d once thought, & discovering low-sugar pectin kind of rocked my world.

But. We’re not here to talk jam. Not this day.

It’s fall in south central PA, which means apples, apples, & more apples!

Yellow Delicious

A few weeks ago, Small Bear was invited to go apple picking with a friend, & came home with half a bushel of lovely local Yellow Delicious apples. Yellow Delicious aren’t my first choice of cooking apples – I tend to prefer the more tart varieties – but when life gives you an abundance apples, you go with it. Applesauce is the usual method of preserving pick-your-own apples, which is a fantastic project for a Sunday afternoon. This year, I wanted something different. Something silky & luxurious & undeniably APPLE. This called for making apple butter.

Apple butter is an ubiquitous part of fall in our part of the US. Thick, deep brown, & traditionally packed with spices, it gets cooked down for hours in open iron vats at apple festivals, scenting the air with clove & cinnamon & smoke. Here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, apple butter’s put on cottage cheese as a side vegetable (no, really), but it’s more commonly used in baking or as a spread. Personally, I love it with peanut butter on whole grain toast, or slathered over my pancakes.

My main complaint with most apple butters, though, is that in the end, they don’t really taste like APPLES. Traditional recipes call for spiced cider, as well as a healthy measure of cinnamon & cloves. Tasty, but a bit of a sledgehammer of spices, if you ask me. I wanted something a little more sophisticated, so I started with Marisa’s basic fruit butter recipe & improvised from there.

Peeling like my grandma used to

Vanilla Bourbon Apple Butter

Yields about 6-8 8-ounce jars

16 medium/large apples, peeled & coarsely chopped

1/2 c water

1/2-1 c dark brown sugar (adjust the amount based on the variety of apples you’re using, & your personal taste)

3 T lemon juice

1 vanilla bean, split

Half a whole nutmeg, grated finely

1/2 t ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

1/4-1/2 c bourbon or whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pot (if you have a Lodge, this is the perfect project for it; you can also do this in a slow cooker). Cook over medium to low heat, stirring frequently over the course of an hour or two, until the apples have broken down and you can smash them easily against the side of the pan with your spoon.

Before

After!

Turn off the heat, pick out your vanilla beans & stick blend your apples into silky unctuousness. (If you don’t have a stick blender, a food mill or food processor will do the job just as well, if a bit messily.) Continue to cook over low heat for another half hour or so, stirring more frequently than before as your butter will be more inclined to scorch as it thickens. Taste as you go, adding more sugar, lemon or spices as you feel necessary. Keep in mind that warm apple butter will taste sweeter/stronger than when it has chilled, but that the spices will continue to bloom as it sits in the jars on the shelf.

Cook until you have a thick, cohesive sauce that leaves a pretty clear trail when you scrape the spoon across the bottom of the pot, & that stands up in peaks when dropped from the spoon back into the pot. Do a final taste for sweetness, & voila! Apple butter that smells – & tastes – like heaven, not a cinnamon stick billy club.

Vanilla Bourbon Apple Butter

Ladle your hot butter into clean jars & either cool with the lids off & refrigerate/freeze, or process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. (I’ll cover hot water processing at some point soon, I promise. For now, check out Marisa’s amazing blog, Food in Jars, for an introduction.)

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