Yid. Dish: Apple Butter



My family are not big jam eaters. We’ve got assorted jars of various home-made kumquat and quince jams that friends have given us over the past year or so in the back of the fridge. Still, when the fruit on our little old apple tree is showing the first blush of red – before it turns mealy and gets attacked by bugs – I can’t resist cooking up a batch of apple butter and handing it out. Just the smell of simmering apples and spices sends me back to my early childhood in Minnesota and the giant apple tree in our backyard that had seven different varieties grafted on to it. My Mom would spend hours each fall stirring big pots of applesauce and apple butter to put up for the winter.

Apple butter is one of the easiest jams to make, because the apple skins contain pectin, the thickening agent in almost all jams and jellies. But there’s no exact recipe. Here’s the technique, more or less:

Core enough apples to fill a large pot around halfway, chop them finely (in the food processor is fine) and throw them in the pot. Add sugar: Most recipes call for equal weights of fruit and sugar, but I prefer less. Even to the unripe apples from my tree, which are fairly tart, I added around ¾ their weight in sugar. At least some of the sugar should be dark brown sugar.

Add some water (to cover the bottom of the pot, especially if the apples aren’t overly juicy) and spices. Whole spices are best, but ground ones will do. If you have a large tea ball or one of those cheesecloth bouquet garni bags, you can put the spices in this. If not, you can do what I do, and carefully pick them out at the end. I threw in a few sticks of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cardamom, star anise and fresh ginger. The cinnamon and cloves are standard, the rest is optional, according to your taste. If the apples are quite sweet, you can add some lemon juice.

Bring to a boil and lower to a brisk simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, at least an hour or so, until the apple butter is smooth, thick and brown. If you’re using quite firm or thick-skinned apples, as mine were, you can either strain or puree it near the end, and cook it down a bit more.

Scoop into sterilized jars and seal well.   

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