One of my earliest memories of the autumn harvest as a child was slathering a thick layer of freshly made apple butter onto a slice of homemade bread. Making apple butter was an annual fall tradition in my godmother Aimée's kitchen. It was a weekend event, and it began with an excursion from my auntie's country home to a local apple orchard where, as a five-year old, I was recruited, along with my older cousins, to help pick several bushels of fresh, ripe apples. After the harvest, we'd return home where the apples were peeled, cored and quartered. I still remember we younger cousins were allowed to "steal" a slice of apple before the cooking process began. Then my aunt would sit around chatting in the kitchen, all the while stirring the large cooking pots. Finally, after what felt like an eternity to a small child, and after hours of having the sweet smell of baking apples waft from the kitchen, the magical transformation was complete, and my auntie poured the dark apple butter into sterilized Mason jars that were sealed and sanitized again before readied for storage for the winter months.
To this day, whenever I open a jar of apple butter, those happy memories come flooding back. And no matter what the season, biting into a toast with a generous layer of apple butter still brings to mind a fresh crisp apple on a bright autumn day.
The history behind great childhood memories
Apple butter has been part of North American culinary lore for centuries now. Historians say it was probably first brought to the United States by the Pennsylvania Dutch. In early colonial days, the practice of slowly cooking apples (or other fruit) in fresh cider or water over a long period was a good way of conserving the fruit. It was called apple butter because of its thick, smooth, spreadable consistency, and actually contained no butter (although some recipes today call for butter to be added and take much less time to cook). In those days, whole communities came together to prepare the apple butter for the winter to come. The apple butter was slowly cooked in large copper kettles over an open fire, and stirred constantly with a large ladle. The cooking process concentrated the sugar and provided early Americans with a year-long supply. Today the crock pot or slow cooker has replaced the copper kettle, and making apple butter is much less labor intensive. But its flavour can still open the floodgates of memories of a bygone era.
Long shelf life
Once made, apple butter has a shelf life of up to two years (if the jars have been sterilized then placed in a bath of boiling water for 35 minutes). Some people prefer to frozen to save the trouble of the sanitizing process. An unopened jar can easily be brought along on a paddling expedition. Its concentration of natural sugars makes it perfect for paddlers burning a lot of energy. A quarter cup of pure apple butter (made with no butter) contains about 120 calories and about 30 grams of carbohydrates. Like jams, jellies and other preserves, its biggest benefit comes from the carbs it provides and its unique, concentrated flavor. It is an oh-so tasty treat and a luxury that most paddlers burning plenty of carbs can occasionally allow themselves. Other fruits (peaches, pears, cherries, plums) also make excellent fruit butters.
Traditional Apple Butter This recipe requires a bit of patience because the preparation needs to be stirred often during the cooking process. For a darker butter, use Paula Red, Duchess or Melba. For darker apple butter, chose McIntosh or Cortland. Use dark brown sugar too.
- 8 pounds apples cored and chopped
- 3 cups apple cider (or unpasteurised-old fashioned apple juice)
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
- 1 pound dark brown sugar
In a large cooking pot cook apples with half of the cider (or apple juice) over medium heat during 20-25 minutes or until apples get soft. Lower heat and simmer for 3 to 4 hours or until the mixture has thickened. Stir often add the rest of the cider (or apple juice) a little bit at the time during the cooking process.
Once the butter is ready, puree it if you like it very smooth. You can also stir in 1 pound of cold butter in small cubes by small batches at the time at the end of the cooking process (while the apple butter is still hot) for a creamier texture and a richer taste.
This apple butter will keep for up to 1 month in the fridge and 6 months in the freezer. (yield: about 6 2-cups jars)
If you want, you can also add some clove or powdered ginger for a zest of spice. Nutmeg is good too.
You can also create peach, pear, plum or even strawberry or blueberry butters on the same principle as apple butter.