At a tea party recently thrown by fellow Domestic God Mr N. C. of Norwich, the Croxii enjoyed his supremely fluffy scones topped with a home-made preserve called Apple Butter. Mr N. C. gave me a recipe he’d modified himself (listen up, Ladies, we Domestic Gods love to trade culinary tips as much as anyone) and I decided to give it a try. So, come with me, friends, on a voyage of discovery.
Apple Butter is really a kind of sieved jam, and the recipe is disarmingly simple – but also somewhat vague. Even despite the clarifications added by Mr N. C., it’s nowhere as clear as my Good Housekeeping recipe for marrow-and-apple chutney. The beginning seems clear enough. You start with six pounds of apples.
Six pounds of apples. Earlier today.
The recipe calls for crab apples but you can use any old apples. These are cooking apples – almost all windfalls – from the apple tree in the Jardin Des Girrafes, the sauce tzores source of the apples in my marrow-and-apple chutney. You chop the apples roughly and place in your jam kettle.
The recipe doesn’t say if you need to core or peel the apples – so I did neither. This makes sense in terms of what comes later. The recipe says you need to add quite a lot of water, and some cider, and then simmer until all the apples have turned to pulp. Mr N. C. counseled leaving out the cider, and only adding a tiny amount of water. Ignoring that advice was my first mistake – I added far too much water. The apples pulped easily enough…
… but the mixture seemed far too watery. I was not to be disinterred disestablished discouraged. The next step is to force the pulp through a fine sieve…
… this is the key stage, for apple butter is not like a jam or preserve that has all the bits in. It also explains why you don’t need to peel or core the apples beforehand. I gave the discarded solids to the chickens, who loved them.
You then weigh the sieved pulp (it came to 4lbs) and then add 3/4lbs sugar for every pound of pulp. This is where the recipe is once again vague – it doesn’t specify what kind of sugar you should add. I suspect that Mr N. C. used white sugar, ensuring that his result stayed apple green. I, however, used soft brown sugar, which has a stronger flavor, and makes the result much darker. You also add a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and a teaspoon of ground cloves. As I had bought whole cloves, this gave me a rare chance to use my mortar and pestle!
The next part is simply to reduce the mixture and keep stirring until it thickens up into a gloopy paste with no liquid remaining. However, the mixture I had was very watery and didn’t seem to want to thicken, no matter how much I tried. I should have listened to Mr N. C.’s caution about the water.
At that point I had to leave matters as I was called away for a couple of hours to see a girrafe about a unicycle. I turned off the hob and thought I’d have to throw the whole lot away and start again on my return. When I got back to the kitchen, however, the mixture, while still liquid, had turned viscid round the edges. Perhaps there was hope! I fired up the hob and started to boil and stir as furiously as anything out of the Scottish Play.
It wasn’t long before the mixture had reached the volcanic stage, almost identical to the same stage in chutney-making. This appears to be the culinary equivalent of the phylotypic stage (this is meant to be a science blog, at least occasionally). The beginnings and ends of the process might look different, but they all pass through a stage where they look much the same.
The end point was extremely sticky, but I managed to get it into jars. I made just short of 4lbs of the stuff.
It’s the sugar that makes it look so dark. The first report is that it tastes fantastic, even though it looks more like something you’d use for resurfacing roads.
For my next trick I’m going to do something involving sweet chestnuts – it’s been a very good year for these, and I know some woods where they’re raining down like cluster bombs. Watch this space.