PHOTOGRAPHY BY MARGAUX GIBBONS
A no fuss way to make this old-timey treat and fill your home with the aroma of fall
Fruit butters are created by layers of sweet, sour, tart and caramel flavors. This usually means the addition of some kind of sweetener and/or vinegar. The nice thing about fruit butters is that you can use any type of sweetener, as they will turn shades of brown anyway unlike jams, which we try to keep bright. So maple syrup, rapadura, coconut sugar and date sugar all can be used. It is a fun place to experiment.
The flavor of apple butter is such a classic that it can bring one back to a different time and place. When I first started making it, I understood why small towns have apple butter festivals where the entire town gathers to make giant batches in a huge cauldron and stir them with large paddles from afar. It takes A LOT of stirring, and the thickness of the preserve makes for hours of splattering all over the kitchen.
It can take a village to raise a child and feed them apple butter! But then I realized that you can pop it in the oven and make the process more gentle and easy for one person at home. Due to the even penetration of heat in the oven from all directions, there is no splattering at all. You can make butters in a slow cooker, too, but the lid needs to be removed to evaporate the liquid, and it will splatter on top, so I prefer the oven.
The smell of apple butter baking in the oven for hours is the best way to warm up a home on a chilly autumn day. There is nothing quite like the taste of apple butter either, that slowly cooked flavor of caramelized sugars with the tartness of apples and vinegar.
Apple butter pairs itself nicely with savory flavors, much like chutney and applesauce do. My favorite way to eat apple butter is on a double-toasted piece of sourdough bread with a salty hard cheese such as Manchego. For this recipe I prefer to choose a mixture of apples that have tart and sweet flavors. Since you are cooking them down into a butter, you can use apples that have blemishes or bruises. It is very forgiving!