Well, it's about time. After more than a week of temperatures that felt better suited to the dog days of August than the first few days of fall, on Monday we finally got our first breath of fresh fall air. Stepping out of the office into a pleasant 70F afternoon, the air felt almost brisk. Well, brisk compared with the 90F days we've had recently.
This morning, even more so: the skies were overcast, and a breeze with aspirations of being a wind swept in cool air to replace the remaining warm. (You know fall is really starting to hit when the cats are at the window, transfixed by rustling, falling leaves.) By this afternoon, you could taste fall in the air, as if it were whispering, psst! I'm here.
And not a moment too soon. For a few weeks now I've been accumulating apples from my CSA share, and this weekend I reached a point where the word "overrun" was not an inaccurate description of my kitchen counter. Between my regular share and my extra fruit option, I get 12-18 apples per week, and even an apple a day won't make all those apples go away.
I needed to do something with them, something that would use up a bunch of apples at once and didn't involve making a lot of muffins. I love apple muffins, and in fact I've been meaning to put up a post with my new favorite recipe. But I can only make so many batches of apple muffins--even of the "they're whole wheat, so they're not quite as bad for you!" variety--before I start anxiously eyeing my waistline.
The problem, of course, was that it was still hot outside--or at least it was on Sunday, when I decided to take back my kitchen counter. I love my apples spiced, with cinnamon and cloves and allspice, and eating cozy spiced foods when it's hot outside just doesn't feel right. Get me far enough into September, though, with enough apples on my hands, and I get over my squirmy feeling about ill timed spiced apples. Weather be damned, it was (technically) fall and I was going to make my house smell like it.
And what better way to do that than with hours of slow cooking over low heat, with aromatic spices and fruit full of flavor? Applesauce is one thing--it's delicious, and it has its place. But for the slow cooking and the spices, it's all about apple butter.
This was my first time making apple butter, and I can't say that I'm disappointed. Not just with the results, which included making the house smell like everything that is good and delicious about fall, but with the fact that making apple butter turns out to be surprisingly easy. Did you know that you don't even have to peel and core the apples? Extra flavor hides in the peels, and extra pectin in the cores. You want both the flavor and the pectin, so you quarter the apples and cook them as they are. Brilliant!
You'll need a food mill eventually, of course, as you don't want the peels or cores in the butter. And after the milling, all you need to do is cook and stir, cook and stir. Maybe you adjust the seasonings, and maybe you adjust the heat, but all it needs is a little attention every few minutes.
I do mean every few minutes, mind: you don't want it to scorch, and as it thickens it will be more prone to sticking and scorching. You definitely want to keep an eye on it, so this is not one of those recipes where you can get it going and then forget about it for a few hours. (Unless you use a crock pot.) It is a recipe that requires patience, perfect for a rainy day when you're entertaining yourself inside. Fix yourself a cup of tea, clear off a big table, and dig out a puzzle to work on as you tend the apples. I would say make sure you have some bread on hand so that you have toast for when you finish the apple butter; but in truth, there's no reason not to eat it with a spoon, straight out of the jar.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009