Fair Warning: I was not impressed with this Roasted Apple Butter recipe; employ at your own risk.
I love preserving. Correction: I love the idea of preserving. Concentrating fruits to their purest essences, brining carrots and peppers and beans in a sweet and spicy elixir, rows of sparkly jars on the sheves, sharing these jars with friends and family. It also involves a lot of work, a lot of space, a lot of dirtied pots and pans and stovetops and cabinets, and a lot of produce to produce a very small yield. I did not let this daunt me, however, and had my intentions set on plucking apples from trees in a rolling orchard and honouring them with a special treatment, not unlike last year’s attempts at Christine Ferber’s delicious recipe for apple compote.
Well, folks, the plans fell through. We never made it to the apple orchard after all. We got rained out and colds were running rampant among certain members of the crew so we put the road trip on hold indefinitely. Instead, I had to get my apple fix at St. Lawrence Market and rely on the kindness of a friend to drive me home with ten pounds of apples. My apple butter recipe calls for a mix of sweet apples to add complexity, so I elected McIntosh and Northern Spy.
I’m not a big apple snacker. When I do indulge, I prefer hard, crisp, cold apples…preferably Granny Smith. I wanted something a little more local, though, and McIntosh apples are deeply rooted in Canadian history dating back to about 1811 when they were discovered on the McIntosh homestead in Dundas, Ontario. Known for its red and green skin, semi-tart flavour and tender white flesh, it’s been a popular staple in many students’ school lunches because of its smallish size and healthful properties.
Northern Spy apples also come into season a little later and have a similar colouring but are known for its firmer flesh and rich, sweet aromatic flavour. I thought the two would complement each other in the apple butter…so on with the adventure.
This recipe came to me by way of a newish cookbook in my collection: Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. The book has some marvelous ideas for making more of your unconventional food items like marshmallows, jerky, cheese, olives, ketchup, etc. I found these recipes immensely appealing and was eager to try one. Now I know that apple butter is not a stretch for the home preserver. In fact, it’s one of the rather simple things to make; one doesn’t need to worry so much about the alchemy that causes fruit to gel and set. This recipe, however, calls for roasting the peeled-and-quartered apples for a couple of hours and then pureeing them with the additional seasonings. This was a nice alternative to the traditional stove-top stewing method and is meant to enhance the colour and flavours. Easy peasy.
Well, it was sort of easy. But it was also messy. I nearly destroyed two of my best baking sheets in the process. I lined them both with foil and gave them a spray of oil to prevent the apples from sticking. After two hours in the oven, the apples joyfully carmelized and fused to every exposed surface of the pan. Even the foil couldn’t be removed. It was a nightmare. So I scraped off as much of the mush as I could and processed it in the Cuisinart for a good long time.
Glory be: those ten pounds of apples produced a frugal 4.5 jars of sticky, cinnamony, beige spread. The flavour was fine, but I doubt I’d ever make it again. I had to use my power steamer to clean the baking sheets and the recipe has left me a tad nervous to try another recipe from the book. But I’ve already used the apple butter in a vegan banana bread recipe, so good things have come from the experience.