Monday, October 15, 2012

Apple-plum-ginger-carrot butter

If you have apple trees, you probably have a huge pile of slightly bruised, blemished, or bug-bitten apples sitting on the counter glaring at you right now. You can't store them in your root cellar or whatever, because blemished ones rot right away, and spoil all your good apples at the same time. Your grandma wasn't kidding about that one bad apple ruining the whole bunch, although she was probably referring to your hoodlum friend's juvenile arrest record rather than his tendency to off-gas ethylene.

So what do you do with this huge pile of apples that need to be used up right away? You make applesauce. And apple pies, tarts, cider, juice, and butter. If you have a still, you make applejack; if you have grandchildren, you make apple dolls. For the first few weeks, the cinnamon-clove smell makes you feel all warm and cozy and festive, and then the novelty of living in a house that smells like Pier 1 or Pottery Barn wears off and you're ready for something else. Of course, you still have crates of bruised apples to use up.

Apple-plum-ginger-carrot butter sounds a little crazy, but it's fantastic. Tart plums (or lemon juice) and plenty of fresh ginger give it a spicy zing, rounded out by the carrots' sweet, earthy note. Not convinced? Think of your favorite fresh juice bar blend. That's right: apple-carrot-ginger.


Note: amounts are all to taste. 

Apples: Cut out the bugs, seeds, and any really nasty bits. I like to leave the peels on — they're full of pectin and good stuff. If cooking doesn't dissolve the skins enough, you can easily remove them later by smushing the almost-finished apple butter through a colander or coarse sieve.

(If you don't have apple trees (or tree-owning friends), most of the apple sellers at your local farmers' market or produce market will have special boxes of super-cheap blemished apples. Or you can buy unblemished apples and skip the step where you cut out the bugs and icky bits.)

Plums: My apples were not terribly sweet, so I added a bunch of over-ripe summer plums that I'd frozen (pits removed, skins on — they completely dissolve during cooking). You can skip them or substitute just about any other fruit. Soft or delicate fruits should probably go in at the end, with the ginger and carrots — use your judgement about how long they need to cook.

Lemon juice: A good idea, especially if you're skipping the plums. Again, amount will depend on the total volume and how sweet/tart your apples are.

Fresh ginger: A ginger grater (available in many asian markets) will remove all the fiber from the ginger, but I just used a normal cheese grater and it was fine. Use fresh ginger root, not the powdered stuff.

Carrots: This was a last-minute addition, when I decided the butter needed an earthy note to anchor and round it out. To limit cooking time, I shredded the carrots with a standard cheese grater before I mixed them in. You could certainly just chop your carrots and add them at the beginning, with the apples, but I rather like the way mine ended up with tiny golden flecks suspended in the apple butter.


Important: If you're making this on the stovetop, keep the heat low and stir regularly so the bottom doesn't burn. If you don't have that kind of time or attention but do have a slow cooker, Google "slow cooker apple butter" until you find a recipe written by someone who also has a slow cooker. 

Chop the apples and put them in a big stock pot with the plums (if using). Put the lid on and cook over low heat, stirring regularly, until they're mushy and starting to look like applesauce. If the apples are fairly dry, you can add a cup or two of water at the beginning — you'll just need to reduce it further at the end.

Once the apples are soft, remove the lid and keep cooking at a low simmer. You want to reduce the volume until it's thick and spreadable.

When it's almost thick enough, add the ginger, lemon juice to taste, and shredded carrots. Continue cooking and stirring until the carrots are soft and everything's delicious.