Wednesday, October 12, 2011

new england apple butter

fall is the season of new england. there is no doubt about it in my book (blog?); it's the legend of sleepy hollow, pumpkins and jack-o's, mulled cider, outside fires, and a carpet of stars shining way, way up in the night. it's the harvest moon, lace-ups, and dozens of worn down gravestones, crooked like teeth.

its apples that my good neighbor brought me.

in new england it happens when summer barely ends. the nights get cooler, and the trees start to fade even as the grass gets greener still.

the mile mark for me is when the farmer down the road drives his tractor up into our field to cart off the hay he baled way back in summer's dawn. winter food for his lovely cows that i'm happy to provide. i know then the time is nigh to pack up and make our yearly move back to the city.

in fact, i'm already there. it came earlier this year. with a trip down south to my in-laws and travel across a few seas coming soon, we had to pack up and get down sooner than normal.

so i brought my beloved new england back with me.

new england apple butter

6 & 1/2 pounds apples, preferably a variety
juice of 3 lemons
1 & 1/2 cups maple sugar *
3 whole cloves, crushed (use a mortar & pestle)
2 large bay leaves **
1/2 teaspoon salt
immersion blender
pint or smaller mason jars

yield: approximately 4 pints

1. place juice of 3 lemons in a large bowl. peel, core and slice apples to 1/4 inch. toss apples in the bowl and coat with lemon juice as you go, this will prevent discoloring.

2. warm a non-reactive pot (stainless or enameled cast iron) on low. add apples, lemon juice, salt and maple sugar. stir gently until maple sugar melts and apples just start to break down.

3. add crushed cloves and whole bay leaves, turn up the heat to medium. cook, stirring occasionally as apples soften. you can add a small amount of water if needed - it depends on the apple varieties. but if you are attentive and stir more frequently as the apples break down you may not need to - i didn't

4. while apples are cooking down. prepare jars and lids for hot water bath processing. you do not need to sterilize the jars as they will be processed for 15 minutes.

5. when the apples have completely softened, about an hour or so in, remove bay leaves. use an immersion blender to 'butter' the apples.

6. fill hot jars; tap the full jar on a towel-covered counter to release air bubbles, and fill to 1/4 inch headspace. hot water bath process for 15 minutes.

although i used an immersion blender, i wanted my butter quite pilgrim-like, that is to say chunky not smooth. you could use a potato masher or even a wooden spoon and go authentic pilgrim.

the aroma of the cooking down maple sugar and apples is extravagant! like those caramel-apples-on-a-stick, only a kazillion times better. i didn't want to add any spice that would deter from that delicious smell. the bay and clove are pure old new england and give a solid base in which the maple sugar shines.

this is like new england gold, it is!

*i know maple sugar is expensive, but it really is the co-star in this recipe and so worth the splurge. i use justameretree farm maple sugar. the quality of their products are outstandng - and they're really nice too!

**you haven't really tasted bay unless you grow and dry your own. if you have a windowsill and a pot you can do it!


  1. This is well timed! I was just thinking about making apple butter. If I use fresh bay leaf do you think I should double the quantity? I use fresh bay all the time. I have a big evergreen tree and can't be bothered drying it...

  2. olga - love that you have a big tree! I have to plant a little spritely seedling each year that never makes it through the winter. in my experience fresh bay is one of the rare herbs that doesn't have to be doubled fresh. but use your judgement, fresh bay is so lovely it's hard to go wrong, plus it depends on how large your leaves are. the two I used were quite large. so glad you're giving this a try!

  3. Feel quite sad reading your words. It suddenly hits home that autumn is here. Am away from home and missing the basketfuls of apples I have access to there and wouldn't dream of buying any. I don't know what maple sugar is. Perhaps it is called something else here in the UK. Will find out. x

  4. That looks so tasty! I love apples. But first, a snarky comment. Washington Irving wrote his Leatherstocking Tales based in the Mohawk Valley/Catskill Mountain region of NY. And as my fiance (from MA) is so fond of reminding me, NY is not part of New England (right before the revolutionary war, the New England colonies had their charters revoked and they became one gigantic "New Enlgand" colony, as opposed to Massachusetts Bay, Connecticut, etc.).

    ... also, NY grows more and better apples than New England. :-P (I live in Boston now, I gotta keep my NY pride!)

  5. Apple butter what a lovely idea. I have made pumpkin butter in the past but my mouth is watering at the thought of apples softened in maple syrup.

  6. Have you tried building it a green house or a cold frame? Maybe you can bring it inside for the winter like your lemons. Bay makes awesome topiaries.
    Having evergreen bay, rosemary and thyme year around is the perk for living in Raincouver, the price to pay is being soggy wet all the time and smelling soggy wet dogs in your house... There is just no perfection in the universe....

  7. Is there a good online store to purchase a small bay tree. I tried looking at the beginning of the summer, think I would pot it and keep indoors. Our Midwest winters are too harsh for it to survive outdoors. However, when I looked at various online stores, it was just too confusing. When I inquired at our local nurseries if they would have bay trees, they just looked at me with that blank look and sent me to the basil selection. Sigh.... I would so love to have fresh bay leaves as I use them all the time!

  8. gloria - where are you now?

    dea-chan - i'm 5 miles from the ny border so i get the best of both worlds! ;)

    olga - my thyme comes up each year but i never have luck keeping the rosemary or bay alive, i may try a cold frame this year and see what happens.

    joan - i always purchase a very small one each season at my local nursery so i can't recommend a specific one on lane - but there must be! anyone else here know of a good place to purchase on line?

  9. After following your blogs for over a year I finally took a canning class and learned how EASY it is. This is your first recipe I canned and I am glad I splurged on the maple sugar. Delicious! I can't wait to try many more of your recipes. Thank you for the inspiration.

  10. Fresh Bay! Also Midwestern, not sure it would thrive here longer than a season, if I could find it - like Joan mentioned. I do recall eying some fresh bay wreaths from L.L. Bean that can be used after visual enjoyment... maybe I'll splurge on that after reading about the bay love!

  11. I just looked up in my book "Herb Gardening for Canada" (meaning in the rest of Canada b/c Vancouver is has really different climate) and it says to just bring it in for the winter. So cold frames sound like they wont work. I bring my Keefer lime in for the winter and it works really well, and I know you grow citrus, so just try it. I am sure it wont have as many mites problems b/c it's really fragrant and nothing likes it (at least in my garden).

  12. My husband and I made this recipe as our first joint canning experience. A blast to say the least! Thanks for your beautiful recipes :)