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Monday, November 21, 2011

I remember Autumn

I remember Autumn. Little known fact about me. I spent a big chunk of my boyhood in Toledo, Ohio. Falling leaves, crisp frosty mornings and just the hint of winter.
 The truth? I'd rather miss it and still be able to spend Thanksgiving in shorts and t-shirts.
 However; Ohio has apples in the way Arizona has oranges.
 This Christmas I'm making apple butter for the family. I started today with beautiful Granny-Smith and a couple Honey-Crisp. This will take me most of the day. I don't mind. I've found that something made by my own hands for the people I love means so much more than anything I can buy. Let's begin.


4-5 pounds apples. A blend of different kinds is super. I started with Granny-Smith for the acidic complexity. I also used some Honey-Crisp for the sweetness. Smell what you select. Use what you think is best.

1 cup apple-cider vinegar
2 cups water
Sugar (maybe 4 cups) adjust the amount according to your own tastes. If you are using more sour apples then add more sugar, if using sweeter apples then you may find less is better.
pinch salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cloves
One pinch Nutmeg
grated rind and juice of one lemon
AND Chef Nick's secret ingredient ONE WHOLE JALAPENO . This is a trick I was taught by Chef Aaron Lightner. The spicy pepper will heighten and brighten the spices. Don't worry it doesn't make it through the whole process.

One big pot for the apple stuff
A food-mill or large colander with spatula.
One big pot for sterilizing the jars
A pair of tongs
Good sized ladle
I used BALL jars.

Quarter all the apples. Leave skins on, don't core. Pectin is an amazing substance and there is LOADS of it in the parts we usually cut off. Put in the large pot. Add the water, vinegar, whole pepper,  lemon stuff and spices.
Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes. Pull out the pepper and discard. Test the softness of the apples with a fork. They should slide off.  

Place your colander over a big bowl and using your big man muscles lift up the pot and pour entire contents through your colander. Reserve the liquid. Look, I know most of you have stopped reading at this point because this seems really HARD. If I can do this so can you. 

You'll get a big mass of THIS. 
Smoosh and smear this through either your colander or through a food-mill. Either way. Separate the skins, seeds and what-not. Squeeze it through. Discard that mess. 
Put the apple mush back on heat in a large pot. Pour reserved liquid through a wire-mesh strainer back into the pot. Bring all back up to a boil and STIR.
 Here's why is takes all day. You need to stand there and stir over heat until it reduces and turns brown and really thick. It can take up to 2 hours, sometimes longer. Think happy Christmas thoughts the whole time. Plug in your iPod. In the end it's completely worth it.

Some words about jarring. Sterilize all the lids and jars in boiling hot water. Make sure water covers everything. Sterilize any other equipment you'll need. Ladle, tongs. Bring it to a boil and let it go for at least 20 minutes. Reduce heat to low and keep it all under-water until needed. Once done remove pot off-heat but we'll still need that hot water so don't discard. 

OK so it took a long time. We're almost done. Pull out a jar at a time and fill using a ladle. Hold with clean towel. If you spill along the sides use a PAPER towel to wipe it down. Here's a cool kitchen tip. Paper towels are sterile. 
Pull out the lids (2 parts) and screw them down TIGHT. Place jars back into hot water for 10 minutes, this will ensure a tight seal. 

Remove jars from water carefully and put them somewhere outside of any drafts to cool down. You'll hear a weird sucking sound as they seal. Check the dimple on the jar lid and it should be depressed all the way in. 
That's IT finally. Santa would be proud. Wasn't that fun? 
We're cooking poor, eating rich. Get your grub on, Ciao !

Happy Thanksgiving. Love to you all.