Old-fashioned fruit butter is ideal for modern cooks

November 18, 1992|By Regina Shrambling | Regina Shrambling,Contributing Writer

I grew up associating preserves with old people. My mother's older friends seemed to be the last cooks with the energy to pickle peaches and the alchemist's patience to turn messy mulberries into jam and prickly pears into jelly.

Like every child of the '50s and '60s who read diet books, I had swallowed the old advice: To cut calories, leave the strawberry jam off the toast and the grape jelly off the peanut butter. Today the food police have adopted a new law: Eat your biscuits with jam instead of butter.

I have found a new old way to butter my toast and eat my preserves too. I make fruit butters, fast alternatives to traditional jams that are easy to put together and richly satisfying. And unlike the jams of my salad days, fruit spreads are ideal for the modern cook: They can be made in small quantities and stored in the refrigerator, eliminating the need for sterilizing jars.

But if you intend to give the butters as gifts, you can preserve them: Follow the manufacturer's instructions to prepare the lids. While the butter is hot, spoon it into hot, sterilized half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch of head space. Wipe the jar tops and threads clean. Place hot lids on jars, screw bands on firmly and process in a boiling-water bath for 10 minutes. Let the jars cool completely before checking the seals. Label the contents clearly, including the date.

Cider-apple butter

1 quart apple cider

8 large tart apples, Granny Smith or Mutzu

12 whole allspice berries

1 whole cinnamon stick

In large heavy saucepan, boil the cider until reduced to 2 cups. Remove the stems from apples, but do not peel or core them. Cut into chunks and add to the cider, along with allspice and cinnamon. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until soft, about 20 minutes. Press the apples through a strainer or food mill into a bowl. Return the pulp to the saucepan along with the whole spices. Simmer, stirring often, until butter is very thick, about 1 3/4 hours. Discard the allspice and cinnamon. Let cool. (The butter can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.) Makes about 2 cups.

Apricot-honey butter

3 cups dried apricots (2 pounds)

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup honey

3 tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger

In a heavy saucepan, combine apricots, lemon zest, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the apricots are soft. Transfer the apricots and the cooking liquid to a food processor and puree until smooth. Return to the saucepan, along with honey and the remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice. Simmer, stirring often, until very thick, about 1 hour. Stir in crystallized ginger and let cool. (The butter can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.) Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

Cranberry-pear butter

8 large, very ripe pears

3 cups cranberry juice cocktail

2 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger

Remove stems from pears but do not peel or core. Cut into 2-inch chunks and place in a heavy saucepan. Add cranberry juice and ginger. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until pears are very soft, about 40 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl, pressing the flesh against the sieve with a wooden spoon to extract all the juice and pulp. Return to the saucepan and simmer, stirring often, until very thick, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool. (The butter can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months.) Makes about 1 3/4 cups.

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