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
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!