Scrumping

To Scrump: [verb] British informal usage. To illicitly appropriate apples from a tree or orchard that is not your own.

At the edge of town there is an old Victorian estate whose main house has now been converted into apartments. A feature of that estate was its apple orchard. The orchard is now abandoned and the ancient gnarled trees vie for space with tall grasses, nettles and brambles. It is mainly populated by dog walkers and, of course, seasonal apple pickers. For the dedicated gatherer, the lure of many different types of apples (with a high probability of heritage varieties among them) is irresistible.

A while ago, I read in one of the free local newsletters that are always being pushed through the post box about (what I privately term) “urban apple guerrillas”. These gangs harvest apples from parks, roadsides and any abandoned urban place where neglected apple trees grow. Many of these apples end up in food shelters and community sharing cooperatives for those on low incomes. It seems to me that they are making good use of what would normally go to waste.

This time of year, when apples are being picked (in whatever manner), I find myself craving apple butter instead of jam on toast – definitely comfort food for the soul. Fruit butters – thick sweetened and sometimes spiced fruit pastes – are not unknown here, but I prefer my grandmother’s richly spiced recipe that she used to make with crab apples.

apples

Spiced Apple Butter

Yields 2-1/2 half pints

  • 4-1/2 lbs Apples (any sort, or a mixture of varieties), about 1-1/2 dozen
  • 4 cups Water, apple juice or non-alcoholic apple cider
  • 2 cups Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground nutmeg
  • a pinch of Ground cloves

Peel and core your apples. I tend to use a sweeter apple and avoid such varieties as Bramleys or Granny Smiths for the same reason. Taking advantage of the natural sugar in the apples allows you to reduce the amount of granulated sugar you add.

Chop the apples in rough chunks and place in a heavy bottomed pot with the liquid (water, juice or cider). Cover and bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to medium and uncover, cooking for about 30 minutes and stirring periodically. The apples should be very soft and disintegrating.

Turn off heat and purée the apples in their cooking liquid (which should have reduced somewhat). There are a number of ways you can achieve a smooth pulp with varying degrees of graininess. From medium to very fine, the methods are a food mill (mouli), food processor and hand blender. The choice of what tool you use is entirely up to you, based on personal preference for the final apple butter texture.

Add the sugar and spices to the pulp in the pot. Mix well and return the pot to the medium heat, though you may need to reduce it to low if it begins to splatter. Be careful when you periodically give the mixture a stir, using a ling handled wooden spoon as precaution; it is very hot and can burn. Because the apple butter will need to cook for a long time, I recommend using a heat diffuser if you have one. It cuts down on the likelihood that the mixture will burn to the bottom of the pot.

The mixture will darken as it cooks down and reduce to a thick consistency in about two to two and a half hours. To test if it is done, draw your wooden spoon across the bottom of the pot. If the bottom of the pot can be seen without the mixture immediately filling back, you are ready to put the apple butter in jars.

Fill the clean warm canning jars and seal. Steam for 10 minutes until a vacuum seal has been created. When the jars have cooled, label with contents and date.

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