Every year I look forward to autumn for so many reasons, but mostly because the harvest season with its totally unabashed abundance inspires me to begin really cooking again! I love the light fresh meals of summer but it’s the long slow braises of autumn and the scents of apple butter, chili and stews that really feed my soul. So far, this years Indian summer although a bit rain soaked has brought a few bonfires, plenty of crispy wonderful apples , clambakes and lots of fresh cider. This week , now that I've finally felt Autumns first chill in the air I've begun to think about making Cidre’, that thoroughly seductive French hard cider that my son and nephew love to drink all winter long as well as delicious slowly baked Apple Tarte’ Tatins that emerge from the oven dripping with butter and oozing with creamy salted caramel. I came home from Asheville with a dehydrator and a 23 quart pressure canner so that I can indulge my desires to preserve every little bit of this season that I can.
I begin longing for these treats in the last weeks of August when plump red apples start falling from my trees and the smell of their ripeness begins to waft through my windows with the warm breeze. Riding the trails this time of year is an incredibly delicious experience with the warm windfall apples crunching under my horse Henry’s hooves , the last of the ripening berries that I can steal from the birds and the sticky sweetness of the molding fallen leaves. When I still lived at Windesphere, my son Alex and I always went apple picking at a farm that was right around the corner. We’d spend the day picking apples and choosing fragrant concord grapes so ripe that they were practically bursting with juice. Those are such wonderful memories. We’d bring a lunch of fresh cheese and warm bread and we’d spend the day playing among the trees , choosing the best apples and cominghome with huge bags of fruit, way more than we could ever eat. Alex was homeschooled and one year my husband came home to find two huge carboys on the sink filled with cider and bubbling very wickedly and very mysteriously. “It’s an organic chemistry experiment dad….we’re making Cidre’ " my son proudly told his father! Jim looked at me in disbelief, but I finally prevailed. The resulting beverage was a wonderful yeasty, cidery brew that we bottled , labeled with my Windesphere Witch label and given away all year for presents. That was also the same year that we made wine at a nearby vineyard. Homeschooling definitely wasn't a task for the faint of heart, but more for the fun of heart! Those days were great!
I think that may have been the point that my husband officially began to question my sanity, but when the time came to fill the bottles with the sweetly alcoholic brew even he got in on the action. After all, he did grow up on thousands of acres of cattle farm and his mother grew up canning and preserving everything in sight. I’ll never forget the sight of Jm helping Alex siphon the liquid from the carboys into the bottles that he’d labeled so proudly. We let the Cidre’ settle for another month or two and then we opened the first bottle. It was perfectly delicious , amazingly fresh and tart!
This year I'll probably also make some Apple cordial. Just take many peeled and cored fresh apples, slice them and put into a bottle of spiced rum. Add more spice if you like, a whole vanilla bean, some whole cinnamon sticks , raisins and a bit of brown sugar or molasses. Shake andthen let the whole thing sit for about a month. Pour it into several pretty bottles, label and give it away as Christmas gifts. This is a really satisfying treat served in those tiny cordial glasses that you inherited from your grand mum and drunk next to a cozy fire… add a snuggly feline and stir!
Today I'm about to start my yearly tradition of making apple butter with bourbon and as much chutney as I can bottle. I love to make apple butter and it's one of the easiest things that you can do with a surplus of fresh apples. The traditional way calls for a huge copper pot and a bonfire , the way that it’s made every year at the Apple Butter Festival in Burton, Ohio
. The Century Village in Burton has a wonderful festival every year where you can see apple butter being made in this old fashioned way. When we still lived there we'd drag Alex up at 5:00 am to participate in this wonderful alchemy….that of turning apples, cider, cinnamon, butter ,sugar and smoke into a rich and golden spread. When you make apple butter this way takes hours to melt it down, but it's worth it. First you build the bonfire and then you bring out the copper cauldron which is literally bigger than a kitchen sink! Add apples and cider and stir with a wooden paddle , every now and then adding more crates of peeled apples. When the apples are melted down, then you add enormous amounts of cinnamon, sugar and butter to the already delightful mixture. There are bees flying around everywhere the aroma is so sticky and sweet. Every now and then I've bought a jar that has a bee in it, in my mind a sign of a very lucky year ahead! (and a naturally made product!) This year for the first time in awhile I went back to the festival and stood watching the stirrers. I must have been looking longingly at the process because a very sweet woman just handed me her paddle and turned over her cauldron. "You look like you want to stir , do you know how?" I just smiled and grabbed the paddle that she handed me and she was nice enough to take my picture!
Lacking a bonfire in my kitchen but owning a wonderful copper pot, I make apple butter every year at home. It’s very simple and makes your kitchen as well as the rest of your house smell incredible. I embellish a little bit simply because I can, but in the end it’s apple butter. I hope that you'll try this because its one of the most satisfying Autumn preserves that you can make. For the record, you can do the same thing with fresh pumpkin and it's wonderful! If you lack a copper pot, a slow cooker will definitely do the trick!
You will need:
Tons of apples, sliced and cored! It’s your call as to peel them or not, I keep the peels on because I like them!
A large bottle of fresh apple cider
Cups of brown sugar
Huge amounts of cinnamon
At least one stick of very good butter
A slow cooker or a large copper pot (the slow cooker works very well ,but it never gets quite as creamy as it will if you stand for hours cooking out the liquid and stirring happy good wishes into the pot!)
Here’s the simple recipe. Put the apples into the pot or cooker, add enough cider to cover and cook for as many hours as it takes to really cook them down . When it’s almost done add the cinnamon to taste, brown sugar and enough butter to have it be silky and smooth.
When it’s done pour it into sterilized glass jars and seal tightly. If I'm not pressure canning the jars I pour a layer of melted butter over the top of each one to help seal.
If you're a regular reader of mine then you know that I simply can't leave anything alone and this simple recipe although wonderful doesn’t quite do it for me, I'm always having to gild the lily! Real apple butter made over a bonfire has a bit of a smoky taste so at the very end I add a bit of organic liquid smoke. Sometimes, I leave it at that, but morethan often I’ll add some bourbon, something wonderful like a Woodford Reserve or a Bookers, because you will taste it so it's not worth it to use anything too cheap.
Making apple chutney is fun and easy. Same basic recipe, but this I’ll always make in the slow cooker and add raisins, lemons , walnuts and onions and a little bit of the liquidsmoke. The slow cooker is actually easier to control than my copper pot which does have a mind of its own. I play with the spices, sometimes adding fresh sage from my garden and sometimes add a bit of brandy or single malt. Serve it with a freshly roasted chicken or a loaf of fresh bread and a large wedge of white cheddar. Always make sure that there's a wonderful ale nearby, it's the perfect accompaniment!
Please promise me that you’ll have fun with the harvest this year and make a promise to yourself to put something by even if your stillroom is the teensy kitchen in your apartment. . In the end, that’s what food like this is about, slow to cook, creative and fresh. I hope that I've convinced you to let it become a real part of your seasonal experience !
Now for one more treat! Tomorrows project comes from my sister Ellen , who IS the Goddess of all things sugar , butter and chocolate! She called me the other day insisting that I try a recipe for caramel apples which she says is perfect! In the realm of dessert, if she says it I believe it and as one who has always been intimidated by caramel I was completely intrigued. The recipe comes from the Tartine cookbook which is a fabulous bakery in San Francisco that evidently makes the most wonderful caramel apples in the world. According to Ellen you simply take all of the caramel ingredients and place them into a saucepan, bringing the whole of it to a boil, checking the temperature with your candy thermometer. You dip the apples , let them harden and I guess that they don't stay on the plater long enough for anyone to really look at them , they are supposedly that good! I've seen pictures though and they are beautiful, the caramel is translucent and covers each apple completely yet allows the beautiful colors of the fruit to shine through. I haven't made them yet so I figured that we could all try together! Here's the link!
Seeing that it's baking season, I've got lovely jars of my homemade baking and pie spices to give away to one of you! Just let me know in your comments if you'd like to be entered in the draw and please leave me a recipe or two because I love sharing ideas with you!
This was originally posted by me last weekend on Perfume Smellin Things!