In which Niree tries her hand at monthly projects from Scribd’s vast selection of tomes on craft and documents the process, be it messy, embarrassing, or triumphant. For the first installment, she makes a seasonal fruit butter from Marisa McLellan’s Food in Jars. This book (also a blog!) is a revelation for jarring, preserving, canning, and pickling aficionados.
A few things I’m obsessed with in no particular order: autumn, pumpkins, cooking, and organizing my receipts.
Though it’s still warm in San Francisco and the leaves are still green-ish on the trees, I was feeling festive this past weekend, which meant making something sweet and gourd-y (not to be confused with gourdy, which means swollen in the legs).
Enter: the Apple Pumpkin Butter from Marisa McClellan’s preserves cookbook, Food in Jars.
I quickly realized there is no butter in this Butter. That’s OK, I rationalized, because there’s sugar.
But wait! Without butter and/or other dairy-related foodstuffs, isn’t this just a recipe for jam? No, McClellan says, no it is not. Jams require way more sugar and preservatives (which fruit butters don’t need, ever), whereas fruit butters take a longer time to cook over lower heat.
OK then. Onward.
Decorative mini-pumpkins very necessary
The recipe suggests making your own applesauce, but if you, like me, are feeling not that ambitious, a store-bought jar is a perfectly acceptable alternative. Also, if you, like me, are curious about what pumpkin puree tastes like in its unadulterated state, I’ll spare you the suspense: it tastes like baby food after the baby has eaten it.
Step 1: Dump pumpkin puree and applesauce in a big pot; let it simmer for an hour, stirring every ten minutes.
I’m not totally sure what a “gentle simmer” is supposed to look like, so I just kept it on medium heat. This was a mistake. Somewhere around the six-minute mark, I looked over at my pot, previously so full of promise, and saw that it had transformed into an ired Vesuvius:
Step 1.5: SOS – wipedown!
McClellan mentions in the chapter preface that slow-cookers are the way to go for fruit butters, but that pots on the stovetop are okay if you cover them with mesh splatter shields. Seeing as I don’t have one of these things, I decided it would be fine. Days later, I’m still finding nooks and crannies to scrub clean. Dear reader: don’t be like me. In lieu of a shield, a lid works just as well.
Step 2: Stir in sugar and spice and everything nice*.
* everything nice = lemon juice
Step 3: Let it sit over low heat, stirring occasionally until mixture becomes buttery.
Here it is, sitting. What a perfect time to organize my box of neglected receipts!
Step 4: remove from heat, cool down, pour into a pretty glass jar, and serve as you please.
‘Twas the perfect morning snack after a night out involving too many pomegranate martinis.
Once the fruit butter had cooled, I toasted up some sprouted wheat bread, made myself a mug of tea, and dug in. The taste: a symphonic explosion of apple–slightly spicy, kinda sweet, with undertones of pumpkin and ginger combining with the cinnamon. If apple cider were a solid and not a liquid, then this would be it. The texture: smooth and spreadable although with those grainy imperfections we know and love from traditional applesauce, easily dippable or spoonable and not super sticky. The feeling: divinely autumnal. Seriously, one bite of this stuff and you’re somewhere where the leaves are amber and there’s a crisp breeze, the earth smells vaguely damp and there may be a crackling fire in the distance (possibly tended to by a coven of witches).
The Final Tally
3 hours: cooking (+1.5 hours: cleaning. Oh, the cleaning.)
$12.37: total cost
~1 lb: freezable-for-up-to-one-year yield
3: destroyed dishrags
If you’re into jams without the hassle, absolutely go for it. Especially with Thanksgiving approaching, I can’t imagine a better spread for cornbread or biscuits. Except maybe actual butter.
Niree is an Assistant Curator at Scribd. She’s also the founder and editorial director of Connu, a former editor at Angel City Press and the Southern California Review. Her work has appeared in Santa Barbara Magazine, Defy Magazine, Latin Trends, Minzio, and the Armenian Redwood Project. When she’s not blurbing her favorite books at Scribd, she’s playing classical piano; Chopin’s nocturnes are her current jam.Photographs: Brian Mayer