Sunday, October 4, 2009

Smooth Like (Apple) Butter

I didn't always know that there were certain apples for cooking and certain apples for eating. And even today, if you asked me about the uses of certain apple varieties, I may just be guessing. Fortunately, I had a friend in Spain who taught me the lesson in a way my friend Krista and I still laugh about. While studying abroad in Spain, probably the worst thing that happened was that we had to spend Thanksgiving away from home. The holiday came and went without so much as an extra day off of school. Our institute put on a dinner for which a restaurant pan fried a turkey in olive oil--hilarious. But we did make friends with an American who had married a Spaniard. His family hosted a thanksgiving meal over the weekend, and we students agreed excitedly to help make the pies. Good thing we weren't put in charge of the turkey and stuffing. One great thing about traveling is coming to a greater understanding and appreciation of your own culture, and Thanksgiving is a super-American holiday in the greatest way. All of the dishes traditionally served at Thanksgiving are New World food, so before Columbus discovered the Americas, Europe had chickens but no turkeys, and they didn't have tomatoes, potatos, pumpkins or gourds, cranberries or corn. Most Europeans haven't had the pleasure of eating a pumpkin pie--an atrocity, I know! That also meant they didn't have the canned, pureed version of pumpkin pie filling or pre-made pie crusts that make life incredibly easy. But this story is about the apples. Krista and I and another friend met at a bus stop to travel to our friends' house in the suburbs of Seville. Krista and I brought the food, and our friend brought directions to the house--a fair trade, right. We loaded onto the bus, me sitting with the giant pumpkin on my lap, Krista with the bushel of apples on hers. It soon became apparent that our friend wasn't exactly sure about the directions. Whoops, we got off the bus one or two stops too soon without a taxi in sight--I'll give her that it really is easy to miss your destination in an unfamiliar place. The three of us tromped along the hills overlooking the city, making a turn here and there--it took us way too long to admit we were lost. I hate to exaggerate the details of the story, some of which are quite hazy. But Krista and I were following our poor confused friend, she carrying the apples and I carrying the pumpkin, first in our right hands, then in the left hands, then clutched to our chests with our arms wrapped around the produce. I believe there was a dispute about who should call our friends to tell them we were lost. Phone calls were a tense game that semester because we were poor and thrifty and because, in Europe, the person who makes the phone call is the only one who pays. Our friend was extra thrifty, and we were annoyed to be the ones using the phone after having purchased the food as well. Seems so silly now, but we were pissed. Krista called and used up all her phone minutes. I called and eventually someone had to drive around the neighborhood to find us sitting on the curb. But I believe it was while we were sitting and waiting that our friend asked what kind of apples we bought because her family owned an apple orchard in Washington and she was a pro. "Gala! You can't use Gala to make a pie!" If steam could come out of people's ears, Krista would have been the first person in history to make use of it. Once we finally got to our friends' home, Krista and I soon abandoned the kitchen quickly and sat on the couch, probably still fuming and making ourselves miserable. I'd like to think we've matured since then. And thanks to our friend, I will never forget there is a difference between sweet eating apples and tart baking apples.

They didn't have apple pies in Spain, and they definitely didn't have apple butter. Seville is more of an orange kind of town, what with the freshest Valencia oranges available right at the time the orange trees on the streets are bending with the weight of the too-tart-to-stand Seville oranges. Though the Seville oranges weren't edible fresh from the tree, no city could every smell more glorious than when those trees flowered.

Apple Butter: tweaked from Simply Recipes 20 apples 1 cup apple cider vinegar 2 cups granulated sugar 1/2 cup brown sugar 1 cinnamon stick 1 teaspoon ground ginger 1 teaspoon cardamom 1 teaspoon allspice 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 tablespoon lemon juice Peel, core and quarter the apples. In a large pot on medium-low heat, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Stir the apples frequently, mashing them as they soften. A lot of recipes require pureeing the apple butter after simmering the mixture for an hour, call me lazy but I think that's a pain and who cares if it's a little chunky. So I just mashed all the apple bits to a puree while it simmered. Taste the apple butter and adjust sugar and spices as necessary. It should take about 3 hours for the butter to thicken and turn a carmelized-ish brown color. You can even leave the apple butter on the stovetop and tour a 20th-century castle and it won't burn! Follow typial canning procedures to preserve the apple butter.

1 comment:

Craig said...

hahahaha, oh shayla