When I was eight and my little sister was three, my family drove from our home in Brooklyn, New York to my aunt and uncle’s house in Montana. While I’m certain travelling 2500 miles with two young children was difficult for our parents (we spilled apple juice in every road-side restaurant from New Jersey to North Dakota), the trip was unforgettable. We visited three of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homes, saw Mount Rushmore and climbed around the Badlands. In Montana, my cousin and I “sewed” dresses for our American Girls and were allowed to walk to the neighborhood playground all by ourselves. I lay awake long after my 9 o’clock bedtime – amazed that, this far from home, the sun never seemed to set.
On a trip where I got to ride in a covered wagon and wander the banks of Plum Creek, I wouldn’t have expected to find the most magic in a small restaurant less than halfway out from Brooklyn.
My mom grew up in a small town outside of Cleveland. Both of her parents died before either my sister or I were born, and while we’ve always been close to her family (we were driving out to Montana to visit her brother’s family), we never spent much time in Ohio growing up. While it has always been easy to imagine my dad’s childhood, growing up in Chelsea in the same apartment my grandparents still live in, my mother’s youth was always a greater mystery. Some Ohio traditions were easily transplanted to Brooklyn – we still make her family’s gingerbread recipe every year (and every year I am put to shame by my cousins’ icing designs). But her childhood, replete with ice cream socials and the prize-winning goats next door, was always difficult to imagine.
On the second or third day of our trip, we stopped in my mom’s hometown. We drove past her childhood home (goats long gone by then) and visited our first soda fountain. That night, we went to a small restaurant in town that had been open since my mother was a girl. While never a picky eater, at eight I wasn’t a particularly discerning one either. For most of the trip, I subsisted happily on the offers from kids’ menus that never varied from state to state.
In truth, I remember very little about that magical dinner in Ohio. I know it was fancy, by my eight-year-old standards, and so I likely ordered a Shirley Temple. And I know that, as we waited for our dinners, our waiter brought out a basket of warm bread and apple butter. I’d never heard of apple butter, and tended to avoid anything apple-like since very scientifically diagnosing myself as allergic at age 6. Still, it was only the raw ones that bothered me, and this apple butter smelled so very, very good.
My mother spread some on a fresh roll, telling my sister and me that this restaurant had been serving apple butter since she was our age. And with that first bite (spicy and sweet and so smooth!) I suddenly felt that much closer to my mom’s childhood.
Incidentally, apple butter on a low carb base (like multigrain pop cakes, a personal favorite in this house) makes for a great diabetic-friendly snack, coming in at about 10 grams of carbs.
Ingredients – Makes about 4.5 cups (I preserved 4 cups in mason jars and kept the rest in a jar in the fridge for immediate use)
6 lbs mixed cooking apples (I used a mixture of Fuji, Courtland and Granny Smiths)
1.5 cu. apple cider
3 cu. sugar
3 tbs lemon juice
2 cinnamon sticks & 5-10 whole cloves, tied together in cheesecloth (star anise could also be quite nice)
1/3 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1. Peel and core your apples, cutting them into quarters, and drop them in a big ol’ pot. Add the apple cider and bring it to a simmer, covered, over medium heat. Cook for about half an hour, until the apples are soft and tender. Remove from the heat.
2. This step is where you will be gleefully smug if you’ve had the foresight to invest in an immersion blender. If you have, cheerfully blend your apples right there in the pot until the mixture is completely smooth. If you haven’t, don’t despair! Just transfer the applesauce to a blender, pureeing in batches (it’ll probably take 3-4 turns) until all of your apples are smooth. Consider adding an immersion blender to your Christmas list.
3. Once the applesauce has been pureed and is back (or still) in its pot, bring the mixture back up to a simmer on medium-low. Add in the sugar, spice packet tied up in cheesecloth, and nutmeg, and stir to combine. Let the mixture simmer, uncovered, for about two hours, or until it is silky smooth and amber to dark brown. Stir it often to make sure it doesn’t burn.
4. If you’ll be eating your apple butter immediately, remove from the stove, let cool, and place in a jar in your fridge. It will last for between 2 weeks and a month. If you’ll be preserving the butter, proceed to step 5.
5. About half an hour before your butter will be done, wash 2 pint-sized mason jars in hot, soapy water. Then bring the jars to a boil in a large pot (make sure to put something – I use a metal steamer – in between the jars and the bottom of the pot, so they don’t get too hot) and let them boil for ten minutes. Do the same thing with the jars’ lids. Leave these in the hot water if your apple butter isn’t done yet.
6. When the apple butter is done, spoon it into the jars until there’s about a half inch between the butter and the top of the jar. Place the lids on and screw on the ring.
7. Lower the jars back into a large pot of boiling water (with the metal steamer still in there!), so that there is at least an inch of water above the lid of the jars. Boil for 10 minutes (15 minutes if you’re at an altitude of more than 6000 ft). Remove the jars from the boiling water using tongs and allow to cool on a cooling rack. You can tell the jars have been properly processed if the lids don’t make a “pop” sound when you push down on them.
Carbs per tablespoon: About 7