archives : apple butter dec '08

With the helter-skelter rhythms of the season,the putting of ribbons on packages, the packing of bags as I get ready to fly to the States, this newsletter will be short but sweet. I wanted to mention a wonderful article I - only - recently read by Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, called Farmer in Chief. It appeared in the NY Times Magazine at the beginning of October. For those of you who haven't read it, it's worth taking the time. It's an open letter to President-elect Obama: a succinct yet comprehensive overview of the state of our food and our relationship to it, suggestions by which to improve the manner food is grown and eventually distributed; and the simple beauty of how the Earth generously sustains us.
Inspired by his article, I thought I'd voice my suggestion for a News Year's resolution: plant one vegetable or herb pot on you windowsill, balcony, front porch, or in your backyard. Get just a bit of dirt under your fingernails. One sustaining potted plant that you can rejoice in eating from and that can, perhaps more than anything, connect us to the Earth. Seems an easy enough resolution, and one that will keep on giving. A courageous rosemary plant growing on the windowsill in the middle of winter has a nice ring to it.

I'm starting up the newsletter again after a wonderful vacation spent in the Loire Valley countryside with its resplendent royal chateaux, its unique minerally wines - such wonderful table companions to plant-based dishes, sumptuous, artisan goat cheese, and marvelous fresh, local vegetables, not to mention the skies and fields flowing toward the horizon in a display of infinite blues and greens as well as a litany of lilting rivers watched over by flocks of weeping willows.

I came back to Paris with a basketful of apples I picked off myriad enticing apple trees - their varieties a mystery to me - in the backyards of friends country houses and what was left of numerous loaves of bread and baguettes I couldn't resist buying at an amazing "more than off the beaten path" bakery Fournil de la Licorne, in Vallières-les-Grandes.

Laying my treasure out on the kitchen counter back home, I realized that I'd never be able to eat everything while still fresh, and not wanting to end up throwing any of it away - the amount of food we all, myself included, throw into the trash is a sad, almost criminal, reality - I decided to dedicate my Saturday to turning the leftover bread into croutons and the apples into apple butter. I canned the apple butter; it'll keep for months and I can open a jar now and then for a special breakfast treat (the French are not familiar with apple butter). As for the croutons, I put them into glass jars that now sit on a shelf within hand's reach. Added to a simple salad of lettuce, arugula, chunks of tomato, a smattering of black or green olives, and a few shavings of parmesan and I've got myself a more than satisfying lunch or light dinner.

And they'll keep nicely on the shelf for a month or so. And in the end, nothing but the apple peels ended up in the trash!
Now speaking of all that we end up throwing away... A few days after I got back to Paris, a friend gave me an article she'd saved from Le Monde newspaper, which to my surprise was exactly on that subject. Japanese author Jinnosuke Uotsuka has recently published two books (unfortunately not yet translated into English) "Japanese Who Let Their Food Spoil in the Fridge" and "Japanese Who Don't Let Their Food Spoil in the Fridge," a best-seller in Japan. (articles in English, French, Italian).

And here are a few addresses I never fail to visit when I'm in the Loire Valley:
Bernard Baudry Winery in Chinon - I come home every year with a few cases of his marvelous Chinon wines - Le Clos Guillot and La Croix Boisée - to put in my cellar, and never fail to drive down among his vineyard to pick basketful after basketful of succulent blackberries.
Champalou Vineyards in Vouvray - Catherine and Didier, vignerons independants, make some of the freshest, cleanest, embracing Vouvrays - their 'sec-tendre' goes marvelously with asparagus, one of those finicky vegetables when it comes to pairing it with wine.
Ferme-Auberge de La Lionnère - Frédéric and Francoise Bouland's truly exquisite goat cheese. You can find Françoise every Friday at the Montrichard open-air market or take a drive out to their farm and enjoy wonderful country-style lunch or dinner cooked by Françoise with products exclusively grown on their farm, and say hello to their goats, even watch as they are lovingly milked.


1/2 lb ( 250 gr) old bread (I made 2 batches, one with old baguettes and one with a dense flaxseed bread)
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp chopped rosemary leaves
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
2-3 tBsp extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Take old leftover bread, not too dry, cut off the crusts if you wish (I prefer to remove only the thicker crust) and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. In a large skillet sauté garlic, herbs and lemon zest for 1 minute. Add bread cubes and toss to coat. Place in a large enough baking dish to spread them out evenly in one layer. Bake for 15 - 30 minutes depending on original dryness of bread. Cool and store in a tight-lidded glass jar.

note: You can also add 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, a pinch of cinnamon or any other spice, herb, or mixture of them that strikes your fancy.


Apple Butter

3 lbs (1500 gr) cooking apples (Granny Smith or Gravensteins, for example)
1 1/2 generous cups (500 ml) apple cider
1 cup (200gr) cane sugar + 1/2 cup (100 ml) honey
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp allspice
1/2 tsp cloves
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Dash of unrefined salt
4 canning jars
Foodmill or chinoise sieve

note: Since I had no allspice or cloves in the cupboard - and it was Sunday in Paris - I replaced them with 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger) 

Cut apples, unpeeled and uncored, into quarters (a good amount of pectin is stored in the cores, the peels add flavor), remove any damaged parts. Place in large pot with the apple cider, cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and cook until they are soft, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat.

Transfer cooked apples to a foodmill (or chinois sieve) and work the pulp through over a large bowl. Mix the sugar and honey with the apple purée, bring to a boil in a wide, thick-bottomed pot (the wider the better as there is more surface evaporation) and cook uncovered over low heat, stirring often to prevent burning. Scrape the bottom of the pot when you stir so that no crust forms.
Cook until thick and smooth, about 7 hours. (You can cook the purée over medium-low heat for about 2 hours - if you are willing to stir constantly - as the stirring encourages evaporation) Canning:
Place the canning jars and lids in a large pot of boiling water (with enough space for the water enough to cover them) and process for 10 minutes. Remove them and pour the apple butter into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space. Wipe rims of jars and seal with lids. Return to boiling water and process for 5 minutes.

note: If you want to make a smaller amount and just refrigerate, pour apple butter into sterilized jars, seal with lids, and let cool. It will keep in the refrigerator for about a month.

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