Archive | butters, sauces, curds RSS feed for this section

More on Fruit Butters in a Slow Cooker

an array of jams and butters

There were so many questions about cooking fruit butters in slow cookers left on the blueberry butter post that I thought I’d talk a little more about how it works, how to do it and why it’s a great technique. I do apologize that it’s taken me so long to get this posted, but such is life.

How would you go about getting lavender flavor into a batch of blueberry butter?

In my experience, there are two ways to infuse flavor into a preserve without leaving behind bits of the original flavor element. The first is to steep the flavor element in hot water or simple syrup until it is sufficiently potent.

The second way to go is to tie up a few spoonfuls of your flavor element in a bit of cheesecloth and let that packet steep while the preserves cook.

The first technique is just fine if you don’t mind adding a bit of additional liquid to your recipe. However, in the case of butter, you’re already going to spend hours cooking the existing liquid out of your fruit, so it doesn’t make sense to add more. So with this recipe, I would have used the cheesecloth packet technique, tasting regularly to determine when I thought the flavor was infused enough.

This may be very elementary, but why/how is it considered a butter? Also, what is the difference between a jam, jelly, butter, etc.

A fruit butter is named as such because it mimics the smooth spreadability of softened butter. It is cooked low and slow for a number of hours, in order to evaporate the excess liquid, concentrate the fruit flavors and intensify the innate sweetness in the fruit. Thanks to this concentration, it typically contains a minimal amount of additional sweetener.

Jams are made with whole fruit that is cooked with sugar until 220 degrees (or thereabouts). The sugar to fruit ratios are high. Some jams contain additional pectin to ensure a good set.

Jellies are made with fruit juice, sugar and pectin. They are well-gelled and don’t have any bits of fruit.

Can you process the blueberries in a food processor instead of a Vitamix.

You totally can. Just make sure to pulse it, you don’t want to turn it into juice.

Can you do this in a newer slow cooker?

You certainly can do this in a newer slow cooker. Just make sure to mind it a little bit more closely so that it doesn’t scorch. Regardless of what cooker you use, just make sure to fill it at least three quarters of the way full. The heating coils in a slow cooker go all the way up to the top, so if you leave too much of the cooker empty, the top of the butter can burn while the subterranean fruit pulp doesn’t cook sufficiently.

What else can you make in the crock pot?

You can do all number of fruit butters in the crock pot. I’ve followed the same formula for sweet cherry butter, apricot butter, fruit butter and peach butter. Delicious stuff, all of it.

If you have any other questions about making fruit butters in a slow cooker, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I will do my best to reply!

Comments { 30 }

June Can Jam: Slow Cooker Blueberry Butter

washing blueberries

Well kids. The Tigress Can Jam challenge this month was anything that ended in “erries” and since this is my summer of fruit butters, I have made a batch of blueberry butter. Last weekend, my friend Shay and I took a little drive out to my favorite blueberry pickin’ spot in South Jersey and spent a couple of hours rattling berries from branches, filling our buckets and bellies.

However, the true treat of the day came when we rounded the corner of the farm stand in order to pay for our hauls. Standing right in front was my cousin Amy, out for a day of picking with her partner and two of their grandkids. We had one of those truly lovely moments, when you gape open-mouthed for a moment before laughing and falling into hugs.

blueberries in the Vitamix

Once home with my seven and a half pounds of berries, I spent several days eating them popcorn-style out of bowls, before hunkering down and making a preservation plan for the rest. Last year I called blueberry my foundational jam and that’s still a phrase that feels correct. I will always love that simple jam (in fact, I still have some from last year), but this time around I wanted to try something slightly different.

Originally I had planned to make a blueberry butter spiked with a hint of lavender, but this week was busy enough that I didn’t have a chance to get to Reading Terminal Market and that’s the only place close by where I can get food-grade lavender. So I went simple and stuck with my mom’s preferred flavor profile of lemon zest, cinnamon and just a bit of nutmeg.

drippy slow cooker

Lately, I’ve been turning to two gadgets to make my preserving work just a little bit easier to accomplish. The first is my trusty Vita-mix. I grew up with the vintage chrome version of this incredible blender and so during wedding time last year, made it a priority to dedicate some of our gifted resources to acquiring my own.

While I had an inkling that it had the potential to be a transformative piece of equipment, I had no idea how it would revolutionize my jam making. Here’s what makes it so special: When you run it on very low speed, it doesn’t puree the fruit. It just chops it up into small bits, which coincidentally, are the absolutely perfect size for jams and butters. I know it’s a little bit unfair to rave about something that’s so darned expensive, but really, this thing has changed my life for the better.

half pint of blueberry butter

The other small electrical appliance (that happens to be on the very other end of the cost spectrum) that I’m using all the time these days is my ancient, $3-at-a-thrift-store slow cooker. I’ve found that older slow cookers are far superior to newer ones, because they cook at lower temperatures. Truly, food safety regulations have made it so that what was once the high setting on the old pots is now the low setting on the new ones (you should never be able to achieve a boil in one of the pots from the seventies or eighties). And when you’re cooking a butter, you want to cook it as low and slow as you can. Slow cookers are truly perfect for this.

This particular butter reminds me a bit of blueberry pie, which makes it a winner in my book. Tomorrow morning, I’m having some friends over to do a little fruit butter tasting (in recent days, I’ve also made apricot butter and sweet cherry butter). We’ll see if they like the blueberry version as much as I do.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 164 }

Strawberry Rhubarb Butter Recipe

chopped strawberries

Thanks to the very hot spring we had here in the mid-Atlantic region, strawberry season has come earlier this year than it has in the last few. This has thrown my preserving time line off in the worst way and has left me unduly panicked, worried that if I didn’t act quickly, I would miss the season entirely.

However, I’ve also been stretched thin by commitments in the last few weeks and have been working hard to reserve at least a few hours of my weekend for relaxing, as opposed to filling every moment with lunches, activities and appointments with my vacuum cleaner.

chopped rhubarb

This means that I made a tough decision last weekend to skip out on my annual strawberry picking day and simply buy a flat of local strawberries instead. Thanks to my friend Albert, I was able to get a flat (eight quarts) of berries for not too much money from the Fair Food Farmstand. I was sad to miss the trip out to New Jersey, but something had to give and the picking was it. After all, it’s not like I can give up canning!

butter cooking

Thanks to that quick acquisition of fruit, I’ve now made a batch of that wonderful strawberry vanilla jam I first produced last year, as well as this lovely, sticky, spreadable strawberry rhubarb butter (I couldn’t help but pop a vanilla bean in this one while cooking as well).

This is my second batch of butter so far this year, and I am totally pleased with how it turned out. I’m finding that while I do get smaller yields with butters than jams, I far prefer having that smaller cluster of jars filled with something I know I’ll eat and enjoy than having a seemingly promiscuous quantity of jam (it might sound strange, but I still have so much jam left from last year that needs to be eaten that it feels a bit burdensome – I hate to be wasteful).

finished butter

While I was cooking this batch, I took a quick video, so you all could see what butter should look like as it’s coming towards the end of its cooking time. Check out those thick, active bubbles. That’s what you’re looking for.

Also, I wanted to point out the knife peeking out up there in second picture. Recently, I was contacted by the folks at New West KnifeWorks, asking me if I’d like to try out their knives. They sent me both a chef’s and pairing knife to try out (yes, for free). They are absolutely gorgeous and are a joy to use (particularly that handy little pairing knife). If you’re in the market for some new (although admittedly pricy) knives, I highly suggest you add these to your list for consideration.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 54 }

Meyer Lemon Curd

meyer lemons

When I was 11 years old, my cousins in Walnut Creek, California sent us a jar of homemade lemon curd. They kept chickens in their backyard, had lemon trees out front and so made jars of curd using these homegrown ingredients to send to friends and family for the holidays. It was love at first taste.

egg yolk star

For a couple days, I kept up the charade of sharing this sunshiny jar with my parents and sister, dolloping scant spoonfuls onto toast like everyone else. However, on the third day, I couldn’t continue to resist. I removed the half-full jar from the fridge, snuck to my room and ate the balance of the jar a spoon while reading a book. I am not to be trusted when it comes to lemon curd.

zesting

Speaking of meyer lemons. One of the magical things about Southern California is that they just grow on trees there. I was born in Los Angeles and for my first nine years lived amidst that magical bounty. Our Hawaiian mailman taught me to eat the tender blossoms from the the guava tree along our front walkway and my grandma Bunny had a tree that produced heaps of sweet/tart Meyer lemons each year (my mom used to squeeze them and freeze the juice into ice cubes).

Having lived in colder climates for the last 21 years, I am startled when I am reminded that there are places where people can just walk outside and pick citrus (and that I was once one of them).

lemon halves

For those of you who have yet to taste a meyer lemon, they’re thinner skinned and sweeter than your typical lemon. They are also intensely fragrant, and give this curd a lovely, delicate taste/aroma.

butter (unsalted is best)

Making curd is time consuming, but once your ingredients are all assembled, it goes quickly. This basic recipe makes just a single pint, but happily you can easily double or triple it without any ill effects. Separate six eggs, tucking the whites into a jar for later use (I’m thinking of making a batch of meringue cookies tomorrow).

Zest three juicy meyer lemons (make sure to pick ones that seem heavy for their size). Juice the lemons (always buy one extra, in case you don’t get quite enough juice).

adding butter

Measure out 1 cup of sugar and set a heavy bottomed pot over low heat. Whisk the egg yolks together with the sugar. Pour in the lemon juice, add the bits of zest and switch to a wooden spoon for stirring (using a whisk past the initial step will aerate your curd and your final product won’t be silken).

Don’t worry if your curd looks texturally weird during cooking, a quick trip through a fine mesh sieve at the end ensures that the finished curd is perfectly silky.

two half-pints of lemon curd

When the sugar, egg yolk and lemon juice have thickened (it takes 10-15 minutes of cooking over very low heat and near-constant stirring to get to this point), stir in the butter until it’s melted. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the curd through a mesh sieve that you’ve perched over a glass or stainless steel bowl.

Gently work the curd through the sieve with a wooden spoon, removing the bits of curd and any curdled bits of scrambled egg.

curd from above

You can process lemon curd to make it shelf stable, but it doesn’t have the shelf life of other jams and preserves. You won’t want to keep it more than two months (but with something this good, I truly doubt you’ll have it hanging around that long). Process half and quarter pints in a boiling water canner for 20 minutes (starting the timer when the water returns to a boil so that they get the full effect of 20 minutes of boiling water processing).

For those of you who like recipes in a traditional format, sans narrative, it is after the jump.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 159 }

Homemade Butter

1/2 pint salted butter

When I was growing up, I regularly begged my mom to tell me stories of when she was a little girl. As I grew, she began to run out of little girl stories and so started to progress to teen-age stories and tales of her college years (I imagine they were somewhat censored, at least during my younger days).

Once, she recounted the story of a college professor who welcomed students on the first day of classes with a jar, a marble and a pint of heavy cream. He’d pour the cream into the jar, drop in the marble, screw on the lid and hand it to a student in the first row, explaining that he wanted everyone to introduce themselves. When you had the jar, it was your turn to talk. Oh, and you had to keep shaking the jar while you talked. How else would they have butter at the end of class?

A child of the grocery store revolution, this was the first time my mom had experienced the alchemy of butterfat. She shook vigorously during her turn, transfixed by how something that had once been a smooth liquid was transforming into something new.

Of course, as soon as she told me this story, I began a campaign for homemade butter. It took a while, but I did eventually wear her down and we made butter, just like she had done all those years ago (although, knowing how much effort is required to shake a pint of cream into butter, I can’t imagine we followed entirely through. I bet my mom ended up finishing it off in the kitchen with some hand beaters.

bowl/buttermilk

These days, the urge to make my own butter still does occasionally strike, particularly when I’m faced with wonderful local cream, like I was last Saturday at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers Market. I bought a quart of said cream and Sunday night, at the end of a long day of cooking, I made butter (thinking all the while about Laura Ingalls and her pioneer sisters). I cheated though, as I used my mixer as opposed to shaking, churning or otherwise putting my own elbow grease into the process.

Here’s how I do it: I pour the cream into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid, which I’ve fitted with the paddle attachment. I crank the bowl into place and drape a clean dish towel over the machine. Only after I’ve installed this very basic splash guard, do I turn the mixer on to it’s second level. Then I walk away and let the thing run for 7 to 10 minutes.

When I come back, I make sure to turn the motor off before removing the towel to check on my progress. Best case scenario, there will be floes of butter drifting in a sea of buttermilk. If not, replace the towel and run a bit more. If you do have butter, position a strainer above a bowl, detach the mixing bowl and pour the butter/buttermilk into the strainer. Lift the strainer off the buttermilk bowl and rest it above the mixing bowl.

Set aside the buttermilk (I pour it back into the bottle from whence the cream came and use it in a variety of baked goods until it’s all gone) and return to the butter. Plop it back into the mixing bowl and get a sturdy wooden spatula. Start working the butter, pressing the remaining buttermilk out of it (if you want to salt your butter, this is a good time to do it, as it will get well integrated in the pressing process). A couple of times, rinse the butter with very cold water, in order to help wash the buttermilk out of the butter (you won’t lose all the salt).

When you’ve pressed out all the buttermilk you can, and the butter appears smooth and of an even consistency, pack it into half pint jars. If you’ve made more than you can use in about a week’s time, freeze some of it, as I’ve found that homemade butter goes off more quickly than the commercial stuff.

After reading all that, you might wonder why a person would make their own butter, when it can be bought cheaply with far less effort. Well, as with many things, you appreciate it more when you do it yourself. Additionally, making it yourself means that there won’t be any stabilizers or preservatives in it. Lastly, it just tastes better when you make it in your own kitchen.

I started making my own butter sometime last year, after I realized that I had developed an expensive imported butter habit. My cream comes from cows who graze within my 100 mile food shed and the processing is all my own. Mmm, butter.

Comments { 19 }

Fruit Butters (Peaches, Pears and Apples)

DSC_0021

As a kid, I was fascinated by the lives of long-dead historical figures. I devoured those blue-bound “When They Were Young” biographies, absorbing the childhood details of Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony and Clara Barton. I was a particular fan of Betsy Ross, in part because I’d taken the walking tour through her cramped colonial home in Philadelphia’s historic district (later, when we were back in California, I delightedly wore the Quaker sunbonnet my grandmother bought me at the museum gift shop).

One aspect that I found particularly entrancing in these “biographies” (looking back, I realize that these volumes were probably far more fiction than fact) was the way in which food preparation was detailed (this is also why I read and re-read all the Little House books).

There’s one scene in the Betsy Ross book that has always stuck with me, in which she (as a seven or eight year old) is given the task of tending the apple butter, as it slowly cooks over an open fire. She uses a wooden paddle to scrape the scum off the top of the butter and a long wooden stirrer, with which to ensure that the butter doesn’t burn on the bottom of the pot. I found this description, of a little girl being tasked with such responsibility, so very appealing. As a child of similar age, I longed to participate in the activities of food preparation, and to have a hand in making things from scratch.

DSC_0028

However, in those days, our applesauce came from a jar and the only thing we spread on bread was strawberry jam from a large, blue plastic bucket (the one with a white handle and lid). It wasn’t until my family moved to Oregon a few years later, and we found ourselves in a new/old house with gnarled old apple trees down at the very back of the property, did we even attempt to make apple butter (there is little in the world that tastes better than apple butter made from antique, windfall apples).

These days, homemade fruit butters are an integral part of my summer and fall preserving routine. After the jump, you’ll find my general fruit butter technique, it’s not a specific recipe, but instead a flexible approach that can expand or contract, depending on how much fruit you have. I also have a half pint jar of pear butter to give away. If you want it, leave a comment by Friday, September 18th at 11:59 p.m.

Continue Reading →

Comments { 149 }