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September Mastery Challenge Round-up: Fruit Butters

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September is over and so it’s time for our monthly Mastery Challenge accounting. This was a good month for the challenge, with 73 people reporting in that they cooked up a batch or two of fruit butter in order to meet the goals of the challenge.

The array of fruits used was nice and broad. Folks made butters out of apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, figs, muscadine grapes, nectarines, pawpaws, peaches, pears, plums, pumpkins, rhubarb, tomatoes, and zucchini. Those butters were flavored with aleppo pepper, bourbon, cardamom, chai, chipotle, cinnamon, ginger, lavender, lemon, rosewater, rum, and vanilla. And they were sweetened with brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, maple, and sorghum.

Going into the challenge, the feelings about fruit butters were scattered across the spectrum, with a number of folks feeling ok and then really positive about the style of preserve.

Happily, after completing the challenge, nearly everyone who participated feels pretty darn good about fruit butters. That always warms my heart. Sadly, I forgot to include a field for people to leave comments about this month’s challenge on the submission form (oops), so I don’t have any words of wisdom or excitement from participants to share. 🙁

Apple and Pears

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Cherries, Nectarines, Plums, and Peaches

Everything Else

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Submit your Fruit Butters for the September #fijchallenge

Happy end of September, canners! Yet another month that has gone flying by with record-breaking speed! I hope everyone is enjoying the transition from summer to fall (though here in the Philadelphia region, it feels like it’s going to be summer forever).

With the end of the month comes times to wrap up another skill in our year-long Mastery Challenge. We focused on fruit butters this time around. If you haven’t yet made a batch, there’s still time. Consult the intro post for inspiration and get to simmering!

If you want to be counted in the September tally and included in the round-up, please use this form to submit your project by Saturday, September 30 . The form is below! If you can’t see it, you can also reach the form right here.

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Fruit Butter for the September Food in Jars Mastery Challenge

It’s September and that means it’s time to explore another food preservation skill in the crazy journey we know as the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge. This month, we’re digging into fruit butters. For the purposes of this challenge, we’re including butters made from winter squash and sweet potatoes, provided that they are made for the fridge or freezer (since they are too dense to be canned). It can be sweetened in any which way you want and can even be made without additional sweeteners.

Remember that the goal of this challenge is to help you expand your skills while creating something that you’ll actually use. So choose an approach or recipe that will satisfy both your own learning and help you make something delicious.

What is a fruit butter?

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

How do you make fruit butters?

The basics of making fruit butters are these. You puree some fruit. You cook it down slowly until thick. You add sweeteners, spices, and acid (to balance the flavors) to taste and preserve.

There are three standard approaches to making fruit butters.

  1. Slow Cooker – This is my favorite method for making fruit butters because it is relatively hands off, can be done outside of the kitchen (great for busy cooking days), and is produces the steady, low heat that fruit butters love. Just remember to prop the lid to allow for the steam to vent.
  2. Stove Top – When you’re in a hurry and you have the time to tend the cooking puree, small batches can be done on the stove top. Just keep stirring to prevent scorching.
  3. Oven – Another beloved technique. I often start with whole fruit when making fruit butters, roast them until soft, smash the fruit in the pan, and then continue to cook, stirring regularly. The best part of these oven roasted butters is that they develop a rich, caramelized flavor.

The Recipes

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Mixed Fruit Slow Cooker Butter

mixed fruit butter

About a week and a half ago, I found myself in something of a fruit predicament. There were peaches and nectarines* from the folks at Sweet Preservation that needed to be used. I had pre-chopped plums and pears leftover from a wacky little freelance project. And two bruised apples.

Not having the mental fortitude to devise a fancypants jam or two to take care of that fruit, I did what I often do in a pinch. I chopped it all up and threw it in the slow cooker (I did take the time to peel the peaches and apples. Happily, the peaches were so ripe that their skins just slid right off). Lazy preservation at its best.

I have talked at length about my slow cooker butters in the past so I won’t rehash the minutia here, I’ll just hit the high points. I filled a five quart cooker with chopped fruit. I cooked it with the lid on for a couple of hours to soften the fruit and then pureed it with an immersion blender. Then it was my standard lid-propped-on-the-spoon and cooking it overnight game.

The next morning, the butter was done. After a quick taste, I doctored it with some maple syrup and 1/4 cup of Stevia in the Raw** and called it done. Packed into pints and processed for 15 minutes, I think my fruit butter work may well be done for this year.

Let’s talk about the stevia for just a moment. From what I understand, it’s a naturally occurring non-sugar sweetener that is derived from an herb. Stevia in the Raw has been processed and granulated to make it easier to cook with.

What I’ve found in working with it is that while it works as a sweetener, it can have something of a bitter taste unless paired with sugar, honey or some other conventional sweetener. Thus the tandem addition of stevia and maple syrup to my butter. It works particularly well in fruit butters because they are not products that needs sugar in order to achieve a set. I’m going to keep working with it and will be reporting back more as I integrate it into future preserves.

*The bulk of the nectarines went into this pickled nectarine project I did for Serious Eats last week.

**I received a free package of Stevia in the Raw from the company to try it out. As always, opinions are all my own.

 

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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!

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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.

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