Apple Butter

November 27, 2011

“I just don’t understand it,” Mama says, as we parcel an insane amount of leftover food into Tupperware containers.

“All of this extra food. We’ve got it at our house, too. It’s your father. His appetite has shrunk considerably lately–I mean, sometimes I out-eat him–and still, he’s not losing any weight.”

I look over at Daddy, who now sits on the couch with my husband, shaking his head at the television. “Je-sus. The Buffs have no offense. Just terrible.”

She’s right about that. He looks like the same Daddy-o to me.

“He’s working so hard,” Mama says, scooping leftover coleslaw–a true family oddity, leftover coleslaw–into a bowl. “He’s walking every day, he never drinks sugar soda, and honestly, he’s eating so much less than he used to. It’s weird.”

I think for a minute. “What about the hot dog habit?” I ask, raising an eyebrow.

“Hey, now.  Don’t even go there with the crazy talk.”  Mama holds up her hand in warning. “You can take a man out of Chicago…”

I crack up.

“But seriously, he’s only eating them once a week, sometimes twice.”

“That is a development.”  I pop the kitchen sponge into the microwave to sanitize. “Okay. What about mayonnaise? Does Daddy still consider that a free beverage?”

She sidles up to me, conspiratorial. “I’m mixing it now. Half and half with the–” she lowers her voice to a stage whisper– “low-fat stuff. He hasn’t noticed.”

“Mom, you renegade! That takes guts, woman…messing with a man’s mayonnaise.”

I think a while longer. “Aha. Burgers.”

Mama shakes her head. “He’s retired now. No more daily burger for lunch.  He’s eating soup. Or a ham sandwich.”

This is, indeed, a conundrum.  We pack up the leftovers–50/50, despite Mama’s protests–and begin scrubbing countertops.

“What’s he eating for breakfast?” I ask. “He’s not still doing the kolache thing, is he? Turnovers?”

“No,” Mama says, shaking off the question. “He’s off the pastry.  He’s still hard to feed in the morning, because, you know, he doesn’t like breakfast…”

Hmph. Point taken. I’ve always been a pain in the ass at breakfast, too, but hey, at least I’m happy with cold spaghetti or half a turkey sandwich or heck, even a bowl of buttered rice…

“So, what’s he eating?”

She shrugs. “Coffee, a bowl of fresh fruit and these oatmeal cookies I make with oats and dried fruit and nuts–a lot healthier than a pastry, right?”

“Yeah,” I say, chewing it over.  “Wait. Did you say cookies?”

Mama’s eyes roll around in her head a little. Is it my imagination, or does she look a bit sheepish?

“Mom? How many ‘breakfast cookies’ is Daddy eating in the morning?”

“Well, three. But they aren’t that big!”

Then I really start to laugh. Thank God for those Lightdays Panti-liner thingamajigs. Gah. Dang pelvic floor.

“Mom. Daddy needs three cookies in the morning like a hole in the head. Even small, protein-fiber-fruity packed ones. Three cookies are Backside Suicide.”

Of course, she knows this already. The woman has been scrawny-assed all her life. She gets it.

“Fine, MENSABritches*, then what do you propose I feed him? He can’t eat eggs. He loathes cereal. He’ll scarf down bacon or sausage or fried potatoes, but that’s not doing him any good, nor am I making that at 7 in the morning. Absolutely not.” She rolls her eyes. ” The man doesn’t even like pancakes, for chrissakes.”

You know, she really does have a point.

But then I remember apple butter. Daddy-o used to love apple butter, back when we lived like Nanuck of the North up in the Dakotas.  Scandinavians must make crack apple butter, because I remember having several jars of it in our house, and Daddy would butter a slice of toast, smear on that spice-laden stuff, and happily munch away.

Apple butter. Yeah.

The next day, I grabbed my car keys, schlepped to the Kroger 6 blocks away and found one, I tell you, one brand of apple butter. I snatched it up and greedily took it home and you know what? Not pretty. It also had high-fructose corn syrup in it, and I’m pretty sure that people on Le Regime are supposed to avoid that stuff like nobody’s business.

After one tentative taste, I tossed the jar.

Then I plundered my Leaning Tower of Food Rags, because hey, chickens, it’s Fall!  Apple season, yo?

I found a recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine that looked and sounded good, but of course I had to tinker with it.  It was a risky proposition, tinkering, because Daddy-o likes his flavors simple. But I couldn’t resist adding my two favorite spices–star anise and cardamom–to the mix. In my opinion, those spices are just made for apples.

I clattered around the kitchen for an afternoon, plopping spices and fruits and sugars into pots and pans.

True confession: I lost track of time and burned a batch. Another batch turned out downright funk; I’d added too much anise.

But this batch, laced with spices and honey and fall flavors, turned out just right.  I gave a spoonful of it to Daddy-o, and he smiled. “What is in this? It’s just…wow.”

I’ll take wow.

I’ll also take fruit, a slice of whole-grain toast with apple butter, and maybe, if he’s a good boy, two slices of (center cut!) bacon.  That’s what he’s getting for Christmas breakfast. That’ll smoke breakfast cookies, any day.

Honey Spiced Apple Butter

adapted from Fine Cooking

makes about 1 1/2 cups

2 pounds McIntosh apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch chunks

2 cups apple cider

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 star anise pod

2 cardamom pods

pinch ground allspice

pinch kosher salt

In a large pot (at least 3 quarts), combine apples and cider.  Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil; reduce heat to a simmer.  Add the star anise and the cardamom pods. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes or until the apples are tender and breaking down easily.

Remove star anise and cardamom pods. Cool mixture slightly and then press through a fine/medium sieve into a bowl.

Return the mixture to the saucepan. Whisk in the brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Heat over medium and simmer vigorously for about an hour to 75 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take the pan off the heat and let cool for 20 minutes. Scrape the apple butter into a glass or Tupperware container, press plastic wrap directly on the surface to seal, cover with a lid, and store in refrigerator.

*I am not a member of MENSA, nor, in fact, have I ever been invited to join.  But I’m good with it– I wouldn’t join anyways. If you have to brag about how smart you are, I don’t want to know you. Eww.

**I slathered my apple butter on a croissant, but if you want to Save the Ass! like Daddy, I suggest spreading it on whole grain toast :)

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