I really am not much of a cook. I am more like a kitchen experimenter, if there is such a thing. Over the years I have developed a couple of methods for making garden food concentrates, as I call them. I thought I might pass them along to some of the other explorers in Grow Appalachia.

My preface here is that I cook like my grandmother. Since I am now a grandmother, I am reaching back over the generations and am passing these on to my daughters and granddaughters.

Real Apple Butter from our not-so-perfect fruit

The great thing about fruit butters is that we can use fruit that is not perfect. By the way, this also works with peaches for peach butter or pears for pear butter. All end up with that rich spicy, brown character, but each also has its own flavor. I love them all!

You need:

  • A large ovenproof, deep dish pan—stainless steel or Pyrex, but not aluminum
  • A large open kettle like a water bath canner
  • A sieve or French food mill or other way to strain applesauce
  • A bunch of apples—that is a measure that means “however many you have,” but I would say at least around a bushel.
  • Time—this is a long slow process. It doesn’t require much attention or work, but you do need to be in the vicinity.

Step 1. Wash the apples and cut out any bad spots. No need to peel or core.

Step 2. Boil a bit of water in the kettle. You will be adding apples to it. We don’t want them to burn but you don’t want them to get too watery.

Step 3. Add apples to kettle and turn down heat. Again, we want the apples to cook but not scorch. Cover the kettle and let it cook until the apples are soft. Remove from heat and let cool until you can work with the sauce.

Step 4. Use the sieve or food mill (or Squeezo-Strainer if you are lucky enough to have one) to separate seeds, peels and other stuff.  I use whatever I have. It all works, just some methods are easier than others. The end product is basically applesauce, which you could can now using a water bath, but if you want apple butter, you must continue on.

Step 5. Pour the applesauce into the oven proof deep dish and put in the over at about 225 degrees F. Whenever you go through the kitchen or think about it, open the oven and stir. I have left the butter cooking all night while I slept, but it might scorch, so usually I turn off the oven and turn it back on the next morning. All this slow cooking turns the applesauce into a delicious, brown, spicy butter. Generally, it does not need sugar or spices, but taste it and adjust according to your personal preference.

If you want to put up the butter for later, use a water bath and time it the same as for applesauce. After 2 days of smelling this delicious butter cooking, it is very hard for everyone to leave it alone. So getting it to the canning process can be tricky.

This method works well. I have used it for years and years. It’s not as much fun as an old fashioned apple butter making party. That’s when everyone gets together for an all night-er with the big copper kettle, the canoe paddle, the outdoor wood fire and lots of beverages. The kettle has to be stirred constantly and everyone takes turns throughout the night as the beverage supply dwindles. However this oven method makes a good apple butter and you don’t need to purchase all those beverages, clean the house and supply a big meal.

Tomato Paste

This summer we had too much rain and the tomatoes were splitting and going bad so fast that I had to use this method to preserve them. The resulting tomato paste was rich and complex, thick and a bit deeper colored than the store bought kind. We used it for making pasta sauce and even my daughter, who hates tomatoes, raved about it.

You will need:

  • Tomatoes—a lot—like a bushel or so
  • A large open kettle—like a water bath canner or large stainless steel soup kettle
  • Sieve or French food mill or other method for straining cooked tomatoes
  • Colander lined with several layers of cheese cloth or other porous fabric. I use a flat birds eye weave diaper.
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves, if you have them

Step 1. Wash tomatoes. Remove bad spots.

Step 2. Boil a bit of water in the open kettle and add tomatoes. Add basil if desired. Again the idea is to cook the tomatoes without scorching, but minimize the liquid. The tomatoes will give off a lot of liquid as they cook. Reduce the heat to low. Cover the kettle and let it simmer. As it cooks down you can add more tomatoes. Stir occasionally so the tomatoes don’t stick.

Step 3. After the tomatoes have thoroughly cooked to a soft consistency, sieve them to remove peels and seeds. Return the juicy tomato puree to the kettle and simmer longer. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Step 4. Set the cloth-lined colander over another large kettle or pan and pour the tomato puree into the colander to drain. After most of the liquid has drained, lift the corners of the cloth and lift the mass of paste from the colander.

The paste can be refrigerated for several days. Then it must either be used or canned with a water bath to save for much later.

NOTE: The liquid drained off from Step 4 is a rich tomato stock and can be used as a soup base. It has a complex flavor that can’t be found in anything like bouillon from the store.

I meant this post to be short and sweet—but I guess I don’t know how to do “short and sweet.”


daphne gooding