(Cut the First Grader some slack with the apostrophe. Maybe he wasn’t done with the sentence.)
My strawberry-black raspberry jam is long gone, so I staked out some time yesterday to make apple butter. I thought it would be fun to try it the old- fashioned way my great-grandmother described, with the big copper kettle over an open fire and young crushes trying not to bang the stirrer against the pot under penalty of a kiss. But the local teenagers I polled didn’t seem to share in my enthusiasm for the project, possibly seeing through my ploy for free manual labor, even though I did mention the kissing part. Not me, I clarified. Each other. Okay, old lady, they said in between sexting. As soon as we finish smoking our corncob pipes.
No one has any respect for the elderly anymore.
So I kicked everyone out of the kitchen and researched a more modern method. A family recipe up on Simply Recipes had me intrigued with its use of apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider. Vinegar? I’d never heard of that. Nevertheless, as I had some vinegar but no cider, I forged ahead, skeptical but always willing to overlook these things when measured against the prospect of a trip to Russo’s during peak shopping hours.
That wasn’t the only twist, though.
I added some husk cherries to the apples in the pot. Why not? My mom’s delicious tomato jam uses the same spices as apple butter. Husk cherries are tomato-like. If anything, I figured they would add complexity and depth to the apple flavor, and maybe some extra pectin to boot.
You’re expecting this to end badly, aren’t you? But the end result was, in a word, delightful. Warmly spiced but slightly tart with a luscious, velvety texture, it’s worthy of several kisses, at least. So take that, horny teenagers!
Husk Cherry-Apple Butter
You can make this without the husk cherries (also known as ground cherries); just reduce the amount of sugar to 1 cup. Recipe can be doubled.
Pint of husk cherries, papery husks removed (about 1/2 cup of fruit)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1½ cups sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. allspice
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of salt
Cut apples in half, then into thick wedges (keep peels on and cores intact as they add flavor and pectin). Add apples, husk cherries, cider vinegar, and water to the pot. Bring to boil and simmer, covered, until soft (about 20 minutes). Mash up the mixture and process it through a food mill set over a bowl (or you can press it through a sieve with a wooden spoon). Add sugar, spices, and salt to the apple butter, and cook over medium-low heat, uncovered, for about an hour until thick and darkened. Makes enough to fill 3 small jelly jars.
Recipe Source: Adapted from Simply Recipes.
Local Ingredient Sources:
Apples: Autumn Hills Orchard, Groton, MA
Husk cherries: Waltham Fields, Waltham, MA
Apple cider vinegar: Carlson Orchards, Harvard, MA