Fruit butters are fun

Preserve the sweet taste of summer

click to enlarge PHOTO BY ASHLEY MEYER
Photo by Ashley Meyer

Fruit butters are a fun and relatively straightforward way to preserve the sweet taste of summer for months to come. Unlike jams and jellies, which rely on the addition of pectin to thicken and gel, fruit butters are made by slowly cooking down fruit pulp and sugar to a rich spread, perfect for so much more than just spreading on toast. For this reason, fruit butters are less finicky to pull off than a perfectly gelled jar of jelly or jam, which requires precise attention to proportions and is best made in small batches. If you can make applesauce, then you can make fruit butter.

An optional but helpful step is to macerate the prepared fruit with the sugar overnight, which helps to draw out all the juices. Fruit butters are generally cooked over medium heat for about 45 to 60 minutes on the stovetop, depending on the fruit used and the size of the batch. Use the widest nonreactive pot you have. Cover it initially to help it come to a boil faster, then, once it's bubbling, remove the lid to allow the mixture to reduce. Fruit butter is also a wonderful candidate for a slow-cooker or multi-cooker. Scorching is the biggest concern when making fruit butters, so make sure to use a heavy-bottomed pot and stir frequently, especially towards the end of cooking. If a slow cooker is used, be sure to leave the lid slightly ajar so moisture can escape and the product inside can reduce. Fruit butters are done when they have thickened and hold their shape on a spoon. When a dollop is place on a chilled plate, the fruit butter should be the consistency of soft butter, and liquid should not separate out around the edge of the dollop.

Good candidates for both freezing or canning, fruit butters can be used in a myriad of ways, from sweet to savory. Swirl into cheesecake filling, spoon over ice cream or use as a filling for a deeply flavored layer cake. They are just as at home on a cheeseboard, on the dinner table served alongside roast chicken or pork or slathered onto a sandwich. Combine a dollop of fruit butter with grainy mustard, minced shallots and a splash of vinegar before slowly whisking in oil for a salad dressing that sings of summer. Fruit butters even have a place in the drink section when combined with a shot of bourbon or vodka, then topped off with ginger beer or sparkling wine.

Peach Butter

5 pounds ripe peaches
½ cup water (not needed if macerated overnight)
2-4 cups sugar, to taste (granulated or brown, your choice)
Zest and juice of one lemon
A scant pinch of salt
¼ cup finely grated fresh ginger, optional

Peel the peaches, remove the pits and cut them into one-inch chunks, combine them with the other ingredients and refrigerate overnight if desired. Place in a heavy-bottomed nonreactive pot over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Boil, or cook in a slow cooker on low with the lid ajar, for approximately 10 hours. Stir continually until the butter has thickened and holds its shape on a spoon. At this point the butter can be ladled into clean, hot jars (be sure to leave ¼ inch of headspace) and processed in a water bath, or chilled and frozen, or refrigerated for several weeks.

Spiced Plum Butter

4 pounds ripe plums
1 ½ cups granulated sugar, to taste
¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
A scant pinch of salt

Split the plums in half and remove the pits before cutting them into uniform chunks. Do not peel the plums. Combine them with the cardamom and sugar and macerate overnight, then proceed according to the instructions above (add ½ cup water before cooking if not macerated overnight). Excellent with creamy blue cheese or as an accompaniment to roast turkey.

Blueberry Butter and Syrup

This recipe is a bit more of a process than the standard fruit butter method, but your efforts will be rewarded with two products: a blueberry syrup perfect for pancakes, or homemade soda, as well as a spreadable blueberry butter.

8 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
2 tablespoons honey
¾ cup water
Zest and juice of one lemon
A scant pinch of salt
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg, optional

Combine the above ingredients and bring to a boil in a heavy-bottomed nonreactive pot. Stir frequently and boil gently for 5 minutes, until the berries have burst. Set a fine meshed sieve over a heatproof bowl and ladle some of the berry mixture into it until you have about two cups of blueberry syrup. Perfect for drizzling over French toast or a pairing with Prosecco for a beautiful blueberry Bellini.

To finish the blueberry butter, return the berries in the sieve back into the cooking pot and use an immersion blender to purée them until smooth. Return to the heat and cook until thickened and spreadable, about 20 minutes.

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