Fall is a favorite time of the year for so many people. Here in Minnesota it’s still fall, but you can feel winter nudging fall gently out of the way. The shorter cooler days always make me anxious to do two things (in this order): 1) get in the kitchen and make steamy pots of something and 2) curl up on the couch with a good book, piping hot tea and some variation of comfort food.
These autumnal urges recently led me to a Harlan Coben novel and Plum Amaretto Butter slathered on some hearty rye bread. It’s especially comforting to have my favorite things around when hubby is on the road.
Fruit butters are a very old way of preserving the fall fruit harvest and they seem to be a uniquely American preserve, with fruit curds, fruit pastes and the like favored in European countries. Plum butter might be the exception, as there is a Polish classic spread called powidla sliwkowe which is very similar to a fruit butter and is used on bread, in sauces, and as a glaze on pork or duck. In general, three things distinguish a fruit butter from jams, jellies, compotes and other fruit preserves.
First is texture. Fresh fruit is simmered for hours with a little sugar and maybe some juice until it softens enough to puree it. It is then further simmered with spices and flavorings until it forms into a soft spread with a texture similar to butter (hence the name).
Second is sugar content. Fruit butters generally have half as much (or less) sugar than a jam. Jellies and jams need a certain amount of sugar to generate the chemical reaction with acid and pectin needed to form a gel (unless you use a low-sugar pectin or boil the jam for so long that the sugar content ends up being concentrated and actually results in a deceptively high sugar content).
Third is a spice combination. Most fruit butters are made and eaten in the cool fall and winter months, and they are usually made with rich wintery aromatics like cinnamon, cloves, allspice and nutmeg. I like to add vanilla beans and I very often will add a little flavorful “substance” like Amaretto, Grand Marnier or maybe Apple Brandy.
Fruit butters are easy to make and easy to modify to your tastes, as they are very forgiving (another difference from a jam or jelly). Just be warned, they can be very messy, you need to stick around and keep an eye on them so they don’t scorch, and they take quite a bit of fruit (although the fruit can be quite ripe). Here is a recipe for the plum amaretto butter that I just ran out of….
PLUM AMARETTO FRUIT BUTTER
9 cups plums (prune plums and damson plums are great), pitted and halved
2-3 cups sugar
1/4 – 1/3 cup Amaretto
1 orange, both zest and juice
1 vanilla bean
1 bay leaf
1/2 -1 tsp allspice
1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
- Simmer halved plums in oven roaster or on stovetop until soft (some people will use a crock pot which works, but just takes a long time). If they are dry you can add a little water.
- When soft, puree. I use a stick blender but you could also put them in the processor (messy business though)
- Put the puree back in the pot over med-low heat and start adding the sugar, a cup at a time until it is the sweetness that you prefer. Stir in each cup of sugar until well-blended and taste, keeping in mind the Amaretto will be a little sweet.
- Zest the orange into the mix and add the orange juice and the bay leaf and spices.
- Simmer the mix over medium heat until it starts to thicken (this usually takes about an hour on the stove, less in the roaster oven because it is spread out over a large surface, and may take several hours in the crock pot).
- Adjust spices, sugar and Amaretto as you go. Taste-adjust-taste-adjust….
- This is how you will know it is ready: take a spoonful of the fruit butter and put it on a clean plate. Drag your finger through the middle of it and if it doesn’t run back into the groove made by your finger, it is done. Ladel into jars and either water bath or refrigerate.
Enjoy! (and tell me your favorite mystery novels…I’m running out of authors).