Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bubbling in the Cauldron-Pear Butter with Raisins & Figs

One of the things that I love the most about the Outlander series are the cooking scenes. I love to imagine myself in Jenny's kitchen stirring bubbling pots full of delicious things to feed my family. I can close my eyes and imagine myself throwing open the windows at Lallybroch and smelling the fresh clean air. I smile as I imagine myself reaching for my crystal decanter full of whiskey and pouring myself a wee dram to sip while I stir pots full of soup and jam over the wood burning oven. In my mind I prepare delicious cakes for tea and wonderful dinners for the long cold nights. It's the best fantasy ever for a girl like me!

 How I long for a wood stove again. When I had one at my farm, I would always use it to  cook with. I loved the self sufficiency of it. I remember many a cold morning when we would lose our power but I could always feed my family with a few logs and my favorite cast iron frying pan.I used to make slow cooked oatmeal on my woodstove and also flapjacks,bacon and soup. Occasionally I would make fruit butters. They were always delicious, thick, rich and smoky!

  Today was a beautiful autumn day so I spent it making pear butter. Lacking a fire and a cauldron I decided to use my slow cooker.The result was surprising and filled with a few twists and I even learned a cheat that I'm going to pass on to you. Of course I began with fresh pears, three different kinds. I diced them and put them into the slow cooker with a little bit of olive oil  and a knob of fresh butter. Then I added pear juice, cinnamon, anise,cloves,Cardamom and brown sugar.

I simmered this in the slow cooker on low for 10 hours. After 10 hours I added more diced pear and let it cook for a few hours more. At that point I decided that it was too juicy and I knew I needed to thicken it before I put it in the canning jars, but I jusst wasn't sure how to do it.

So I went to the grocery store and I bought raisins and currents.  I thought about buying figs and then a thought passed through my mind. Instead of dried figs, I bought a jar of French fig jam, full of figs and added pectin. My reasoning was that if I used the jam, perhaps my mixture would thicken on its own. I came home and started the pot simmering. I added the dried fruit and the fig jam. I continued to stir patiently.

 Lo and behold , the pear butter began to thicken! I poured it into canning jars to which I'd added a tablespoon of lemon juice ( each jar) and water processed them for 30 minutes. That fig jam was one of the best cooking cheats that I've ever discovered!

I cracked open a jar about an hour ago and it's absolutely yummy; beautiful, creamy , fruity and thick and ready for holiday gifting!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Art of Fine Cookery ~ Apple Butter & Oatmeal

“We had wakened in the dark after moonset, leaf-spattered, twig-strewn, bug-bitten, and stiff with cold. We had said not a word to each other, but laughing and staggering drunkenly, stumbling over roots and stones, had helped each other through the moonless wood and made our way back to bed for an hour’s brief sleep before dawn.
I leaned over his shoulder now and deposited a bowl of oatmeal in front of him, pausing to pluck an oak leaf from his hair. I laid it on the table beside his bowl.
He turned his head, a smile hiding in his eyes, caught my hand and kissed it lightly. He let me go, and went back to his parritch. I touched the back of his neck, and saw the smile spread to his mouth.”

Excerpt From: Diana Gabaldon. “Drums of Autumn.”

I spent a wonderful day last week making apple butter and many of my readers asked for the recipe. Normally, the best way to make apple butter is over a hot wood fire, apples simmering away for hours in a large copper cauldron with pats of butter added and lots of brown sugar and cinnamon to finish. Lacking the 50 gallon cauldron and the woodfire, I've devised another method that works well. I use my slow cooker (which is a cauldron of sorts!) and it works verra weel!

All you do is take a bushel of apples  and dice them. You can peel them if you like and that makes a smoother apple butter, but my family loves the peels so I leave them on. I put them in the slow cooker until the pot is full and then I add about 2 cups of sweet cider, about 1/2 a cup of chopped crystallized ginger, a lot of cinnamon, 1 cup of bourbon or single malt and at least three cups of brown sugar. Then I turn the crock pot on low and I use the 10 hour setting. I watch it and stir occasionally and at a pat of butter every once in a while which keeps the foam down. As the mixture "melts" down, I add more apples and brown sugar. I let it cook for about 18 hours on low, stirring and tasting as I go.

At about the 14th hour I add about a cup and a half of maple syrup and 3 tablespoons of pumpkin pie spice and stir. Then let it continue to cook for several more hours. You'll know it's done because it will have turned a lovely color (rich caramel) and will smell absolutely wonderful. Cooking it for that long concentrates the flavors and produces a butter that is absolutely delectable. Right before it's done, I add a tablespoon of smoked paprika. This adds a touch of smoky wildness that I love!

You can use your apple butter in so many ways......on hot buttered biscuits, waffles, pancakes, as a filling with fresh apples for pie or on oatmeal as I've done here with brown sugar, cinnamon, walnuts and fresh butter. It's a bit like having dessert for breakfast! A steaming cup of coffee with cinnamon or a delectable cinnamon tea seals the deal!
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