Hoo. Hoo. Hoooo. I'm having a hard time catching my breath. In fact, pass that paper bag, I feel like I might need it. Why? Let me tell you why. It's November 15th. November 15th! Do you know what that means?
It's that time of year again, that time of year that creeps up on me out of nowhere (nowhere, I tell you!) and manages to smack me in the ass every single time. I'm a smart enough girl, I can read and walk at the same time, I can listen to music and chew my food simultaneously, I can speak four languages and touch my tongue to my nose (well, no, those things I can't do at the same time): how am I still not smart enough to anticipate Christmas?
Every single year, I vow to make a handmade Christmas - to bake and cook and craft until I've spun a mountain of lovely, tasty, personal gifts to bestow upon the lucky folks who happen to be related to me - and every single year I fail miserably. On December 22, I'm pacing the streets of Soho with a wide-eyed, hysterical glare in the whites of my eyes and an unpleasant little squeakiness to my voice - I think some of you might call it the sound of desperation.
You'd think I'd give up by now. You'd think that this year, the year that I (gulp, gulp, and triple gulp) turn thirty (where the hell is that paper bag?), I'd have made my peace with this reality: that I'm just not cut out for a handmade Christmas.
Obstinacy is a funny thing, isn't it?
Because here it is, November 15th, and I'm frantically making lists of recipes and ingredients to assemble, culling together cello paper and tupperware, hunting down jam jars and clean lids, scrounging up twine and stickers, finding mailing labels and shipping rates and, God help me, I think I'm going to try again.
Last year, after I'd given up and gone back to Berlin for the holidays, defeated and beladen with a suitcase full of perfectly acceptable, purchased gifts, Molly (who this year has made it official and taken the handmade pledge - brave one) sent me a jar of homemade apple butter so delicious that it was gone in a matter of days. (Addressed to both me and Ben, I didn't have the heart to hoard it for myself, in which case it would have lasted perhaps a week. I can be so stupidly generous sometimes.) I spent the next 9 months wishing she would send me another jar.
Molly got her recipe from Heidi who got it from Carolina Braunschweig, so when I eventually realized that wishing wasn't going to get me anywhere, I went apple-picking and made my own. Between a colleague and my upstairs neighbor and the constantly hungry man residing in my apartment, the four jars I made were gone in a week. It really is that good. It goes well on toast and in Liberte plain yogurt and apparently in cookies, though I haven't tried those yet. It makes your house smell like a holiday and makes you feel all calm and happy while it burbles away on the stove. And will you believe me when I tell you that while boiling jars sounds all technical and frightening, it really, really isn't? Really, I promise. If I can do it, so can you.
So, join me in the madness, won't you? Let's do it together. You make apple butter, and I'll do - I don't know - chutney. Or cookies! Or both. I don't know. Oh God, I'm having trouble breathing again. But it'll be fun, I promise! And then, if it all goes south in the end despite our best intentions, we can go shopping together a few days before Christmas when the stores are empty and our hair is falling out in handfuls. Hmm? What do you say - do we have a deal?
Makes 4 or 5 8-ounce jars
4 pounds of apples, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
Roughly 1/2 gallon of apple cider
2 cups of sugar (I cut this to 1 and 1/4 cups of sugar)
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (I would do just 1 teaspoon next time)
1/2 teaspoon cloves (and I'd do a little less than 1/2 teaspoon next time)
Juice of one lemon
1. Heat oven to 225 and place jars (but not lids) on the baking racks. Jars will need to stay in the oven for at least 20 minutes. Wash the lids with hot water and let them dry completely on a clean towel.
2. In a big, heavy pot over medium heat add the apples and enough apple cider to just cover the apples. Bring to a simmer. A bit of a foam will form, you want to skim that off a couple of times. Cook the apples until they are tender throughout, roughly 20-30 minutes. Take the apples off the heat, let them cool for a couple minutes, and then puree in a blender in small batches (don't fill the blender over half full with the hot liquid or you will have a mess) or with an immersion blender directly in the pot. The puree should be the consistency of a thin applesauce.
3. Put the puree back in the big pot over medium heat. Bring puree to a simmer (you need it to hit 220F on candy thermometer). Then, while stirring, slowly sprinkle in the sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon juice. Continue to simmer over medium/med-low heat. It takes quite a while from this point until the apple butter reduces and really thickens up, anywhere from 1 to 2 hours (try to keep it around 220F). Make sure you stir regularly, you don't want it to burn or cook to the bottom of the pot. You are looking for the apple butter to thicken up and darken. Towards the end it gets a bit messy, the simmer becoming more lava-like - it also sounds different, lots of plop and slop noises and lots of spattering coming from the pot. Remove from heat.
4. Using tongs, carefully remove each jar from the oven and fill to within 1/4 inch of the top with the apple butter. Wipe off rims with a clean dry paper towel. Place a dry lid on each jar and close tightly. Turn the jars upside-down and let cool completely.