My last JCarrot, post on balancing religious and personal food values at my wedding reception, really struck a nerve both positive and negative with readers. I received loads of comments about the food and wine at the wedding. There were also comments regarding sustainable wedding décor. We are already well underway with planning the décor, which will keep with our overall eco-vision from A to Z. Our flowers will be potted plants and our challah covers will be made from recycled ties from my grandfather’s collection. The list goes on.
While most of our sustainable wedding decisions have been completely mutual between my fiancé and me, there has always been one thing I knew would be part of my wedding, long before I was even engaged — jam. Several years ago I saw websites and magazines showing cute jars of jam for wedding favors, and I even met brides with the same idea (fellow urban gardening/farmers’ market going types). So I decided long ago that I wanted to make jam as our wedding favor. Since I won’t be catering our wedding for 300+, I can at least provide our guests with something delicious and small that I have made.
As with many of my friends, and likely many of the JCarrot followers, I put a high value on all things homemade, from knitted treasures to food. Perhaps it’s the homesteader in me, or, simply my desire to return to my roots. By embracing this old tradition, I not only provide myself with hours of enjoyment, but also show others that it’s possible to make our own delicious food. Many of my friends and wedding-attendees are not the farming/canning types, so for them, this is something new and perhaps eye-opening.
I made my first batch of jam the week before I joined the Jewish farming fellowship Adamah in the fall of 2008 and I immediately fell in love. I made a mixed fruit jam with plums (which gave it a stunning color), figs, apples and sugar. I loved the process of taking summer and putting it in a bottle.
Once I decided to make jam for the wedding, I knew I needed to limit it to one jar per family. Three hundred and fifty 4-oz jars seemed a bit overwhelming, but 200-225, or one per family, seemed manageable. And since my mom had also recently joined the canning bandwagon, she was eager to help. I decided that we didn’t need to stick with just one jam flavor, we would make jam with any fruit that crossed our paths. So, this past summer, we both canned just about everything for my wedding favors. Into cute little jars, I placed homemade plum jam, peach jam and raspberry jam. By summers end, I still had many more jars to go, so fall apple butter was the obvious next step.
While apple jelly is apple juice cooked and cajoled into a spreadable form, apple butter is essentially apple sauce pureed, combined with juice, sugar and spices and reduced until it is a thick, luscious consistency. There is no butter in a fruit butter, contrary to the name.
In one conversation, my mom brought up that many people would be flying to the wedding and carrying on their luggage, not checking it. The thought of our guests having to throw out our jams at airport security made me cringe. So, we are also making apple chips for those who can’t bring liquids or gels larger on board. It’s been a fun project, one that I’ve really enjoyed. I know that our guests will enjoy “spreading the love” as our jar labels put it, as they remember our wedding once they’ve returned home.
Here’s my apple butter recipe — as apples are available year-round, feel free to make this any time. However, it’s really special when you can pick the apples yourself. I especially like buying the seconds from the orchards, as they are cheap and perfect for canning, which is what I did this past fall. If you are going to make this, you need to devote a full day. It has taken me 6+ hours from start to finish getting the consistency I like, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but if you love spending time in the kitchen or want a great activity when the weather is lousy, this is for you! You can easily substitute pears for delicious pear butter as well. I have heard that you can use a slow cooker for making fruit butters as well, which would cut down on the active cooking time drastically.
Have any of you made your own favors for weddings or other celebrations? If so, please share in the comments.
Yield: Approx. 5 8-oz. jars
Note: I always recommend preparing a few extra small jars in case you end up with more. I recommend familiarizing yourself with canning procedures prior to starting — the Ball Blue Book is a great start. Make sure you always work with clean equipment when you are canning.
4 pounds of apples, cut into 1-inch chunks, core discarded. Peel if desired. I use whatever apples are available and most delicious.
1/2 gallon of unfiltered apple juice or cider
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1) Set aside the lids and rings and prepare your jars by sterilizing them in the dishwasher (if you have a sterilize function) or bringing to a boil in a large canning pot or stockpot. Right before canning, place the lids and rings in a smaller pot filled with water.
2) In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, add the apples and juice, which should cover the apples. Bring to a simmer over medium heat (careful that you don’t burn the bottom). If it bothers you, you can skim off the foam, but it’s not a big deal. Cook the apples until they are fork-tender, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree in a blender or food processor in small batches. Take care to only fill the blender less than half full and to cover the top with a towel, not the plastic top, so you don’t have a boiling-apple-mess all over you and your kitchen.
3) Once you have pureed all of the apples, place them back in the pot, again over medium heat. Bring to a simmer (if you are using a candy thermometer, bring to 220 degrees). While stirring, mix in sugar, cinnamon and lemon juice. Now, at this point, you will need to babysit your apple butter a bit. Make sure that the bottom doesn’t burn. The color will darken considerably and thicken. This might take as few as 2 hours, but often much more. Towards the end of cooking, the apple butter will start to pop and splatter — a bit like lava. That’s how you know it’s ready for canning. You can also take a spare lid or plate and place 1/2 teaspoon of the apple butter on it, and place it in the freezer for a few minutes. If it sets to the consistency you like, it’s ready. If not, keep cooking.
4) At this point, make sure your jars are ready. If you’ve used your dishwasher, remove the jars. If you have used a canning pot, remove the jars from the hot water, which you should now bring back to a boil. Sterilize your lids and bands by bringing the small pot of water to boil and carefully fill each jar to 1/4” from the top. I recommend a canning funnel and canning tongs for this, which are very inexpensive and worth every penny!
5) Place a lid and ring on the jar. Only screw on the ring until it is “fingertip tight” and carefully place it back in the large pot of boiling water. Repeat with all jars and boil at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. Remove, set aside on a clean workspace, allowing plenty of air to flow around each jar and let sit until room temperature. If any of the jars did not can properly (if the button is still up on the lid), place the in the fridge and eat soon. Otherwise, these should keep at least a year (if they can stick around that long!).
You can also completely forgo the canning procedures and keep the cooked apple butter in the refrigerator, if you have enough room to spare.
Elisheva Margulies is the founder of Eat With Eli, a natural foods culinary service based in St. Louis.