Apple butter is the new store cupboard must have, says Emma Crowhurst
I HAVE lived in Suffolk for only 10 years and, although it feels like home to me, I know I am an infiltrator. Where I live, you have to have been here for at least 30 years to qualify as a resident!
New blood can be a good thing: certainly in our region we have some fantastic non-native companies. One such example is run by Todd Strehlow, born in upstate New York. He lived in London for a few years as a kid, then went back to New York to finish growing up. His hometown (Warwick, NY) is about 50 miles northwest of Manhattan. His business is grown from a labour of love and is as American as apple pie.
“It’s hard to pinpoint the precise birth of the apple butter business,” he says. “For years I would bring apple butter back from the US, then I tried making it and tested it out on the kids and friends and started to think there was business potential there.”
His website (www.applebuttercompany.co.uk) gives more of his story. Basically, his home in upstate New York is a beautiful place, with farms being a key part of the landscape and heritage. There are a number of orchards popular with pick-your-own day-trippers from the city and the town’s biggest annual event is called Applefest – www.warwickapplefest.com – and has become so huge that some of the locals even move away for the duration!
Todd met and married an English girl and then lived in South London, doing urban regeneration, for almost 20 years – mainly in Southwark and Greenwich. His highest-profile project was rebuilding the riverside walk in front of Tate Modern. Very impressive!
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He first came to Suffolk in 1993 on a day’s outing with two work colleagues and immediately loved it. He brought his wife regularly for the odd long weekend, until they bought a little cottage in Saxmundham in 2000.
They sold it a couple of years later for various reasons – mainly it was too small for the twins who were on their way (now aged nine). They bought a property in Wilby in 2007 and after extensive works moved in properly in December 2009. But what is apple butter? It is made by cooking and reducing apple puree with sugar. Typically seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and other spices, apple butter is usually spread on bread, used as a side dish, an ingredient in baked goods, or as a condiment. Just like any other preserve, the sugar will allow the apple to be kept for months or longer.
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It is made in the same way as plum butter or quince paste, also known as membrillo – although it is not quite as reduced as membrillo, which is served in cubes with cheese and game dishes.
Apple butter was a popular way of using apples in colonial America. There is no dairy butter involved in the product; the term “butter” refers only to the thick, soft consistency, and apple butter’s use as a spread for breads. The Pennsylvania Dutch often include apple butter as part of their traditional meals.
In areas of the American south, the production of apple butter is a family event, due to the large amount of labour necessary to produce apple butter in large quantities.
Traditionally, apple butter was and is prepared in large copper kettles outside.
Large paddles are used to stir the apples and family members take turns stirring.
In Appalachia, apple butter was the only type of fruit preserve normally rendered into fruit leather. This is where you reduce the puree even further, so all the moisture is evaporated away, leaving the puree to dry out into a sheet which can be cut into strips.
In Jersey, in the Channel Islands, apple butter is known as “black butter” and has liquorice among its spices.
Kimmswick, Missouri, and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, have an annual apple butter festival. Wellesley, Ontario, has an annual Apple Butter and Cheese Festival on the last Saturday in September. Fenner Nature Centre in Lansing, Michigan, also has an annual Apple Butter Festival on the third weekend of October. This event draws thousands for a celebration of history and nature’s bounty. The highlight is the cooking of real apple butter in a large copper kettle over an open fire.
In Europe, apple butter is commonly used in the Netherlands, where it is known as Appelstroop (Apple syrup) and frequently eaten on bread with (or without) thinly-sliced cheese. A sweeter version, made using pears as well as apples, is more popular in Belgium, where it is known as Li�ge syrup.
Todd tells me that as far as he is aware he is the only producer of apple butter in the UK. I met him at the popular Snape Saturday Market. He told me how he got started.
“We had our very first sales at the Aldeburgh Food & Drink Festival last year. We then went from 0 to 12 stockists of the apple butter relatively easily – as several of the farm shops and delis have been really interested in a new product, which is also local. I am actively seeking to increase my production capacity, which is also leading me to renew my sales efforts, and I will shortly be able to announce my first stockist in London.
“We have our own 12-acre orchard, which is about two miles from the house, which we bought in 2008. For two years we rented it back to the previous farmer. I have managed it since November 2010, so the 2011 harvest was the first I did on my own.” The main crops grown are Bramley and Jonagold, plus 5-10% Egremont Russet. He has also just planted an acre with cider apple trees – half a dozen varieties or so.
So far they have about five different types of apple butter: Original, made the old-fashioned way with nothing but apples, apple juice and sugar, plus a tiny bit of lemon juice; Extra Brown is a more reduced version, made with brown sugar; No Added Sugar, which is a little sharper; Slow Sloe, with added sloe berries from the hedgerows of Suffolk for an earthy edge, and Warm Spice, with the extra warmth of six lovely spices.
They use only East Anglian-grown sugar. Both the apple butter and apple juice are handcrafted in small batches to ensure quality and that homemade taste.
As to uses, the product is delicious on its own, stirred into yoghurt as a dessert, perfect with cheese, spread onto toast, served with roast pork or, for the ultimate luxury, how about a lush dollop on top of vanilla ice-cream?
You could bake blind a pastry case and filling with the no-sugar apple butter, then top with a quick meringue and bake for an apple meringue pie. I love apples and this is something I will have to have in my store cupboard.
The Apple Butter Company invites you to Theatre in the Orchard: Godspell, Music by Stephen Schwartz; Sunday July 29, 3pm at Brundish Street Orchard, Brundish, near Framlingham, IP13 8BN: a perfect place for a fantastic musical and a picnic, cider, apple juice & coffee. Tickets �10, family and group discounts. Box office 0845 673 2123, firstname.lastname@example.org. Other Godspell tour dates to be confirmed. Ring Info hotline 01728 638585 or visit www.allmouthandaction.org or www.applebuttercompany.co.uk