Apple Butter

In my Down Country column in last weekend’s Sunday magazine in the Sunday Star Times, I wrote about making a batch of Jersey black butter, or nièr beurre. This spicy, treacle-coloured preserve dates back to the 1500s, when it was invented as a byproduct of the Channel Islands cider industry.

Here are the instructions from my column:

The traditional method is to simmer it for 30 hours, stirring constantly, in huge copper cauldrons over an open fire. You know it’s done when a wooden spoon, pressed into a sticky dollop on a plate, adheres sufficiently to lift the plate.

I don’t own a copper cauldron, and I doubt the council issues fire permits for preserving, so I made a scaled-down version in my slow cooker. Simmer 4kg peeled, sliced, cooking apples in 500ml fresh apple juice or dry, homemade cider for a few hours, till the apples turn to mush. Then add ½ cup caster sugar, a 40g log of natural liquorice, the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon mixed spice. Ignore for the rest of the day, apart from the occasional stir.

It took 12 hours for my nièr beurre to turn into thick brown sludge (anyone care to translate that into Jersey’s Norman-French dialect?). But trust me, it tastes far nicer than it looks. I’ve been spooning it over porridge, slathering it on hot cross buns and folding it into custard fools. It’s delicious stirred through thick Greek yoghurt, or, even better, local Clevedon Valley Buffalo yoghurt, the 2010 supreme winner in Cuisine magazine’s Artisan Awards.