Though we cling hard to the fleeting pleasures of summer, the abundance of fall is a glorious, if bittersweet, consolation. After last year’s scant harvest of apples, it’s reassuring to see trees everywhere—in orchards and along back roads—loaded with ripening fruit. With this bounty of heirloom apples, bake pies, crumbles, cakes and betties; put up chutney or dehydrate thin slices for winter storage; stuff and roast the biggest ones and leave the ugliest for sauce.
Arguably the most beautiful expression of the fruit’s wonderful, winey essence is apple butter. It’s just a highly concentrated form of applesauce, produced by a slow stew that caramelizes the natural sugars. This concentration of sugar gives apple butter a long shelf life, making it a popular preserve from colonial times well into the 19th century. It was traditionally prepared outside in large copper kettles and people would take turns stirring with an enormous wooden paddle.