My friend Jess and I have a tradition. It’s legitimately earned that title now that we’ve done it multiple times. Well, two. Which is still more than one, and therefore multiple. We jam. With jam. We have a jam jam. Or, I suppose, technically we have an ‘apple sauce’ jam, but that’s far less pleasingly cool-sounding.
In the US, come Autumn, apples are everywhere. I knew of the whole ‘American as apple pie’ thing before I started fraternizing with/marrying this fine country’s citizens, but I don’t think I ever realised the sheer extent of the apple-mania. In supermarkets the amount of apples available easily doubles, and byproducts like cider, and donuts, and sweets also show up everywhere. And as a side note, I have yet to experience disappointment quite on the same level as my first taste of apple ‘cider’. Magners, it ain’t. Alcoholic, it ain’t. Frankly, I’m yet to see the point in it. It’s nice and all, but I really need someone to explain to me why it isn’t referred to as ‘juice’ and exactly what the difference is. It’s things like this that cause trust issues.
While all that happens in the supermarkets, you can also drive out of pretty much any town and find an orchard within an hour where you can pick the apples for yourself. At least, that’s the case in my tiny little pocket of the East coast, and I’m extrapolating to make myself sound authoritative. So, as I said, this is true everywhere.
And for our jam jam we drove out to our regular orchard (yeah, I have a regular orchard. What of it?) And picked just over thirty pounds of apples.
Despite all of the Little House on The Prairie-type images conjured up by this, it’s actually where manners go to die. To go on a weekday is a relatively stress-free experience. On a Sunday morning it was a whole other story. The fields were heaving with people – children running around and taking your legs out from under you, parents sitting and having a chat atop a couple of pumpkins (the place also has a pumpkin patch. And there’s not an issue with sitting on them, really, but someone has to eat that for dinner, and one must wonder how they’d feel if someone else came along and sat on tomorrow night’s KFC bucket.) While this was going on people were climbing fences and forcing their way through hedges rather than walk to the end of rows of trees, all the while nearly tripping over the half-eaten apples people kept throwing on the ground once their darling, tiny apple thieves were finished nibbling on them.
We hadn’t expected the orchard to be full, but we made do. We had a plan, we knew how many apples we needed, what kind, and how ripe. We went the extra mile to avoid the crowds. We pointed out how, in the event of a sudden zombie apocalypse, we would be screwed, and then were briefly terrified when a man (who looked like a zombie if you’re thinking about zombies at the time) jumped over the fence in front of us. We drove back to New York with roughly eighty apples in the boot of the car, and pride in our hearts.
When we got back we spent hours chopping apples, cooking them, cooking them more, and then cooking them even more. To make apple sauce you basically stew the things, add spice and sugar, and blend it. Apple sauce in the US is different than in Britain, possibly because of the aforementioned glut of apples. Apple sauce is used to bake, in desserts, or just eaten with a spoon. It’s not merely a thing used to make pork chops bearable. It is valued and held in high esteem.
Once we’d cooked, cooked, and cooked, we cooked some more. Having stopped some of the apples at the ‘sauce’ stage, we took the rest right through to butter. Another thing one notices about Americans is that they like to live up to their reputation in every possible way – this involves turning everything into ‘butter’. Because what better way to improve fruits and vegetables than to imply a level of fattiness they don’t actually contain?
So apple butter is really just some seriously stewed apples with spices and suchlike. In our case also maple syrup, because we are geniuses (genii?). It’s just amusing to see it given a name that at least implies unhealthiness – as if nobody on this overgrown rock could be persuaded to eat it otherwise.
While we waited for butter to happen – a good couple of hours – we ate Indian food, played with the cat, and watched TV. Because ultimately, what is domesticity without the TV?
We emerged from our jam jam with 24 half pint jars of apple butter, and ten quarts (I dunno what that means as I am staunchly metric) of apple sauce. Which basically guarantees that we will be eating apples until the end of time, and then slightly beyond that. We might die somewhere along the lines from fruit-induced diabetes, but do you know what? There are way worse ways to go.