There is much to love about rich, spreadable dairy products. So much, in fact, that the fruit kingdom has a long history of appropriating dairy’s nomenclature. “Fruit butters” and “fruit cheeses” are preserves dating back to medieval times made by simply simmering fruit puree with some type of sweetener.
While there is not a drop of dairy in the mix, both are served as counterpoints to cheese throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Think membrillo and Manchego, black currant butter and Camembert, plum cheese and cheddar. The textural thickness of fruit butters and fruit cheeses is rendered by a long, slow simmer, a process that also allows the tart undertones of the fruit to shine through the end product’s sweetness.
Fruit butters, which are soft, smooth, and spreadable, can be made with berries, cherries, tart apples, and a variety of stone fruits. Since there is less sugar at play than in fruit cheeses and no added pectin to help them set, fruit butters are a very economical way to deal with an overload of fruit, say from that tree or bush in your backyard. Simmer five pounds of fruit, 1/2cup of sugar, and enough water to just cover the fruit. Puree the softened fruit mixture, add spices as you like, and simmer the lot down until the butter is thick and glossy. Due to their lower sugar content, fruit butters generally have a storage life of only a few weeks unless they are made shelf stable through a canning process.
Fruit cheeses, made with almost equal weights of fruit and sugar, are a more solid prospect. The raw fruit, lemon (for flavor and pectin content), sugar, a bit of liquid, and spices are pureed and then simmered for about an hour. Given their firmer texture, fruit cheeses can be potted into small molds, turned out, sliced, and eaten with cheese or alone as a sweetmeat. You can eat fruit cheeses as soon as they are cooled and set, but they are often wrapped tightly and left to mature in the refrigerator for a month or two before using. They can be stored, refrigerated, for up to four months.
- 1 small lemon, washed
- 1 pounds tangy apples (like Granny Smith, Northern Spy, and Braeburn)
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup cranberry juice
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 5 allspice berries
- ►Line a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap.
- ►Slice lemon in half and remove all seeds.
- ►Peel and core apples and cut into large chunks. Squeeze juice from lemon halves over chopped apples. Roughly chop lemon halves and toss pieces into bowl with apples. Add cranberry juice, sugar, ginger, and allspice berries. Toss to combine and transfer mixture to a food processor or blender. Process until smooth.
- ►Transfer puree to a heavy-bottomed saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Once mixture boils, reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring regularly, for 40 minutes until puree thickens and picks up a deep reddish-golden color. To test for doneness, drop a teaspoonful of puree on a very cold plate and put plate in the refrigerator. When test sample is cold push the edge of it with your finger. If it is firm enough to the touch and detaches from plate in one piece, it's done. If puree is too soft, simmer for another five minutes and test again.
- ►Pour paste into prepared loaf pan. Cool completely. Place pan in refrigerator to set overnight. Lift set apple cheese out of pan. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap until you are ready to use it.
OTHER USES FOR FRUIT BUTTERS AND CHEESES
Fruit butters can go anywhere jam can.
Spread them between layers of cake or between cookies for a dessert sandwich. Use them as are placement for dairy butter or oil in muffin recipes for a low-fat rendition. Mix a dollop into plain yogurt, ricotta, or cottage cheese for breakfast or vanilla ice cream for dessert. Slather them on pancakes or waffles when there is no maple syrup in the house.
Fruit cheese can be eaten alone or in pairs.
A slice on a cracker will kill a craving for something sweet for sure. But just as cranberry sauce is a welcome addition to leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches, so would an apple cheese fit in with a roast chicken and cheddar panini.