I have a confession to make: this fruit butter sat on my stove, in the Staub, for three days before I managed to cook it fully down and get it into jars. My friend Tanya had pointed me to a recent article on the Kitchn about when a health inspector visited Faith’s kitchen, and I had to laugh: I had a sponge near the sink, half an apple that had been sitting on my cutting board for hours, and a pot of half-cooked fruit butter sitting at room temp on my decidedly grimy, fruit-and-tomato splattered stove. Clearly, bacteriaphobe I am not.
I don’t mean to mock: food safety is important, which is part of the reason that I am rigorous about my canning routine, a passionate defender of the meat thermometer, and always diligent about washing hands, tools and surfaces that have touched raw meat. But, in classic American fashion, we do tend to take everything to the extreme. While, yes, leaving a cut apple out in the air all day long probably isn’t the best possible practice, I’ve done it many, many times. I trim off the browned bit that was exposed to air and eat the rest (and live to tell the tale!). The FDA says to throw out milk or cream that has been above 40 degrees F for 2 hours or more. I say, leave it out for 24 and make cultured butter! And don’t even get me started on the inanity of food storage time recommendations: a whole chicken is good for 1 year in the freezer, but bacon, an already preserved food, is only good for 1 month? The mind: it boggles.
But: back to the butter. I didn’t plan for it to sit for a couple of days before I got around to finishing it. And yes, I could have stuck it in the fridge until I could get back to it. But there was that mountain of greens taking up all the available real estate in the fridge. And, I was lazy you see. Lazy, and confident in the knowledge that both lemon juice and sugar act to inhibit bacterial growth (lemon juice, by decreasing the pH; an acidic environment is generally not conducive to bacterial growth; and sugar, by taking up excess water in the fruit butter that bacteria need to grow), which is why the two are so often used in fruit preserves. Lazy, but not too lazy to turn the heat on under that preserve once a day, to bring it to a lively boil and simmer it hard for 10 or 15 minutes, while I was focused on doing dishes or folding laundry, knowing that heat is also the Great Destroyer of Most Things Bacterial.
With great knowledge and great laziness come great rewards, Peter. Or, in this case, a beautifully thick, velvety smooth, tangy-sweet nectarine & plum butter, so thick and luscious that it will just barely dollop off the spoon. Try it yourself. Just don’t tell the health inspector.
- food mill (or fine sieve and a lot of patience)
- 2 ½ lbs nectarines, pitted and quartered
- 2 ½ lbs plums, halved (no need to pit, unless it’s easy enough to get them out)
- ¼ cup lemon juice, fresh or bottled
- 1 ½ cups (about 12 oz) raw sugar
- Soften fruit. Combine nectarines, plums and lemon juice in a large, heavy Dutch oven or canning pot with a tight-fitting lid. Crush the fruit a bit to produce enough juice to cover the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat; cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until fruit is very soft and beginning to break down, about 1 hour.
- Food mill & reduce pulp. Allow fruit to cool slightly, then transfer to the bowl of a food mill. Work through the mill, removing skins and any pits. Plum pits may well get stuck under the press of the food mill; in this case, I find it’s easier to fish around with my hands to get them out. Return fruit pulp to the cooking pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until pulp is reduced by at least half, about 2 – 4 hours (depending on your burner strength).
- Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Cook butter. Add sugar and continue to simmer over low heat, reducing until fruit mixture is thick enough to mound on a spoon. When you think it is nearly done, blend thoroughly with an immersion blender for a silky smooth butter. Taste, adjust sweetener if necessary, and continue to cook down, stirring constantly over medium-high heat, until butter is thick and makes visible patterns on the surface when you stir. You can also use the frozen plate test: place a small dollop of butter on a plate in the freezer for 2 minutes. If well-set, the butter should show no separation, no watery circle visible around the edge of the dollop.
- Can & process. Add hot butter to hot jars, filling to ¼-inch head space and making sure to tamp the jars down on the counter and.or remove air bubbles with a chopstick. Then wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 3 ½ cups.
- Fruit butters are a good option for a no-sugar-added preserve, as they do not require the sugar to achieve a traditional jam “set.” However, you will not get the shiny-silky texture in a butter with no sugar added, and the shelf-life will be shorter, as sugar is a preservative. Alternative sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup, can be used in place of sugar, but they too will produce a somewhat looser fruit butter more prone to separation and with a somewhat shorter shelf-life.
- Regular peaches and plums are safely acidic on their own for water bath canning; in this instance, the lemon juice is simply for taste. If using white peaches, however, which at pH of 4.5 hover in the safety “grey zone” for water bath canning, you should definitely acidify: based on Marisa’s recipe for white peach sauce, for this recipe you should use 5 tbsp (or the quarter-cup + 1 tbsp).
- My plums were somewhat hard & under ripe, which made the pits nearly impossible to remove prior to cooking, but the added pectin in the under ripe fruit probably resulted in the gorgeous, thick set. Toss a few not-quite-ripe fruits into the mix for similar results.
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.
Summer into early Fall.