The seasonal section of the grocery stores has been beckoning, particularly the apple butters and pumpkin butters. Last shopping night, I bought every one I could find. A couple of them came from a local company: Jackie’s Jams. I gave them a call. “Butter is the government term for puree,” explained Jackie Anderson, co-owner with Robert Shay of Jackie’s Jams (619-226-0721, jackiesjams.com). “So, if you say peanut butter, it’s basically pureed peanuts. Butters traditionally have less sugar [than jam]. And butters also don’t use pectins, a natural fruit by-product that makes the product gel....
“We use organic apples — a combination of the Fuji and the Pink Ladies. The reason I think ours taste a little bit better is that we quarter the apples, we steam them, and then we put them through a machine which is basically a sieve. It’s called an Italian tomato deseeder, and it squeezes the nutrients out of the skin so we are not only cooking the apples but we’re also getting that strong flavor from the skin. Also, our apple butter has very little sugar. We use cinnamon and cloves, but because apples are so sweet, the butter is only five grams of sugar per tablespoon, which is really low.”
Jackie’s apple butter is available ten months out of the year; her pumpkin butter is much more limited. “Normally it is out from October first to the end of January,” Anderson said. “We cook the apple butter and the pumpkin butter in very small batches — only about 15 to 16 jars at a time.... It just tastes like the inside of a pumpkin pie, and only four grams of sugar per tablespoon.”
The next evening, Pat and I sat down to some testing. Some butters were sickeningly sweet — the Great Value Spiced Apple Butter ($1.68 for 28 ounces at Wal-Mart) and the Smucker’s Cider Apple Butter ($2.28 for 16.5 ounces).
Bernice’s childhood favorite, the caramel-colored Tropical Apple Butter ($3.99 for 30 ounces at Ralphs), smelled like mulled wine and carried a light cinnamon apple flavor.
Eden Organic Apple Butter Spread ($6.99 for 17 ounces at Whole Foods) exploded with apple flavor. “Very light, refreshing apple taste,” said Pat, “like the sunny fall of September as opposed to the spiced flavors of the late fall.”
I left the man to his prosing and served up the next jar: Jackie’s Jams Apple Butter ($6.39 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods). “I love it,” said Pat, “a lot of apple and spice. This would be delicious with some pork tenderloin.” We set the gingham-covered jar aside and plowed ahead.
The last of the apple butters was calorie- and sugar-free Walden Farms Apple Butter Fruit Spread ($3.49 for 12 ounces at Henry’s). “How do you make a product that is free of everything?” I asked.
“This jiggles like Jell-O,” said Pat. “Ironically, the flavor of apple reminds me of apple candy, but, frankly, I’d prefer an apple Jolly Rancher to this spread.” I chugged a tall glass of water to extinguish the sucralose aftertaste.
We moved on to our hybrids. First up: Trader Joe’s Cranberry Apple Butter ($2.99 for 9 ounces). “More cranberry than apple flavor,” Pat said. “I’d use this instead of canned cranberry jelly with my turkey.”
A good third of the jar of Oregon Growers and Shippers’ Vanilla Pear Butter ($4.99 for 12 ounces at World Market) was gone before I could get it away from Pat for a lick. “Not something I’d put on toast,” replied Pat, “I’d put it on pancakes or waffles, something with which you’d expect more of a jolt of sweetness.”
I handed him a second Oregon Growers and Shippers’ butter: pumpkin butter ($4.99 for 12 ounces at World Market). “I can’t imagine anything I’d use this for,” he grimaced. “It’s like they’re forcing pumpkins to go where pumpkins don’t want to go.”
Stonewall Kitchen Maple Pumpkin Butter ($6.99 for a 12.25 ounce jar at Whole Foods) fared better — less sweet, with a spicy pumpkin flavor.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Butter ($2.29 for 10 ounces) was too tangy. “Whoever heard of tangy pumpkin pie?” asked Pat.
Dickinson’s Country Pumpkin Butter ($4.99 for 9 ounces at Ralphs) also got the boot — too gingery.
Our last jar: Jackie’s Jams Pumpkin Butter ($6.39 for 8 ounces at Whole Foods) was the favorite pumpkin butter of the tasting. “Bursting with pumpkin flavor,” Pat smiled. “I’d spread it on a hearty wheat bread. Let’s go bake some bread.”