My mother makes the world’s best applesauce. Period. You can try to debate me on that, but you’ll lose, and I don’t want to make you cry. Now, I’ll admit to a certain nostalgia when it comes to the aroma of autumn’s apples bubbling on the stovetop in my childhood home, but somehow her applesauce tasted more… well, apple-y than any others I have tasted—homemade or store-bought. She didn’t do anything fancy, just cooked down apples with some sugar and a hint of cinnamon, but whether it was her choice of apples, the perfect amount of sugar, or the chunky texture (no food mills in our house—we liked a random apple chunk here and there), the combination was sublime: a soft, sweet bowl of apple goodness, best eaten warm right out of the saucepan.
Given my love for the sauce, I thought apple butter would be a sweet treat right up my alley. I mean, what could be better than even more apple flavor, this time spreadable on toast? Imagine my disappointment, then, when I tasted my first overspiced spoonful of the dark spread. Instead of intense apple, all I tasted was an overabundance of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Where did the apples go?
Since apple butter is essentially applesauce cooked long enough for the apples to caramelize into a dark paste while the liquid evaporates, I saw no reason to add a surfeit of seasonings and make my fresh apples taste like a dusty spice rack. Instead, I wanted to take all the things I loved about my mother’s applesauce and intensify them into an unctuous, sweet butter that needed no embellishments. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, I was on a mission to spread my apple gospel to the masses—and convince the nutmeg-loving naysayers to channel their energies into mulled cider and pumpkin pie.