As part of my recent forays into preserving and canning fruit, this past weekend’s offering was Nectarine Butter. And as I’m wont to do, I was winging this one. I’m loosely relied on the peach/apricot butter instructions from The Joy of Cooking combined with some of the tips from my new fav Put ‘Em Up cookbooks that I’ve raved about before, but since they have no recipes for nectarines, this is truly an experiment.
I also went (nearly) all by hand, too–I probably should have taken the extra step to quickly blanch the fruit before peeling, but instead I decided to take the time to just peel the fruit outright. Of course this took almost a full hour, but it was Memorial Day and I didn’t have to work, so there weren’t any time constraints. Which ended up being a good thing since it took a really long time for the fruit to cook–it was a bit underripe, so trying to get it to cook down to the pasty consistency that a fruit butter should be was just taking forever. I finally had to break down and pull out the immersion blender out of lack of patience. All-in-all I spent a good 3-4 hours on this one, but it was fun and turned out well nevertheless.
Since I’ve also been experimenting with adding a savory or herbal element to jams and jellies, my original plan was to try to find some peaches at the Temescal Farmer’s Market and experiment from there. But there were some really great tasting, super sweet nectarines on display last Sunday, so I decided to go the nectarine direction instead. Then I went in search of an herb to pair with it. I spied some fresh thyme at the Happy Boy Organic stall and thought voila, that would probably be really good! (This turned out to be a funny coincidence because I’ve been making a list of fruit and herb flavor combos at home and this exact one–nectarine and thyme–turned out to be on my list at home, even though I didn’t consciously remember that at the market. Sensory memory, I guess!!)
Another one of my experiments, as I’ve probably mentioned before, is playing with alternative sweeteners. Some of my friends/tasters are people who go way out of their ways to avoid the evil white stuff (sugar), so I want to be able to make these preserves in a way that they’ll be willing to eat them and be less concerned about either their waistlines or the kind of stuff they’re putting into their bodies. When I have used sugar (mostly for jellies, because I haven’t figured out whether you can get away with not using sugar with the pectin for the gelling process), I’ve only been using the organic stuff. For jams, I’ve been using primarily agave nectar–it has a low glycemic index and the flavor is fairly neutral if you get the “light amber” variety, so I don’t feel like its getting in the way of the fruit flavor. Although I may be willing to experiment with fruit juice as a sweetener at some point (like white grape or some such), I’m definitely not going to go the route of artificial sweeteners. Blecch. Those are just nasty to begin with. Not only do they taste horrible–often with a really weird after taste, but you have no idea what kind of chemicals are in them. Honey, on the other hand, I think tends to be far too sweet, and I think that it would probably over power a lot of fruits, so I think either agave or fruit juice are good alternative sweeteners.
So, here was the process/recipe, (which as I said is a loose combo of techniques and ingredients from The Joy of Cooking and Put ‘Em Up).
Thyme & Nectarine Butter
– 4 lbs. nectarines (preferably slightly ripe to ripe)
– 1 c. agave nectar
– 1 tsp. cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
– 1 tbsp. fresh thyme
1) Wash, peel and pit nectarines. Dice in 1/2 in. chunks. Add to saucepan (metallic is better than non-stick). Add a bit of water (about 1/4 c.) to help the fruit start breaking down as you cook it. Heat to a boil, then turn down to medium/medium to cook fruit.
2) Cook until fruit gets mushy and is broken down–about the consistency of loose applesauce.
(Aside: This can take some time–my nectarines were a tad underripe, so I had the pan on the stove for a good 2 hours or more, at which point I got tired of waiting and took an immersion blender to them. You can also either pre-crush the fruit prior to cooking or use a potato masher to encourage them to break down – I don’t own one, so I was just mushing the fruit with a wooden spoon against the side of the pan, which is not super efficient, but like I said earlier, it was a holiday so I didn’t mind a bit of extra time. If you’re an impatient type, you’ll want to do this much sooner. If you go the immersion blender route, take the fruit off the heat to blend.)
3) When fruit has broken down to the desired consistency, add nectar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
(You could also do a combination of cinnamon, cloves and allspice if you so choose – that’s what JofC recommended, but I thought the allspice and cloves might be too much with the thyme, so I opted for nutmeg instead.)
4) Turn heat back up to start a boil, then down to medium. Cook until nectarine butter has thickened to a more concentrated consistency–this can take 30-45 minutes. Add thyme near the end of cooking process.
5) Butter is done when you can put a dollop on a plate and no juice will run from it. (Thanks to Sherri Brooks Vinton, once again, for that tip! Can you tell I’m becoming a fan grrl?)
6) Water bath can per instructions for your local area or jar and serve within a few weeks.
I think the addition of the thyme makes this really interesting. The nectarines would be good enough on their own just with the cinnamon and nutmeg, but adding the thyme takes the flavor from summer and brings a nice early fall, savory quality to it. I’ve given a couple jars already and gotten some good reviews thus far.