In late summer, If I have gluts of fruit I make fruit butters and cheeses. These are sweet preserves, quick to make, requiring a few skills and some concentration as they can easily be spoilt during the final stages of preserving.

Fruit Cheeses

These are named because they are often eaten with or instead of a cheese course. To eat, they are turned out of moulds and cut into slices. Fruit cheeses can also be eaten with cold meats or curries instead of chutneys or pickles. They are usually made from strong flavoured fruit; damsons, black currants, medlars and quinces.

A large quantity of fruit is needed to make a fruit cheese. The fruit is cooked in a small amount of water until soft, then thoroughly sieved. The pulp is weighed and 450g of sugar is added to every 450g of pulp. The sugar is dissolved in the pulp and the mixture is cooked until the cheese is thick, and when a spoon drawn across the bottom of the pan leaves a clean line. Also, if a spoonful of the cheese is put on a plate and left to go cold, it is ready if it can be cut through cleanly with a knife, and peels cleanly off the plate. The cheese is potted into small, straight-sided moulds ( I often use ramekins). These are warmed and brushed with glycerine to prevent the cheese from sticking and making it difficult to turn out. I cover my fruit cheeses with waxed discs and cellophane covers. The flavour of a good cheese improves if left to mature.

Fruit Butters

A fruit butter is a sweetened fruit purée, cooked to a creamy consistency. When cold, it has a spreadable consistency. The texture of a fruit butter is very much softer than a cheese. The consistency is similar to spreadable butter.

Suitable fruits for butters are cooking or crab apples, plums, gooseberries, black currants and damsons. Butters are often spiced to enhance their flavours. Ground cloves, and cinnamon are popular spices in apple butters. The fruit is simmered in water and sieved as for fruit cheese, but less sugar is added to the pulp; 225g-345g per 450g of pulp. The pulp is heated with the sugar ( and any spices) then boiled until a smooth, creamy, thick consistency is obtained, with no free liquid. The butter is poured into sterilised, warm jars and covered with an airtight seal.

As this is a low sugar preserve it should be stored and eaten within 6 months. Once opened, keep butters refrigerated. For longer keeping, butters should be water-bathed.

Competitions

I look for a fruit cheese in a small, straight-sided container, covered with a waxed disc.I like to see two identical cheeses from each competitor. One is presented in a sealed state, for the seal to be tested, the other turned out and presented on a plate for tasting.

Cheeses should have an even, rich, glossy appearance, not brown, without air bubbles, stones or skins. The cheese should cut cleanly and not be sticky. The flavour well blended, a full fruity flavour and characteristic of the fruit used in the recipe.

I expect fruit butters to be hermetically sealed. A waxed disc underneath a lid is unnecessary, a common mistake when potting sweet preserves, as these may prevent them from being sealed correctly, and often cause spoilage. The colour should be bright and even throughout the jar and not  muddy or spotty. A jar full to within 5mm from the brim, which  “pops”  when it is opened to break the airtight seal. An even, spreadable consistency, not stiff or sticky. The flavour well blended and pleasant without losing the basic fruit flavour.

Plum Butter Recipe

Select sweet flavoured, ripe plums for this recipe. I use Victoria Plums or Pershore Prolific. The addition of vanilla is optional, or spice the butter with ground cinnamon. As with all sweet preserves, for best flavour I prefer to work with small batches.

Makes around 1.1kg

1kg Plums ( washed and stoned)

300ml water

675g granulated, cane sugar

2.5ml Ndali organic vanilla powder or the seeds from half a vanilla pod ( optional)

1. Place the plums in a large pan and add the water.Cover the pan and bring it slowly to a boil. Turn down the heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes, until the mixture is pulpy.

2. Thoroughly rub the mixture through a sieve and weigh the pulp, there should be 1kg of pulp and some juice. If there is more, reduce the pulp to the desired weight.

3. Place the pulp into a clean pan. Add the sugar  and the vanilla and dissolve the sugar. Gradually bring the pan to a boil and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the butter from catching on the bottom of the pan.

5. Place a teaspoon of the butter on a plate. It will be ready when no free liquid appears around the edge of the mixture.

6. Pot the butter into warm, sterilised jars and seal with new screw-top lids. Leave the jars upright and undisturbed until cold. Store for up to 6 months. Once opened, store in a refrigerator

For longer keeping, process the jars in a water-bath. Seal the jars loosely, to allow steam to escape during the processing. Stand the jars on a trivet or wads of newspaper in a large pan ( this prevents them from cracking). Pour in hot water to cover the jars completely. Cover the pan and heat the water to boiling point, then boil the jars for 5 minutes. 

Protecting your hands ( I use tongs) carefully remove the jars on to a wooden board and again protecting your hands tighten the lids. Leave the jars to cool completely. Water-bathed butters should keep for at least a year.

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