I’m calling it: Apple butter is going to be the new apricot jam. In the next year I believe we’ll be seeing a lot of it glazing chicken and ham and topping more and more baked goods. I want to go on record as being one of the first to hop on the apple butter train. But more on that later because I want to talk about how awesome the last couple days were and the amazing people I got to spend them with.
This past weekend was a perfect snapshot of everything that is fall in Michigan. Cool, dewey mornings burned off by warm afternoon sun, crisp apples straight from the orchard and some of the best cider donuts I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Getting to enjoy all this with some of the best people I know was just icing.
A year ago, I was invited to join a cooking club my old roommate, Katie, and her friend, Anna, had started. At that point, it was less of a club and more like people who liked to meet up once a month to hang out in the kitchen and drink wine while trying to integrate different dishes into a cohesive, usually themed, meal. After a couple months and with the addition of a few people including my old neighbor and dear friend, Emily, we had a really good thing going. Now, my absolute favorite part of the month is when we all take a break from our busy lives and get together to cook a meal after work and break bread with one another. I love that time oh so much.
It was during one of these nights we decided to go apple picking. The plan was to meet at my house, pick apples to our heart’s content and bring them back to my place to make applesauce, all while we enjoyed everything a Michigan autumn has to offer.
So first things first, we needed to get donuts. Before everyone came over in the morning, I loaded the two dogs in the car for a quick drive through the country into Williamston for a quick stop into Groovy Donuts. It’s a new shop that just opened less than a month ago. I hadn’t had a chance to try their baked goods yet, but the line to the door was a good sign. And it did not disappoint. Seriously, if you get a chance it is well worth stopping in and trying. I left with 4 apple cider cake donuts that were still slightly warm perfectly dense on the inside.
Everyone showed up and we ate donuts, drank coffee and talked game plan. We got in Katie’s car and headed down the road to Clearview Orchards, a farm focused on peaches at the end of summer and apples in the fall. The owner, Phil, greets us as we drive in and hands us our bags. It’s a short walk to the orchard and we were giddy at the thought of all the different varieties available.
The first row of trees we approached looked like a mass of intertwined branches bursting with rosey Empires. We started cramming our bags and moved to the next row, Golden Delicious. The rows after Golden Delicious were McIntosh and Red Delicious, which we skipped over to get to the Cortlands.
It didn’t take long for our bags to be jam-packed with apples and each one required two people to carry it. We purchased our finds along with two bags of drop-apples to bulk up our applesauce quota and some acorn squash for lunch.
Back at my place Anna, who was the only one with experience making applesauce, began systematically placing pots, pans and bowls all over the kitchen and assigned Katie and Emily the task of peeling apples while she chopped and I made Bloody Mary’s because it was brunch time. I was so excited to try McClure’s Bloody Mary mix. They make all their products in Detroit and use local products when possible. They have some pretty amazing pickles and the Bloody Mary mix was an excellent choice.
I joined Anna chopping apples and it was after about a half hour into the process we realized the daunting the task we faced. We had A LOT of apples to peel and chop. But we kept at it all afternoon, taking a quick break to cook our acorn squash and stuff them with some farro, venison, walnuts, celery, cranberries, and a spare apple.
In the middle of applesauce making, we found ourselves wondering what the difference between apple sauce and apple butter was. All we knew about apple butter was it was smoother and darker and delicious on pancakes. A quick search led us to a recipe from Souther Living for Easy Apple Butter and we get a batch going alongside our apple sauce (looks like the addition of apple cider vinegar is the biggest differentiator).
After all the apples were peeled, chopped, boiled, mashed, sweetened, and packed into containers, we were exhausted. I still have a blister on my hand from the peeler but we now have enough apple sauce in the freezer to get us through to the next arrival of Halley’s Comet in 2061.
And now I have a container of tangy apple butter and despite being barely able to walk after spending all day Saturday in the kitchen, I can’t wait to get back and try to cook with it Sunday afternoon. Again, I seriously believe apple butter is going to be the next apricot jam so I figure it will be great a great glaze for chicken. I baste some grilled chicken with a mix of apple butter, balsamic vinegar, thyme and sage and serve it over a mixed arugula salad along with a hunk of crusty bread smeared with, you guessed it, apple butter.
Sammy and Denver were more than ready to help me out with any leftovers (dog trainer friends, avert your eyes).
Homemade Apple Butter Glazed Chicken Salad
- 1/2 Lb Brussels Sprouts
- Red Grapes
- 4 Thin Sliced Chicken Breast (or two regular ones sliced in half)
- Olive Oil
- 2 Tbsp Homemade Apple Butter (Souther Living Recipe Here)
- Splash of Balsamic
- Juice from 1/2 of a Lemon
- Thyme (I used a couple sprigs of fresh thyme, but you could use a dash of dried)
- Balsamic Dressing
Turn the grill on medium heat. Heat the oven to 425.
Slice of the very ends of the brussels sprouts stems and cut in half lengthwise. Hold the brussels sprout by the stem and thinly slice. Toss in a 9×13 pan an spread over 1/2 of the pan. Cover the other half of the pan with red grapes. Drizzle shredded brussels sprouts and grapes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven and keep an eye on them. Give them about 12-15 minutes until the brussels sprouts and grapes start to get some caramelization on them.
Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil place them on the grill. Close the lid.
Mix the apple butter, balsamic, lemon juice, thyme and sage in a small bowl. After the chicken has been on the grill for about 3 minutes, flip each one and baste the tops with the the apple butter mixture. Close the lid and let the chickens go for another 3 minutes. Flip the chicken again to let the apple butter side of the chicken to develop nice char marks. Baste the top side with apple butter and close the lid. After about 2 minutes, flip again, close the lid then remove the chicken after 2 minutes.
While the chicken is resting, assemble the salad by mixing arugula, brussels sprouts, and grapes. Top with feta and walnuts and drizzle with your favorite balsamic dressing. I drizzled some balsamic vinegar and olive oil on mine, but a favorite store-bought balsamic dressing would be great.
Slice the chicken and serve on top along with a crusty piece of bread covered with your apple butter.