I believe I've mentioned my ongoing obsession with jam making. Every time a new fruit turns up at the farmer's market, I buy a few pounds of it and turn it into jam. The pantry is really filling up, since I'm also the only one around who eats jam with any regularity. I'm not ready to give any to Mae yet since it's full of sugar. (Mmm, sugar.) It seems unfortunate that her mother is reguarly turning out delicious fruit spreads, and she can't have any. She has been getting one thing: some sugar-free apple butter we got at a country store in Nashville, Indiana. Fruit butters are a puree of fruit that has been cooked down until thick and spreadable. They usually have much less sugar than do jams-- perhaps half the amount or less. Indeed, with certain fruits, you can get away with not adding any sugar at all. The natural sweetness of the fruit becomes concentrated so you don't really need much extra sugar, if any.
The problem with butters is that it takes so long to cook them down, it's really an all-day affair. But you can just make a very small amount for immediate consumption. Like, say, one pear's worth. It cooks down fairly quickly, you just have a little to store for a short time, you don't have to worry about buying a ton of fruit, spending 12 hours boiling it down, processing the jars for long-term storage, etc., etc. And you can experiment with flavors more freely without worrying that you're wasting a ton of fruit on something you might not care for in the end.
The technique is simple. Get some nice, juicy, ripe fruit. The best fruits for butters are pulpy, as opposed to juicy (for example, oranges would make a lousy butter, whereas apples, pears, plums are perfect for this application). Just mash the fruit up in a skillet, add whatever spices you want, stir it as the liquid cooks off. When it's nice and thick, it's done.
Quick skillet ginger-pear butter
1 ripe pear (should not be crispy, but soft and juicy)
a squeeze of lemon juice
1/4-1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger (1/2 tsp makes it very zingy!)
drop of vanilla extract
(optional: 1 tsp brown sugar)
Peel and core the pear. Chop it up in a few big pieces, put it in a small skillet over medium heat. Toss it with the lemon juice and mash it up good. Stir in the ginger, and vanilla. (And the teaspoon of sugar if you've decide to use it). Turn the heat down to low. Stir frequently-- more and more frequently the longer it's been on. You'll need to stir it more or less constantly toward the end or it may scorch. After about 5 minutes, you should have a nice sauce-- you could stop there and mix it into yogurt or eat it with a spoon. If you want the spread, though, keep going and keep stirring another 5-10 minutes, or until it's of a thick, spreadable consistency (or until, in common jammaking parlance, it "will mound on a spoon"). It cooks down a lot. The one pear yielded about 2 tablespoons of spread. Store it in the fridge until it's all gone. That shouldn't take long.
If you want to make more, go ahead and double or triple it, but use a larger skillet to cook it in so there's still plenty of surface area to help speed the evaporation along.
Messiness rating: 1 (1-2 wipe clean-up)