Black Butter, Jersey
Jersey is now a cosmopolitan and wealthy place, but not so very long ago it was a real backwater, a peasant economy with much in common with Normandy, including the local version of French, Jerriais, which is an old dialect of the Norman tongue. One of the great products of the island in those times was cider, with many cider-apple orchards to be found all over Jersey . Black butter was largely a by-product of cider making.
There are a couple of important points to make about black butter: firstly it contains no butter, the butter in the name being like the cheese in lemon cheese, more a description of the consistency and application of the product than anything else; and second, it is not really black, indeed a great deal of effort goes into avoiding the burning that would change the dark brown mass to black.
Making black butter is a social affair on the island, a community event these days. Particularly in November villages hold 'sethees d'nier beurre', black butter evenings. This too is a misnomer, as the production will last a night and a day.
The product is made in sizeable quantities, a typical pan for the preparation of black butter (a big copper-bottomed or brass affair known locally as a bachin) being over three feet in diameter. This is filled with cider and set to boil, then filled with peeled and sliced apples, predominantly sweet, but with a good sprinkling of more tart varieties thrown in. The lot is simmered slowly, all the while being stirred with a traditional long-handled utensil called a 'rabot' - long-handled for a good reason; the cooking mixture can spit very hot gushes of apple onto the unwary.
The addition of apples goes on for a long time, cooking and thickening for many hours. When the last apples have gone in, they continue cooking for an hour or more before adding pulped whole lemons as an aid to the flavour and the preserving qualities of the butter. When this addition has had time to be assimilated spices are stirred in - allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg are used - along with sticks of black liquorice which have been pounded down to hasten their incorporation in the whole. Sugar is added to sweeten the dish.
There is a traditional method of testing the doneness of the black butter. If a dollop dropped on a plate to cool allows a wooden spoon pressed into it to lift the plate, then it is ready.
Black butter is sold in jars, often of a pound weight, and is used to spread on bread, or it can be eaten as a treat on its own.
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