For most folks, comfort food involves some combination of cheesy and greasy, gooey and sweet, or maybe even something inexplicable, like tuna noodle casserole. (Or, if you're of the Betty Draper mindset, comfort food can consist of just shooting whipped cream straight from the can into your mouth.) While I'm never going to be a person to turn down a guacamole-heavy burrito or a sticky toffee pudding in a time of crisis, my go-to snack when I'm feeling lowdown is always going to be apple butter. There's nothing quite like the homey, sweet-meets-spicy flavor of apple butter spread over a mammoth, fluffy cat head biscuit to make you forget all about your woes, one bite at a time.
Apple butter is an Appalachian staple that's used for a smattering of purposes from an early morning breakfast condiment to livening up a turkey sandwich. Cooking large batches of this sweet spread was traditionally a family affair and an opportunity for cousins, aunts, and uncles to visit for a kind of impromptu celebration. Today, there are still half a dozen festivals across the mountain region devoted specifically to cooking up and cheering about this country treat.
While apple butter from the store or farmer's market will ensure this pie is delicious, nothing beats spicing your own creamy apple concoction. Even when working in small batches, going about it the traditional way is a bit time consuming, so using store bought (or homemade) organic applesauce can help speed up the transformation of ho-hum apples into rich, aromatic apple butter:
Combine 3 cups of sweetened organic applesauce in a crock pot with 1 tablespoon each nutmeg, allspice, clove, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of sugar. Allow to cook on low heat for 24 hours, stirring often, with the lid removed for the last 1-2 hours.
The oatmeal pecan crust is an easy to assemble, crunchy foundation for the pie, with flavors similar to those in an oatmeal cookie. The hearty texture gives a bit of bite to each piece. When pressing the mixture into the pie plate, be vigilant not to add too much filling and create an unnecessarily thick crust: about 1/4 inch on both the bottom and sides is ideal. The pecans should be chopped finely enough to provide an additional textural element but not overshadow the balance of oats and spices. A fan of honey? Add 2 tablespoons to the crust for an additional rustic touch of sweetness.
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About the author: Sarah Baird is a writer, editor, and petit four aficionado living in New Orleans, Louisiana. She likes planning elaborate dinner parties surrounded by her collection of dwarf citrus trees. You can read her latest musings and about her various misadventures on her website: hellosarahbaird.com or follow her on Twitter: @scbaird.