Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The Jersey Kitchen - Part 3

This is the final part of the booklet on the Jersey Kitchen of 1932. It mentions black butter. That's still made today, and when there is an open day at the Elms, often around a winter weekend, you can go and see it being made and buy some. It is excellent when spread on bread with whipped cream generously layered on top! I've also been to evening sessions of black butter making, although my abiding memory of one of those was a very draughty barn, and some wiring that kept shorting out and causing the bare light bulbs to flicker, not something that would be the case today, I'm sure! But it explains why everyone wanted to huddle round the fire and stir the black butter on a cold winter night!

Black butter originates from a time when cider was a popular drink, and much of Jersey was taken up with cider orchards; the excess glut of apples being turned to black butter, which is a kind of jam. Unfortunately, beer took over in popularity in the UK, and the thriving export market in cider fell away.

La Mare Vineyards also produces their own black butter, but using mechanical aids to stir the butter rather than the traditional way by hand and only with only a five-hour stirring period rather than continuously for 24 to 30 hours. Their product has, however, won awards, although personally I have found that the cinnamon they add tends to swamp the more subtle flavours; the traditional black butter by contrast has a rich fruity flavour.

Traditional Black Butter Recipe (BBC website)


10 gallons cider
700 lb sweet apples, peeled and cut
20 lb sugar
3 sticks liquorice, finely chopped
24 lemons, sliced
3 lb allspice


Boil the cider until it turns to jelly. Add the apples, stirring all the time to prevent sticking. Two hours after the last batch of apples has been stirred in, add the sugar, liquorice and lemons. In the last ten minutes of cooking add the spice. Store in jars.

But the making of black butter from surplus apples was not just confined to Jersey but was more widespread in England as well, with the same ingredients, although the method of production might vary. Jane Austen mentions black butter in a letter to her sister, dated December 27, 1808:

The first pot [of black butter] was opened when Frank and Mary were here, and proved not at all what it ought to be; it was neither solid nor entirely sweet, and on seeing it Eliza remembered that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made, you know, when we were absent. Such being the event of the first pot, I would not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy; and though not what it ought to be, part of it was very good." (2)

What would Mr Darcy have thought of "unpretending privacy", one wonders?

Black butter crossed the Atlantic, where it was mistakenly observed and thought to be an American specialty:

Cassell's Dictionary of Cookery (1870's) actually calls it "American", reflecting its popularity in the former colony, and the ignorance of the editors in respect of its history. Like pumpkin pie, it crossed the Atlantic, and then acted as if it had been born there.(3)


During the winter evenings " black butter "  (niè'r  beurre) was made. This is an excellent apple preserve, so named on account of its colour when cooked. Barrels of sweet apples were peeled and sliced and placed in large earthen jars (tèrrines) several days before by the women folk ; a party of men arrived in the evening to cook the " butter ". The contents of the terrines were emptied into a large brass preserving pan, called la paîle, resting on a trivet (trepid) over a wood fire. Then sliced lemons and spice was added and in some cases liquorice to darken it. The contents were continuously stirred for from 26 to 28 hours, by the men working in relays by means of a long-handled wooden rake (un moueux) and the rest of the company spent the time in merrymaking. This was called a Séthéé d'nièr beurre, (" black butter night ").

The Jersey sunbonnet, as seen on the model, was largely worn by the women, some parishes having different styles with frills, etc. These were worn to come to Town to sell the produce and also when working on the farms.Cider was the chief beverage in the past; each farm had its orchard and large farms made their own cider. The apples were crushed in a circular trough (le tou) with a huge stone wheel (la meule) turned by a horse. The pulp (le mar) was then spread in large pieces of sacking and placed between layers of wheat straw in the press (le preinseu) which squeezed the cider out of the pulp into large wooden tubs (tchues). At one time much cider was exported.

Each householder had to look after the Roads of his Parish, and spend six days a year in repairing them ; those with horses had to lend a horse and cart. Defaulters were fined a shilling a day.

All the male population had to serve in the Royal Militia of the Island. This service originated in the old feudal service and was reorganized by the British Government from time to time. All these honorary services are being gradually discontinued and replaced by paid services.

In the Bedroom alongside the Kitchen may be seen on the four poster Bed (la couochette) a very fine counterpane or quilt (couvèrtuthe pitchie) with a printed design ' The Tree of Life ' (I'Arbre d'vie).

The hanging-closet door in the Bedroom (le vitchet or armouaithe dé pathai) was taken from an old house. It is typical Jersey work of the 17th century.

La pouchette or la paûte was an ancient place for hiding money and valuables. It was close to the fireplace, and consists of a long pipe ending in an earthenware jar, built into the thickness of the wall, the whole being
the full length of a man's arm.

During the German Occupation of the Island the valuable gold torque belonging to the Museum was successfully hidden by the Officials in la Paûte of the Kitchen.


Other references
Book: Jane Austen and food, Maggie Lane, 1995

1 comment:

alane said...

I love apple butter (that's the American term) on pancakes. I'm also glad I don't have to make my own!