Jersey Black Butter
Black Butter is a concentrated apple preserve flavoured with spices. It is called ‘Beurre Nièr’ in Jèrriais, the Norman-French dialect of the Island.
This is a very old and traditional farm-house delicacy of Jersey (see below), and the product is important not only in gastronomic terms, but as a constituent of the now declining, traditional rural culture of the Island. It is made produced in the cider making season from a formidable list of ingredients:
14 cwt apples
113 gallons of cider
30 lbs of sugar
liquorice, cinnamon, and other spices in proportion
Boil up the cider and leave to simmer. Adding the apples and other ingredients in a cauldron (‘bachin’) hung over a low fire.
Stir continuously for 24 to 30 hours, until the correct ‘jammy’ consistency is achieved.
It can be served as a spread on bread or as a preserve to go with cold meats (traditional) or as a cool additive to an Indian curry (non traditional!)
Something similar to Black Butter is made in Normandy, the part of France with which Jersey has traditional and cultural ties.
The growing of apples and the making of cider is a traditional economic activity of Jersey, going back to 16th Century, and there are many Jersey varieties of apples. This activity diminished in the 19th Century, and despite some very recent endeavours to revive it, has now a negligible part in the Island’s economy.
In cider production’s ‘glory days’ in the 18th Century, Jersey was also a shipbuilding and cod fishing Island: many of the Islanders would farm for part of the year, and then go fishing for cod off Newfoundland and Canada for the other part of the year. Their catches would be salted, and often be transported by them down to the Catholic countries of South America. There, they would exchange their cargo for exotic spices for which there would be a good market in Britain.
This explains why there was a familiarity with spices and a ready availability of them in Jersey at this time.
In the cider season, making black butter was a good way of using up a seasonal glut of apples and any surplus of cider.
Black butter making is a very labour intensive operation but the labour of making it was almost coincidental to its importance in the Island’s social history.
Lots of labour was needed – so it was therefore a co-operative and community project which brought together friends and neighbours.
Lots of time was needed to make the black butter, and lots of stamina to keep awake during the night hours. So, music and songs helped to make the time pass quicker, and for those awaiting their turn as a stirrer there was dancing and cards and story telling – it comprised what is called, in Jersey-French ‘Un Séthée de Beurre Nièr’ (Un soir de beurre noir).
In effect, these were indigenous and ‘home-grown’ community events, an opportunity for the local culture was passed down from one generation to another.
In an age when there was no television or other entertainment, these Black Butter evenings provided a rare opportunity for hard-working farming people to get together and have some fun.
Jersey Black Butter’s labour-intensive and lengthy making process does not lend itself to a commercial application.
One commercial outlet, La Mare Vineyards (Britain’s most southerly vineyard) makes it for sale, although it is made with only a five-hour strirring period.
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