Apple butter is believed my many, to be invented by the colonists in eighteenth century New England. Cassell’s Dictionary of Cooking, 1870 describes its origin as American. This, however, is a grave misrepresentation. Perhaps this inaccuracy is due to the fact that German immigrants so widely made the favorite concoction, and it became such a valued meal accompaniment on colonist’s tables, that the actual origin became a moot topic. Or, perhaps, since the Pennsylvania Dutch (derivative of Deutsch, or German), and other German immigrants called the dish, Cider boiled applesauce, the colonists simply changed the name and took it as their own. The belief today is the name was changed in Appalachia, where it became a household staple, because of its smooth spreading consistency.
Seven sweets and seven sours
The food of the Pennsylvania Dutch is substantial and nourishing, to fill the bellies and feed the souls of hard working families. Traditional methods have been passed down, particularly in the Amish and Mennonite communities, where it is believed seven sweets and seven sours should be represented at the same meal.
The sweets include harvested fruits: apples, quinces, berries, and watermelon. The sours consist of pickled vegetables: onions, cucumbers, cauliflower, beets and tomatoes.
The old-fashioned way
The yearly harvest time for the Pennsylvania Dutch is filled with playful excitement. County fairs abound with the fruits of their labor, and they, in turn, reap bountiful blue ribbons from their sweet and savory recipes.
Before they can play, however, the work must be done. The morning hours have gold in hand, one farmer’s grandfather once told him. And, just as his grandfather loaded the two-horse wagon with apples, the farmer loads his old pick-up and sets off for the cider mill.
While he’s gone, neighborhood women and children converge in the yard around the giant apple butter kettle. The boys collect firewood and bushels and bushels of apples. The women and girls set themselves to peeling and cutting. By the time the farmer returns all is ready to pour in the cider. A penny or peach pit is tossed in to prevent the apples from burning. The cider is brought to a boil, and then the apples go in.
Even with the penny in the pot, the mixture must be stirred, and stirred, and stirred. Constant, consistent stirring is essential to the process, because without it the apples will, in fact, burn.
Stirring of the apple butter is a social affair, particularly for the young people of the community. They gossip and chatter and carry on. Many times, while they are adding the spices, the women have to remind the kids to keep stirring.
The sun starts setting in the west, and elders are discussing current news, how good the harvest has been, and inhaling the sweet aroma of apples. The worn out; yet comfortable rockers suddenly stop rocking, and all heads turn toward the giant kettle. The apple butter is done.
A recipe for today
Crock pot apple butter
- 7 cups natural applesauce
- 2 cups apple cider
- 1½ cups honey
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
Mix all ingredients and cook on low for approximately 15 hours, or until mixture is a deep brown color.