Friday, October 2, 2009

Apple Butter

We're slipping into fall here and all along Lake Ontario the orchards are full of apples and the harvest has begun. The Carlisle family lived in the fruit belt of Michigan and this time of year is much the same there, near Lake Michigan.

In a letter written 28 October 1906 by Aunt Tamerson, to my Aunt Vivian, she wrote:
As father worked at fine jobs (not small) of stone cutting + for years earned 1.00 a day we never went hungry altho it was plain food + dried foods + apple butter was always made in fall either in a big kettle outdoors or the copper boiler inside + it was stirred all day + all nite. Sometimes a friend who lived back of us on the other street came over + helped stir. I always wanted to stay up all nite but soon got sleepy.

Now I have no proof, there is no specific reference, but I'd bet the neighbor who helped stir was Toley Robinson. I can picture Tamerson as a young girl wanting to stay up and visit with her mother and her friend and finally succumbing to the depths of sleep. I can "see" Anna and Toley tucking her in and when all were asleep inside the two of them tending the kettle and talking through the night as best friends will.

But why on earth would they have to stir all night and what is apple butter and why did they make it? Obviously the making of apple butter is not a tradition that continued in my family.

From Wikipedia:
Apple butter is a highly concentrated form of apple sauce, produced by long, slow cooking of apples with cider or water to a point where the sugar in the apples caramelizes, turning the apple butter a deep brown. The concentration of sugar gives apple butter a much longer shelf life as a preserve than applesauce. Apple butter was a popular way of using apples in colonial America, and well into the 19th century. There is no dairy butter involved in the product; the term "butter" refers only to the thick, soft consistency, and apple butter's use as a spread for breads.

A bit more poking around online and I learned that there are apple butter festivals all over the country. The apples are first cored, cut and and cooked just long enough to soften them. They are then pressed through a sieve or strainer and added to the kettle with cider. Initially a hot fire is lit to bring the cider to a boil and afterward the fire is kept just big enough to keep the mixture simmering. When the mixture is reduced enough, spices and sugar are gradually added. Large wooden paddles are used to stir the mixture continuously. Depending on when you start and how large your batch is, you need someone constantly standing over the pot and stirring for hours. I can see how Anna and Toley could easily have worked well into the night.

You can find dozens of recipes online for apple butter. I've found one for the crockpot that I think I'll try. Twenty four hours of the heavenly scent of apples cooking on a cold fall day - without the constant stirring. I'll let you know how it turns out.

I found this wonderful video of the process on YouTube. There are several videos there that I could have used but this one was very well done as a tribute to their family's apple butter tradition. It's about nine minutes long but well worth watching for inspiration as to how to share our own family traditions! (But if you are in a hurry, the actual Apple Butter making starts at the 2:00 point.)

Binns, Tamerson Carlisle. (Buchanan, MI) to “Dear Vivian” [Vivian Carlisle LaValle]. Letter. 28 October 1960. Digital Images 1-9. Privately held by Apple, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Snowville, New York. 2008. [Carlisle Family, Box #1,
Genealogical Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan. 2008.]


Thomas MacEntee said...

Apple - thanks for your post and bringing back memories of Apple Butter. I grew up eating apple butter - it was widely available in stores in the Hudson Valley where I grew up. Or if we went over to a cider mill around pressing time, there were women who sold their homemade version.

It goes very well on toasted cinnamon raisin bread with butter. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Apple, you've made my mouth water. The first time I had apple butter was when my aunt's family still lived in the Muncie area. It's been over 25 years since we made a Fall trip there (they have been in Indy for years). I used to bring that and fresh apple cider home for friends. It seems we went somewhere around the university, maybe Minnetrista for it. Not found here in the deep south. Let us know how Apple's Apple Butter turns out.
Kathi M.

Jasia said...

I have tried apple butter on only one occasion and was not overly impressed. The variety I tried was a commercial one and that may have been the problem. The taste was very, very bland. Almost non-existent. The consistency was pleasant though. I would try it again but I think I'd prefer to try someone's homemade version in hopes that their spices and flavoring might make it a bit tastier.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Thomas - I guess it's always been available here too but Mom never bought it. I'll have to ask her about it when I see her this week. The local cider mill stopped pressing here several years ago. I was fasinated by the process when I was a child. We do still have several places that make excellent cinnamon raisin bread :-)

Kathi - I'm glad I could trigger a memory for you. Cider is one of the many things the family that have moved south miss. I missed it when I lived in NC but then again they had pecans!

Jasia - The stores here have it and I had concidered cheating and buying some to try it. I'll either get freshly made or make my own. I just have to get up to the orchard and do some apple picking. So far my work schedule, the weather and a bunch of sick grandkids have all conspired against me!

Greta Koehl said...

This brought back memories of the turnovers my Mom would make with apple butter - sometimes with apple butter in them and sometimes with apples inside and the apple butter on the outside. I have been thinking of giving American Spoon Food's apple butter a try.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Greta - Turnovers sound great!

Terri said...

Apple - Thank you for sharing the apple butter video that you found. We have 5 apple trees in our yard and usually we let the neighbors pick whatever they want, and some bushels go to the food bank. I love apple butter so one year I decided to make it - oh boy what an undertaking, I peeled and peeled apples, I had no idea how many apples it really takes to get enough jars to share. It was fun though and enjoyed all winter long. T

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

Terri - I'm glad you liked the video, I thought they did a really nice job with it. I have finally picked up a small bag of apples to try making it in the crock pot this weekend. Did you you do yours inside or in the kettle over the fire? I think in these hurry-up, electronic days it would be neat to do this outside with the grandkids some year but I'd probably be out there all by myself most of the time.

Terri said...

Apple - I just did it on my stove in a big pot and once it was cooked down I strained it through a special strainer using a wooden mallet to push it through. I used a very simple receipe and it was deliceous - but it was a big job - but in the end was well worth it. Let us know how your's turns out. Terri

Judith Richards Shubert said...

Apple, I really loved watching this video. Can you imagine making it in the yard in that big kettle? The crock pot method you shared with us on October 30th is a lot easier, isn't it? My mom-in-law used to put red-hot cinnamon candies in her homemade apple butter. It was delicious. And as for as being bland, my brown sugar recipe on Food Gratitude seems to take care of that.