Fruit butter is a spread made of fruit cooked down to a creamy paste that is lightly sweetened and flavored with spices. It falls into the same category as jelly and jam, yet has its own personality.
Louisburg Cider Mill’s Tradition of Apple Butter (Plus Peach & Pumpkin Butters)
If you aren’t familiar with apple butter, you will have shocked Apple Butter Lovers everywhere! But not to worry, we’re willing to share the love! Fruit butter is a spread made of fruit cooked down to a creamy paste that is lightly sweetened and flavored with spices. It falls into the same category as jelly and jam, yet has its own personality. Apple butter is the most popular example of fruit butter. The fruit is cooked, but not too much, because fruit will burn and lose its sugary taste. If correctly done, fruit butter, true to the “butter” part of its name, has the same texture as, but a different flavor than, regular butter. In the instance of apple butter, it’s not lumpy like apple sauce and is sweeter. Delicious spread over toast, it has a rather whipped butter consistency.
In the colonial days, when our country wasn’t yet independent of the British, apple butter was a popular way of keeping apples in America. It’s not really known where the idea came from — some give the credit to New England for apple butter — and a number of historians believe it arrived to the Americas via the Pennsylvania Dutch. And there’s a strong belief that the technique was spread throughout the new world by the pioneers from Pennsylvania as they forged westward.
The early settlers of our country made fruit butter a community event around the harvest season. Young and old participated in apple butter boiling in some fashion. After the fall harvest, once corn had been cut, pumpkins gathered and grapes picked, it was time to pick and pick-up apples. As the autumn’s bright leaves warned of winter, the festivities began very early and went on until night fall and beyond. These gatherings celebrated with music, singing, dancing and chatting in order to catch up on the news. Such festivities made the work of preparing food for the bitter cold and scarcity of food in the winter much easier and more fun to work through. Everyone in the community was invited to attend the boiling of apples by a crier that was sent from farm to farm. Usually the host farm for the apple butter making event provided meals of ham, fried chicken and all sorts of bounty from the land to allow people to take turns eating and keeping the apple butter stirred. Stirring the apple butter was an important job and somebody had to be doing it all the time. You might have heard the phrase “twice around the outside and once through the middle”. It refers to the stirring of the big kettles to keep from burning the precious content. This also became a familiar square dance call for the pioneers at barn raising events and other such celebrations!
The whole process was a lot of work, beginning with collecting the precious, sweet apples.
Apple trees were spread out, so the men folk got their wagons and drove all around the fields or even in the woods to gather them. You see, in the early days, they didn’t always plant apple trees near to each other like in the orchards of today. Another necessary chore was cleaning and scrubbing the big brass or copper kettles in order to be ready to cook apples! Piles and piles of wood had to be gathered and cut due to the fact that there had to be enough wood to burn many fires that would last from dawn to dark. There was also the huge chore of cutting and seeding the many apples that would be needed.
Apple butter didn’t have any sugar added to it back then. It was made from “boiled-down” cider. To boil it down to sugar took a lot of patience, hours of time, wood and many gallons of cider. Most recipes followed a method of three fires. One large kettle was filled with apple cider and was cooked down until it was at half the kettle and then quartered apples were continually added as it further cooked. Sometimes pennies were put in the kettles to keep the apple butter from sticking to the bottom! Another kettle was where apple pieces were being warmed because no cold apples were to be put into the main kettle. The remaining kettle was where the cider was being boiled to make sugar and where the fragrant spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves were added. When the apple butter was done, it was removed as it thickened and put into pails to be taken to the cellar to go into butter crocks to cool and be stored.
Not only do we, at Louisburg Cider Mill, continue the early American tradition of the open kettle method for making Apple Butter, we have found our customers love this same approach in our creation of Peach Butter and Pumpkin Butter. Remember, when you want to give a homemade style, warm and friendly gift, these fruit butters (apple, peach and pumpkin) are perfect! For a housewarming or welcome to the neighborhood gift, our fruit butter samplers are much appreciated. And we have been told that military personnel really love this all-American treat, too. Bet you wish you had one of our fruit butters right now!