Monday, November 10, 2008

Making Apple Butter the Old-Time Way

Apple butter, start to finish:

Day One: this part took about 6 hours.

This weekend was the time to make apple butter. The weather was cool and crisp and the threat of rain held off for us. The apples get a bath before we start. Last time we cooked apple butter, it was 20 degrees and snowing, with a stiff cold wind. That was an experience! This was a much better weekend for it, even if a little chilly.
We all cut apples--and cut apples--and cut apples. No need to peel or core--the Squeezo does that. We had mostly red apples from Derek's tree, and some yellow ones from my favorite tree. Red apples are best because they provide the color I want in my apple butter. I don't know the variety of these apples--mine is a seedling tree that produces wonderful sweet apples, and Derek's tree has spicy, crisp red apples (I think they're a Winesap, but don't know for sure.)

The kettles start filling up, ready for cooking.

The ol' granny herself, in the Holstein apron a friend sent me. I do not collect Holstein stuff, but I like this apron because it provides pretty good coverage. We use the turkey fryer burner for cooking---it's sturdy and we can do the cooking outside and keep the mess out of the house. We've never used this thing to fry a turkey, but we sure use it for lots of other things!

The apples are cooked and ready for processing into sauce.

Tools of the trade: two Squeezos to separate the apple sauce from seeds, cores and skins, a five-gallon and a 10-gallon crock, ladles, plungers, bowls to catch the waste, a fire in the firepit to keep us warm--and coffee!

The other end of the Squeezo, and one crock is full.

Day Two: Again, another 6 hours of cooking, then a couple hours to jar up the finished product and clean everything up.

All of us took turns stirring during the day. Larry and Derek were the fire masters. The fire must be hot enough to keep the sauce bubbling, but not so hot it plops high in the air! When the wind picked up, we added two "blow Georges" to the sides--I'd never heard this term before, but Larry said that's what they called it when they used tin or something to shelter a fire from the wind. We used two small pieces of galvanized roofing tin and it did a good job.

Derek adds sugar. It takes a lot! My kettle holds 15 gallons, and to that amount of apple cause, we added between 25-30 pounds of sugar (or about a pound per 8 cups of sauce). If you compare that to making jam or jelly, it's pretty close to the same ratio.

Can you see the swirl of darker color following the paddle? The paddle, you'll notice, has holes in it to allow the sauce to flow through as it is stirred. One thing you don't see is pennies. There are about 5 pennies on the bottom of the kettle that move around as the sauce is stirred to keep it from sticking to the copper-and-brass kettle. The metal is very, very thin, so it's important to stir constantly and be sure the sauce doesn't stick--if it does, the whole kettle of sauce is ruined.

After the sugar is added, the apple butter really begins to darken. (See the blow Georges?)

Almost ready! The sauce cooked down about 4 more inches after this photo was taken. I test by the "slump" method, as Derek calls it. I dip out some sauce onto a place, and see if it piles up nicely. Then let it cool a bit and flip the plate. If the apple butter stays on the plate, it's done.

Cinnamon oil is powerful stuff! I used just three tiny bottles in the kettle to give it a good cinnamon-y flavor. Some people use red cinnamon candies, but I do not like that method. I prefer a more natural approach, and my apple butter has a deep color without adding anything to it for coloring. The right apples, the right amount of sugar, and long cooking produce the deep brownish-red color that says good apple butter to me.

Finished! How much did it make? I didn't count this year; usually we end up with 30 quarts, but because we started with such a full kettle of sauce, I think we had closer to 35 or 36 quarts. We put most of it into pint and half-pint jars but when I ran out of those we used quarts.

We also canned 22 quarts of applesauce while we were at it--and yes, you can see one jar that broke when I put it in the canner. Now that's a mess to clean up.

Ah! The finished, spicy brown, delicious product, best eaten on homemade biscuits as Jared is demonstrating. Worth every minute of work.


  1. I just found your wonderful blog while searching for information on bottle trees. I wanted to stop in and say hello and tell you how much I am enjoying reading what you have on here. I added you to my bloglines so I can keep up and I am looking forward to more

  2. Welcome, Patty! I'll stop by your blog soon. I just watched a movie called "Because of Winn-Dixie" that had bottle trees in it. It's a cute movie, more for children but fun to watch. And the bottle tree in it was amazing.

  3. That's a lot of work Susanne. Reminds me of when we made apple butter at Grandma's house when I was a kid.
    As you know from my story I'm writing, we put a silver dollar in our kettle to keep it from sticking. Looks like you're going to have enough apple butter to last you through till next year.

  4. What a lot of work but the reward of having the apple butter I'm sure is well worth all the effort. I love apple butter and home made is the best although the only way I get it anymore is at the grocery store.

  5. As I read the process, I felt as if I were there with you. How delightful! My Granny used to make applebutter but I never have. I've never thought about all the time and hard work that goes into making applebutter. You made it all look so easy. Thanks for a fun trip down memory lane.

  6. This is a lot of work, but it's fun too--lots of time for talking, sharing memories, watching the grandkids and realizing how they are growing up so fast, enjoying the beauty of a true November day, playing with the dogs, appreciating hot coffee and good country breakfasts, and really, really digging into the warmth and comfort of the log room and the fireplace in the evening. All those things are in addition to the jars of apple sauce and butter that filled more shelves in the cellar.

  7. WOW! Thanks for the pictures and showing us the HOW. Ellouise

  8. What a marvelous endeavor for fall! To do it outside like that--I've never seen anyone do that, and I am sure my grandparents and other relatives did. But, I had just never seen it. Mom has made it inside on the stove....of course, not so much as you ended up with! Wow, I would love to do this! I have my grandmother's iron cauldron. I know she used one for washing clothes back when they were boiled, and I've seen one used when a pig was slaughtered. I don't know if it's the same one. I was going to put potted plants inside it, and line the inside to protect it from moisture. But, maybe now I will use it for making apple butter outside! Or soap.....Hmmm, I'm getting ambitious! :-) Great post! I appreciate the how-to aspect! And it was fun seeing the photos of your hard work!

  9. Marie, I'd bet your kettle is for soap and butchering, lard-rendering, etc. Apple butter is usually made in copper or brass kettles--maybe because the apples would react chemically with the iron? I'm not sure about that, just a guess. I have always wanted a big iron cauldron, but haven't found one I can afford. But I sure like your idea of making soap; a perfect use for your kettle.

    Making apple butter is a long process, but oh my the end result is so worth it!

  10. 5 words - O my God - yum yum!


  11. Thanks for telling me to not try the apple butter in the cauldron, but instead use it for soap...I probably would have ruined a whole batch if left to my own devices and I wouldn't have known why! :-)

  12. Sue,

    I've been helping my grandmother make apple butter since I can remember. The recipe came down from her great-grandmother, so after 5 generations it's become quite the fall tradition. Since I'm carrying it on, I'd like to give it my own twist and perhaps start cooking it over a fire like you've done. My question is, where did you get your copper pot? I've looked online, but I've not really found what I think would work. Any help would be great. Thanks.

  13. I have a question do you add any water when you cook the apples down befor you put it in the kettle.we are going to make apple butter this mother in law always made it but she passed away 2 months ago so we are trying to carry it on so if you can give me any advice thank you larry

    1. Hi Larry, I am glad you're carrying on the tradition. Yes, I do put a small amount of water in the kettle along with a few pennies if the sauce is very thick . Remember that you will have to cook out the extra liquid, so you don't want to add too much. The important thing is to keep the sauce from scorching so constant stirring is vital, and making sure the paddle stirs across the whole bottom is important too. Good luck! Email or call me if you have more questions! I'd be glad to try to answer them for you.


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