…or least a slightly-plagiarized-from-the-disappointing-Wikipedia-version-of the complete history of apple butter.
“Apple butter was a popular way of using apples in colonial America.” – Wikipedia
That’s it! That is the total history of apple butter according to Wikipedia.
Further research has led me to discover a few more details. Whilst apple butter is generally accredited to New England, many historians actually believe it was brought over by the Pennsylvania Dutch (you know, the Amish folks) and then further rose to popularity in the Appalachia (you know, the Hillbillies).
Wikipedia goes on to describe apple butter as a “highly concentrated form of apple sauce.” I suppose that yes, whilst apple sauce and apple butter have the same beginnings it is far too simplistic to use such a description. It is like saying a ‘red wine jus’ is just a highly concentrated form of your favourite merlot.
Apple sauce is lumpy and runny and falls off your spoon if you check your watch whilst eating it.
Apple butter is smooth and spreads thick over toast. When you take that first bite, one should taste crisp autumn mornings and hay rides through the changing trees.
Traditionally, the preparation of apple butter was a weekend long community event. It all started early in the morning when the men would harvest several bushels of apples and then, as far as I could find, their work was done.
The boys would gather firewood to heat the large copper kettles and then, as far as I could find, their work was done.
The mothers peeled and sliced the apples. These were still the days when knives were used instead of peelers. My mother used to peel apples this way and told me that whatever letter the discarded apple peel most resembled was the first initial of the person whom you will marry.
I reckon that when the women were busy cutting off their fingers from peeling the apples while the men were lounging in hammocks, the women were secretly checking out the letters made by the peels to see who they should have actually married.
The cut apples were then thrown into the heated copper kettles while the girls took turns stirring with large wooden paddles and gossiping about Helga’s new bonnet.
It was important that the apples be stirred constantly or else they would burn and the whole town would take the girl in charge and put her in a stock and throw cream pies at her face.
The women would then spice the mixture with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Requiring to be stewed all day, I imagine the aroma filled the town air with sweet incense comforting the souls.
When the sky was overcome by the colours of the setting sun, the apple butter was done and all the men got off their hammocks to come down to the copper pot for the first taste.
In October, many “historic” towns around the US have apple butter festivals where they roll out the copper kettles and throw a party. There was a big festival in a country town close to where I grew up.
They had two big events a year, one when the maple syrup was harvested and the other when it was time to make apple butter. My memories of apple butter come from when my family attended this festival. Memories so strong that, despite not having apple butter for at least twenty years, I still fantasize about it.
A few weeks ago when the kids came home from a walk through the bush loaded with apples they had picked from the neighbouring orchard, apple butter nostalgia took the best of me.
I pulled out my copper kettle (a.k.a. the slow cooker) and set out to peeling the apples with a knife (a.k.a. the peeler) and gossiping about Helga’s new bonnet (a.k.a. watching Golden Girls).
Sixteen hours later, the apples morphed into a deep golden brown butter with a slight hint of red. It was so thick it could be cut with a knife and the smell of cinnamon filled the kitchen.
I was so excited and proud to share this memory with those I love, however the three jars still sit unopened in the refrigerator because those I love are too afraid to try it. Those I love that smother bread with the foul Aussie tradition that is Vegemite won’t spread their toast with the sweet memories of my childhood.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I used jars labeled “Strong Pickled Onions”?