Appalachia Profiles of Mountain People

Making Apple Butter 1892

best apple butter recipe

Excerpt from Snowbird Gravy and Dishpan Pie written by Patsy Moore Ginns

During the Depression, you had  no money to amount to anything and you couldn’t get sugar. And you couldn’t get much flour. I remember my mother cooked apples. We had lots of apples, sweet apples. And in cooking apples, she used apple cider to sweeten them. Cook it down. And she always saved a cupful of sugar. Somebody might get sick, so we always had a cupful of sugar. But it was hard to get. When they were sick, we’d use it to sweeten tea or something of that kind.

She made apple butter with the cider and molasses. I remember we had a great big pot that they used to make the apple butter with. And they had a cane mill to make the syrup. They used lots of spices. Make it like you would apple sauce. Kept stirring. Did it outside. Used a big old washpot. They boiled clothes in that pot and then they’d clean that pot and make apple butter in it. Used syrup and spice.

Now this cane they used for molasses is not regular sugar cane. It’s molasses cane. And they had a press that it ran through that was turned by horses. They caught the juice and put it in the evaporator and boiled it down till it made syrup.

Kate Hayes 1892 Cherokee County




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  • Reply
    September 3, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I never thought of making apple butter in my crockpot – thanks for that idea, Gayle Larson!

  • Reply
    Laura Haggarty
    September 3, 2017 at 8:11 am

    There’s a recipe for Apple Stack Cake in Ronni Lundy’s book “Victuals” that I’ll bet is pretty close to what you remember Jan. It’s a great book, filled with recipes from Appalachia.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 7:50 pm

    So good to know these things, living in an age when so many people complain about a remote control that doesn’t work, isn’t it.
    When tough times come, we tough with know-how WILL survive, and maybe we’ll be able to help others pull through too.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Elaine Napier
    September 2, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    My mother made apple butter,but for the life of me,I can’t remember how she did it.We did all our canning out in the front yard over an open fire,generally in a galvanized tub.What I do remember is having fried apples,probably in the early summer while they were still “green”. Mom would slice them up ,peelings and all and fry them up with some sugar and I assume some lard,we rarely had butter.Wonderful sweet,tart flavor. There was an apple orchard on up in the holler from our house.Don’t know who planted it,but it was mature,land all cleared out and had about a dozen apple trees.Loved playing there with Dad’s Beagles.And while I’m yammering on,if you ever do a thing on honey bees and finding bee trees,I have a great story that I just learned from my brothers.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 2, 2017 at 11:53 am

    I have that book. It is a joy to read. It’s just too short and doesn’t cover enough Appalachian stories, words and ways. There’s one thing I didn’t notice when I read it but did when I read it in your post today. It begins “During the Depression” and ends with “1892 Cherokee County”. Obviously she is not referring to the Great Depression of 1929 if she told the story in 1892. Or the date should be 1982? But the book wasn’t published until 1982.
    I realize there were depressions before 1929. The next worst one according to experts was in 1893 which was the year after the story was given. And who is Kate Hayes, the progenitor of the story? It gets curiouser and curiouser don’t it?
    Anyhow, I love apple butter! They sell something called apple butter in stores (sometimes) but it ain’t nothing but applesauce with caramel color added to make it appear to be the real thing. They add a few spices to try to make it taste right but it don’t work. So I make my own!
    I start with very sweet apples and cook them, covered, on the stove top for several days at very low heat. I don’t add a sweetener until the apple butter is thick enough to stand a spoon up in the center of the pot. Quite often it needs no sweetening at all. If it does, I use brown sugar or corn syrup. I don’t add cider and don’t understand why anyone would. I add spices to taste right before it is ready to jar. Too much cooking concentrates (sometimes kills) the taste of the spices.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    September 2, 2017 at 11:04 am

    It was not the late 1800’s but we did the big washpot apple cooking, applesauce, apple butter, and lots of really rich molasses apple butter for my grandmother’s famous apple stack cake which cannot be repeated by anyone in the family for taste. I can taste the spices now. Boy, did we peel apples for days. Good days, too, and food for the winter for all the family. Jan

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 10:42 am

    I enjoyed the excerpt from Miss Ginns about the Depression. Lordy, I’ve heard my daddy and mama tell stories of the Great Depression and all the hobos they fed when they lived in the Nantahala Gorge.
    I will never forget mama telling the story of her Uncle Hoyle. They were all eating and after everyone had finished, mama asked her Uncle if she could fix him another plateful. After he looked around and mama brought him a clean plate, he said “I’ll have some more of that Sorgham and Biscuits.” …Ken

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 9:55 am

    The pot was lined with brass
    The outside was black as sin
    But no one could counter or pass
    The love contained within…

  • Reply
    eva m. wike
    September 2, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Tipper: We will be over to Clay County this weekend for a family gathering. BUT i will just be over and back in the same day! Our son is taking us so he will drive those crooked roads – which will be a relief for me! Hope your SEPTEMBER is just perfect!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    September 2, 2017 at 9:36 am

    Making apple butter outside is the best! Stirring the apples and smelling the spicy autumn smells. I love apple butter and everyone in my family looks forward to eating it. I wish I had one of those big copper pots to make it in.

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Daddy loved apple butter and always made sure we had a big jar. He used to buy the store bought kind when Mom’s homemade batch ran out. They used to sell it in half gallon jars.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    September 2, 2017 at 7:56 am

    How I love my Applebutter.
    The slow cooker sure has made it so much easier to whip up a batch in a day.
    Makes just enough for us for the winter and a few to give to the neighbors.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 2, 2017 at 7:51 am

    My cousin makes apple butter in exactly the same way. They have a huge copper kettle with paddles the size of oars. It is a fascinating process. They do use propane instead of a wood gire though

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 2, 2017 at 6:44 am

    Makes me stop and think! If I want sugar I go to the grocery and buy a 5 pound bag, no problem, it’s always there. Life was simpler them but not easy to live. No electronics but also no power. In some ways life was simpler and in some ways it was hard.
    Thanks for the perspective , Tip!

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