It may be safely said that applebutter is an American dish, and specialized still more, a Pennsylvania German one. Rarely do we hear of applebutter being made in the Southern or New England States, in the early part of the nineteenth century. In Pennsylvania, however, as the apples turned rosy red in the fall, the thoughts of farmers turned to applebutter, and in many cases the making of it was the excuse for a regular frolic, a welcome change in the monotonous life of the farmer's family.
Apple Butter Making
The preparations for this began the day before, when the cider was made, cider being, one might say, the all-important part of applebutter. No cider mills (of the kind we have to-day, scattered throughout the country) existing, many farmers had their own mills. The apples, good sound ones, were placed in a hopper and ground by horse-power. Nearby stood a large platform with grooves running parallel with the four sides, and an outlet to one of the grooves. The platform was covered with clean rye straw, laid heads in, butts out, the straw overlapping the edges for some distance. Now the ground pulp was placed on the straw and the ends of the straw folded over, then another layer of straw extending over the same way, and another layer of pulp until the desired height was reached. This mass was then covered with wooden planks. Now a heavy beam was made to exert the beverage by means of a wooden screw, eight feet or so long, attached to it. and the pressure thus obtained caused the juice of the apple pulp to filter through the rye straw, and come out comparatively clear. Running around the grooves to the outlet the juice or cider went through a large wooden funnel into barrels placed beneath.
The first part of the preparation was over; now for the second. On the morning of the day appointed for the applebutter making, the cider was put on to boil in two copper kettles, one very large, one smaller. The kettles hung side by side, over a fire built of wood on the ground, suspended by chains attached to a wooden framework. Two barrels of cider was the usual quantity used, and this was boiled down to one barrel, the large kettle being constantly replenished from the smaller one, as the cider grew thicker and the small one in turn from the clear juice in the barrels, until finally all the cider was contained in the large kettle.
About 6 o'clock in the evening the invited lads and lassies began to arrive for the frolic which was the third stage of the applebutter making. After greetings were exchanged they were conducted by the mistress of the house to the parlor, a sacred room little used except on state occasions. Here the floor, scrubbed white as white could be, was laid out in sand, in intricate patterns of flowers, a lost art nowadays, but one in which the housewives of those days were experts. After proudly displaying her handiwork, the house frau threw open another room, where the guests settled down to business, namely, the paring of the apples which were to go into the cider. After about seven bucketsful of apples had been pared, cake and wine were served to the jolly company. Meantime the apples were put into the cider which was now hot, over the built-up fire. The sanded flowers on the parlor floor were then unceremoniously swept together, only enough sand being left on the floor to render it in proper condition for dancing, it being customary to sand floors for that purpose then as we wax them during the present day. Now the fun was at its height, the couples dancing round the cleared room with light hearts as well as light feet. The first part of the night the boys took turns at stirring the contents of the copper kettle outside. This stirring had to be clone constantly to prevent burning. The stirrer itself was a curious article consisting of an inverted "T"-shaped paddle in which holes were bored so as to make its progress easier through the apples and cider. To this inverted "T"- shaped piece was attached a crank, on the end of which was a handle, sometimes fifteen feet long. When this handle was operated it caused the paddle to have a continuous rotary motion. The length was necessary because of the heat, and spitting and spluttering of the applebutter as it cooked. As the night advanced and sentiment grew apace, a boy and girl would go out together to stir the applebutter and sometimes these absences were noticeably long. As dawn appeared in the sky and the sun showed his face, the dark mass in the kettle was pronounced thoroughly cooked, the fire extinguished and the weary but happy couples wended their way toward their respective homes.
Source: Mrs. Laura H. Strawn, Quakertown, PA. (Doylestown Meeting, During Old Home Week, June 12, 1912.)
Colonial Sense: Food and Farming: Apple
Colonial Sense: Recipes: Apple Butter I (earliest recipe available)
Colonial Sense: Recipes: Apple Butter II
Colonial Sense: Recipes: Apple Butter III (without cider)
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