The Old-fashioned way of making Apple Butter

The cool days of autumn are a sign that it’s time to “put up” the last crops of vegetables and fruits of the year. It’s time to harvest pumpkins, apples, grapes and squash in preparation for winter.

Apple Butter and Bread

Apple Butter and Bread

Here in Amish Country, one of the traditional ways of preserving apples is to make apple butter. Yes, it’s possible to make apple butter in your kitchen, but it’s often an event for families to get together, visit, eat and stir a big batch of apple butter to share. My neighbors, the Harry and Kate Gerber family made it a priority every October to schedule a stirring where everyone, old and young,  chipped in the help prepare apples and then help stir the pot. It is an all-day affair.

Prepare the apples

According to June Miller, Harry and Kate’s daughter, the first step is to purchase the right kind of apple. Grimes Golden is the Gerber family pick, but they’ve tried blending other varieties to enhance the taste. Grimes Golden a yellow apple and is the perfect for apple for apple butter because it cooks down to a fine texture and is sweet. Although it can be used for eating, it’s also an excellent apple for pie baking.

The night before the Stirring, the family gets together to peel the apples (yes, done with an old-fashioned apple peeler). The peeled apples are quartered or cut in eighths if the apples are large. This is called schnitzing. The seeds are cut out and discarded and the apple slices are soaked in water overnight.

Stirring the Apple Butter

Apple Butter Stirring at Yoder's Amish Home, Walnut Creek, Ohio

Apple Butter Stirring at Yoder’s Amish Home, Walnut Creek, Ohio

It literally takes all day to make apple butter – the Gerbers start cooking at 7:00 or 7:30 in the morning. The soaking apple pieces are drained, then a copper kettle filled with 13 gallons of apples and 13 gallons of fresh water is set over the fire to cook…and cook…and cook. The kettle must be watched at all times so the apple butter does not burn.

A long-armed wooden paddle is used to stir the pot almost constantly for 8 or 9 hours. This is not a job for the weak and frail. It will work out your arms and back after a day of stirring!

When is the apple butter ready?

After the apple slices have cooked down into a fragrant brown sauce (you don’t want to see any pieces floating) it’s time to add brown sugar and white sugar. How much depends on how sweet you want your apple butter to be. It’s especially important to keep stirring the apple butter once the sugar is added because it will burn more quickly.

The apple butter is ready when it cooks down to exactly the right consistency. To test it the “Gerber way”, dip a spoonful of apple butter out of the kettle, let it cool slightly on the spoon and then tilt the spoon downward as if to empty it. If the apple butter slowly drops off the spoon with a “plop” (a very technical term), it’s finished and ready to take off the fire.

June recommends having some freshly baked butter bread ready to test taste and consistency of the apple butter as you go along. This is half the fun of the stirring!

After the apple butter is cooled, everyone brings their own jars to fill and take home for the year.

A recipe for a small batch of Apple Butter

Most of you won’t be stirring apple butter in a 30 gallon kettle, so we’ve included a recipe for a small batch you can make in your own kitchen. If you don’t want to schnitz apples, you can also cook apple butter directly from applesauce. It should cook faster that way.

APPLE BUTTER  – taken from Der Dutchman’s 1973 Cookbook
Contributed by Mrs. Ben D. Miller
3 gallons uncooked apple schnitz
8lbs white sugar
1 gallon Karo

Put all ingredients together and cook 3 hours with the lid on the pan. Take the apple butter off the heat and put through a sieve (such as a Victorio strainer). Return the apple butter to the pan and heat again. When the apple butter is thick, put in canning jars and seal.




Who is Eli Mose’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah?

Recently, I was invited to an estate auction for my Amish neighbor, Mosey S. Over the age of ninety when he passed, he had collected both a wealth of interesting household items and a large extended family of nephews, nieces, cousins, cousins once- or twice-removed and so on. Mose was a fine man and friend to everyone, evidenced by the many Amish and “English” neighbors, friends and church members in attendance. Everyone wanted to take home a memento of Mose.

I bought one item (inscribed with Mose’s signature), a genealogy book familiar to many people of either Amish or Mennonite ancestry – a 1938 edition of 1,391 page book, The Descendents of Barbara Hochstedler and Christian Stutzman. In this volume, I found both a fascinating snapshot of Amish pioneer life and almost endless lists of names of my relatives dating back to the early 1700’s. Why is this important to me? Because our culture values family and understanding where we have come from.

Family History is important

Family Bible

Amish and Mennonite families kept track of births, marriages and deaths in family Bibles such as this one.

Long before websites and television shows that show you how to look up your ancestors, the Amish and Mennonites kept track of their family histories. Almost every family had a Bible inscribed with the names of the husband and wife, date of marriage, children’s birthdays and possibly their spouses and marriage dates.

From these family records came large genealogies dating back to the early 1700’s when the first Amish left the persecution and wars of Europe for the religious freedom of The New World. We can’t begin to understand the courage of these people who left family and friends behind to carve out a new life in the deep woods of the American frontier.

Eli Moses’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah?

At Mosey’s auction, I ran into a local man who is known as Eli Moses’s Sam’s Henry’s Noah (that’s pronounced “NO-ee” if you’re in Amish Country). He was related to Mosey S. and inspired the writing of this blog post. That’s five generations of identification, all needed to swiftly and accurately identify one of many Noah Millers.

If you’ve ever looked through a phone book in any Mennonite or Amish community (or the Amish Directory for that matter), you’ll see that there is a concentration of surnames. Each community has more or less, but in Holmes County (Ohio), it’s Yoders, Millers, Hochstetlers, Troyers, Masts, Beachys, Hershbergers, Mullets, Kauffmans, Rabers, Gingerichs, and so on.

How many John Millers or Jonas Yoders might there be in our community? It’s hard to say – sometimes it causes issues. For example, if your name is Sam Troyer (names are made up to protect the guilty) and your neighbor up the road (also named Sam Troyer) doesn’t happen to pay his bills on time, you might be out of luck if you call the local grain elevator to deliver a batch of cattle feed. So, you might call yourself by your father’s or grandfather’s name, such as “Jake Eli’s Sam”. Ah, yes. Now you’ve established EXACTLY who you are. The cattle feed will be promptly delivered.

Or, you might have a nickname, such as ‘Bama Dan or “Pretty Mose”. It can be assumed that Dan visited Alabama at some point in time, hence the ‘Bama nickname. Pretty Mose used to keep his beard neat and trimmed, and therefore was “pretty”. John Schmid, a local musician and evangelist often sings a song that describes this phenomena pretty well. It’s in Pennsylvania Dutch, but you won’t have to speak the language to understand the names he’s listing. John’s song is called Amish Nicknames. It makes me smile, and I bet you’ll enjoy it too.