YIPPEE, you came back! You must really want to learn how to make homemade apple butter in the slowest fashion ever. Even if the only reason to make this old school style of apple butter is to gather up your favorite people and make some memories, it’s worth it.
For everyone else with diced apples, flames whipping around in the cold early morning air and Fireball shots ready, let’s make some apple butter!
To start the pot in the morning: dump in a couple bowls of peeled, cored, chopped apples and 15 pennies or half a dozen peach pits. Then place the pot over a fire before 5 AM. As the apples cook down, add more chopped apples to the pot.
Forget the shots, how about scrapple flavored vodka straight from the bottle? Scapple is a breakfast food, right?
It should be noted that not every apple was used in the making of this apple butter, about 1/2 bushel went untouched. No worries, those babies need not go to waste. Use the leftovers to make Apple Pie, an Apple Cheddar Feta Crostata or Apple Cinnamon Pancakes.
Back to the churn, you want the apples to simmer throughout the cooking process. A rapid boil can be detrimental to the apples and anyone standing close to the fire. You’ll need your sense of sight for this job. Keep your eyes peeled on both the flames and the boil.
Start time is important. Although, you can begin the process before the sun comes up, you’ll want to finish before the sun goes down. The actual canning of the apple butter moves very fast. The light will go a long way in preventing the hot apple butter from ending up all over one’s skin.
Still, accidents can happen even under the bright rays of the sun. My cousin Valerie ladled hot butter onto her brother’s hand and we lost a few jars as a result. YIKES! I am sure it was just an accident. Or was it? (Insert eyebrow raise here.)
As the apples start to resemble apple butter, you know you’re nearing completion of the churn. It was around 3 pm when other ingredients came into play. The recipe for this West Virginia Apple Butter included granulated sugar, cinnamon oil and clove oil.
As I was told in a string of emails, “there is no recipe per se.” Rather, this part relies heavily on your sense of taste. With about an hour of cooking remaining, Betty Jean added (1) 4 pound bag of sugar. We then waited about 15 minutes and gave the butter a taste. The majority agreed another bag was warranted and so it was. Someone brought 5 or 6 bags of sugar in case more was needed.
The cinnamon oil and clove oil are only added just before the apple butter is ready for canning. To determine if the apple butter is ready is a two-step process. On a sturdy plate, add a spoonful of apple butter. If water pools around the butter, keep cooking and stirring. If no water is present, turn the plate upside down. If the apple butter sticks and doesn’t fall off the plate, the apple butter is ready for oil flavoring and then canning. Yes, this may not be a scientific way of determining if your apple butter is complete, but it works.
It’s Fireball time!
Betty Jean brought several .125 ounce containers of cinnamon and clove oil. Florence did the honors of adding these enhancements. Florence added 1 bottle of cinnamon oil, we stirred (we never stopped stirring) and we waited a few minutes. We then gave the butter another taste. Half a bottle of clove oil was also added, then another taste test. All in all, we added 2 bottles of cinnamon oil and 1/2 bottle of clove oil. Keep in mind, the flavors develop over time, so take your time adding these ingredients so as not to over-power the butter.
Now, gather up your canning tools and sterilize your jars and lids. This part of the day moves super fast. The heat from the apple butter helps seal the jars so it’s wise to can the butter hot. The quicker you move, the better off you will be or another step has to be added to the process. If the jars don’t seal properly, you’ll have to give the jars a hot water bath within a few hours to seal in freshness and guarantee shelf stability. My Aunt Shawn said she was up until midnight one year because the jars didn’t seal themselves.
To set up the canning operation, place a large enough table near the fire. You will be working with HOT apple butter, so wear protective gear. The West Virginia set up is as follows:
2-8 foot tables side by side next to the copper pot
A large pot of boiling water over a propane gas burner to sterilize the lids
A stick magnet to move the sterilized lids, those suckers will be hot!
Sterilized mason jars, you can sterilize them in the dishwasher or boiling water
Tongs to move the jars
Gloves for handling hot things
Rags to wipe down the bottles
A few baking sheets
Shots of Fireball, before and after the canning is complete!
Once the apple butter has passed the “plate turnover test” and all your supplies are ready and all the sober folks have been assigned their duties, the canning can begin.
Remember, MOVE QUICKLY! Set up the baking sheets with jars fitted with funnels. One person will ladle the butter into the jar while another person holds the tray. A third person will move the funnels around the jars as they fill up. A fifth person continues stirring the pot.
When all the jars are filled, take them back to the table. Wipe the jars clean with a towel, then tighten each jar with a sterile lid. Once the lid is secure, flip the jar upside down in a box. Repeat these steps until all the butter has been canned. The more participants at your Apple Butter Churn, the faster and more efficient the canning process will be.
Get the hose and a scrub brush ready for cleaning the pot as soon as the last of the apple butter has been jarred. A hot pot is an easier pot to clean.
SHOTS FOR EVERYONE!
Naming the $87 dollar jar of apple butter was fun. The final two choices were: Carry Underwoods Newest Tune and Round Bottom 2017. The first name wouldn’t fit on the label, so we chose Round Bottom 2017.
Why “Round Bottom 2017” you ask? I mentioned the flood of Apple Butter Churn emails early in the story and most of them came the week leading up to the big day. Anthony was updating everyone on the weather. The chance of rain was changing hourly and he was coming up with ideas for making this Apple Butter Churn work in the rain. There was talk about using a wood burning stove as a heat source, along with other ways to elevate the fire pit. The possible need for peat moss eluded me.
During the string of emails, Anthony reported he had borrowed a wood burning stove. The fact the copper pot had a rounded bottom and would not rest flat on the stove was never mentioned in response. Even if it had rained, the wood burning stove would remain a mere hand warming station. Talk about this round bottom pot and a borrowed wood burning stove became the center of several funny conversations.
I was lucky to be part of this dry Apple Butter Churn. Based on conversations I overheard, two of the last three churns were wet ones. However, as much as rain can put a damper on just about any outdoor activity, I think my first experience of an old-fashioned Apple Butter Churn would have been the same regardless of the weather. Pure enjoyment!
My mom and I had so much fun, we spent the hour plus ride home talking about getting ourselves one of those copper pots and hosting an Apple Butter Churn ourselves. Even if we happen to move forward with our plans for next year, I hope I am invited back to the West Virginia Tyree Kunze Apple Butter Churn for years to come.
Uncle Anthony: Fact checker, grammar monitor extraordinaire and the first person up that morning!
West Virginia Crew: Thank you for your expertise and the use of your equipment.
Uncle Tom: Kudos for keeping the tradition alive and authentic.
Aunt Sue and Aunt Shawn: DANKE for the delicious belly warming eats.
Scotty: Did you ever finish the scarf Kim “helped” you with?
Uncle Robert, Jake, Joe, Hannah, Kim, Crystal, Valerie, Zack, Mom, Neri, Maddox, Pinch (for the manual) and Jon: Give yourself a pat on the back for your stirring stick contributions, apple peeling expertise and great company.
SCOTTY’S DRUNK APPLE BUTTER SNACK:
Use a Ritz cracker as your base and spread on some peanut butter. Add a dollop of apple butter and Bon Appétit.