Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Easy Old Fashioned Apple Butter

Old-Fashioned Apple Butter

     The apple on the teacher’s desk symbolizes the beginning of lessons for the school year in rural America.

     This was my thought when I walked by an old apple tree that has stood beside a one-room schoolhouse in Landis Valley for, I wonder, how long. Recently, Dean bought us a year pass so we can walk among the nostalgic village of Landis Valley whenever we are up that way.
     Some of today’s photographs were taken there. I hope the pictures bring you the same moments of peaceful repose that come to me when I look at them. 

     I’m sitting in the attic office/sewing room eating a juicy sweet-tart Pennsylvania apple and getting the keys of my lap-top sticky. This is one consequence of writing a post in September. It brings Little Women to mind, when Meg goes looking for Jo, who is sitting in the quiet attic reading and eating a good supply of apples  – one of Jo’s favorite pastimes. When she turns the pages of her book does she make any applely thumbprints?


     During the months of the slow and steady writing of my story, Lessons at Blackberry Inn, I had purchased a set of blue and white plates - off a remainders’ shelf – “Charles Wysocki Americana” by Nikko. One chilly evening, with supper roasting in the oven and the table set, I sat down at the table to get off my feet. In that idle moment of rest I stared down at a dinner plate. Its idyllic scene started me daydreaming – about the quaint but perpetually hardworking country life. 

     An orchard laden with apples, peers out from the background. In the foreground – almost too tiny to see with glasses - is a semi-circle of ladies in aprons probably peeling apples. Dominating the scene is a wooden barn with a sign boasting “Delicious Homemade Apple Butter.”

     In early America homemakers were busy preserving apples, drying and canning them. For pioneers living far from any general store, apples were often the only way to sweeten a meal – all winter – as table sugar was dear. When a little sugar is added to the apple – flavor is enhanced – as in the making of applesauce, apple pie, apple fritters, Dutch-oven apple bread, and apple dumplings - all a common occurrence in domestic productively.

Pennsylvania Vegetable Garden at the End of Summer

     Apple cider and apple butter were made in community. These social gatherings gave the participants more than food storage. They kept up friendships and helped reduce loneliness. A stay-at-home mom with young children can relate to a similar feeling of isolation. I remember well.   
Ripening On the Garden Fence

     The painting “Apple Butter Making” by Grandma Moses also warmed up my imagination. It helped me write the chapter where my characters take part in the apple butter festival in the village square of the little town of Appleton. If you think Blackberry Inn sounds corny – it is – but I hope you will also find the story encouraging to a lifestyle of home learning. In Grandma Moses’ painting we get a glimpse of one of a variety of activities from her 19th century childhood when work was accompanied by play. In her autobiography, My Life’s History she wrote, “The apple butter was considered a necessity.”  

Purple Asters 
      I provide a traditional recipe for making apple butter at the back of Blackberry Inn. Other recipes enable you to cook the same food my character Carol serves in the story. I’m typing out the short-cut version for apple butter for you here.

Karen A’s 
Old Fashioned Apple Butter

4 cups of unsweetened applesauce
1 cup of apple cider
2/3 of a cup of root beer

Added to the finish: 
A pinch of ground cloves, nutmeg and allspice
Two pinches of cinnamon

     The root beer flavors and sweetens the recipe sufficiently so that no sugar is needed. This recipe makes one and a half cups.

     To speed up the process you could boil the apple cider rapidly for 30 minutes on the stove, to reduce it before adding it to the Crock-Pot. I combined all the ingredients in the Crock-Pot at once the day I was expecting overnight company, because I wanted to make a good start on the other cooking I had to do that morning. I simmered the first 3 ingredients most of the day on low heat, stirring now and again.

Rosy Cheeked Apples  

     The way to tell when the apple butter is ready is to drop a spoonful on the center of a saucer and tilt. If the butter is runny, it needs more cooking time. When done, it should be thick and have taken on a rich dark color.

     Twenty minutes before I remove the apple butter from the Crock-Pot, I add my spices. I use all of the pumpkin pie spices but ginger. The root beer I use is Virgil’s micro-brewed. It is flavored with anise and wintergreen. 
     Keep your jar of homemade apple butter in the refrigerator.

Until next time,
Karen Andreola 


  1. It sounds such a delicious recipe and your whole post is just drenched in the cosiness of autumn. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Blackberry Inn corny? I don't think so, I truly enjoyed reading it!
    We are getting some fall-like weather here in Western Washington, which is a nice change after a long sunny, warm summer.
    I hope to make a batch of applesauce this afternoon, using a big box of Honeycrisp apples we purchased over the weekend!


  3. I always LOVE reading that part about the apple butter making in Lessons! :) Can you substitute pear sauce??? I made a lot after I was gifted a huge box of pears! :)

  4. I'm reading your comments in the parlor. The window is open. The "morns are meeker" to borrow the words of Emily Dickenson. Our cool air mixed with summer sunshine made a refreshing combination this afternoon while I sat on the patio knitting. Thank you for the chat, making the day even more pleasant.

    A friend of mine makes pear butter with the pears she is given annually - off a neighbor's trees that are in abundance. She uses lemon as a flavoring.
    Another friend of mine (25 years ago, now) was given pears and she made pear pie just as she would apple pie. I was offered a slice and found it delicious.

    Karen A.

  5. I'm glad to have your recipe for apple butter. It's my favorite thing to eat with biscuits.

    I adored Blackberry Inn! I hope that you eventually write a third sequel. Hint Hint. :)

  6. On our walk this morning, my husband and I saw a red oak that has already begun to turn. So very lovely. I am always filled with anticipation this time of year.

    After we returned home, my husband asked, "Do you think it'll be cool enough for chili anytime soon?" Sounds like I'm not the only one filled with anticipation!


  7. I must testify that we have thankfully had our share of apples this year, and I have found myself seeking for some new ways to preserve them. I should try this apple butter recipe, the root beer addition intriques me.

  8. We are blessed to have a neighbor that has a crab apple tree and he doesn't want the crab apples so he lets us pick them.
    Normally we feed them to our mini horses because they are too tart to eat, but this year because we had so much sun (Nadine, I'm also in Western WA) the tiny apples are sweeter and this recipe might work for them.

    I always love when I see that there is an update from Moments with Mother Culture in inbox...it's always a reminder to breathe deeply and slow down.

  9. Sounds yummy! I will try this, and love that it's a crock pot recipe. Yesterday I bought pumpkin spice Glade oil candle refills. When I burned one last night, the house smelled so "fall." Love this season!

  10. This is a post that is full of beauty in pictures and a blog that is enjoyable to peruse. *smile* Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experiences, and recipies with all of us. Have a great day. Sincerley, Mommy of two growing blessings & so much more!

  11. I love Landis Valley! We find ourselves there usually in the Spring on Charter Day but perhaps we need to make an Autumn visit, too!

    I haven't done applesauce for a few years but perhaps this year I should make some again - we like the local, old Smokehouse apples for our sauce!

    I loved Blackberry Inn. And I like Farrah's hinting of a third book.

    Happy Autumn, friend!

  12. As I bite into a farm fresh apple, I recall the adage "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Thanks for a blog that combines sound advice about learning and a healthy lifestyle. Well done--your posts "wear well."

  13. The pictures you post are always so peaceful and interesting! I loved Blackberry Inn and was just thinking about it earlier this week and how I would like to re-read it, along with Pocketful, very soon. I agree with the other posters - I'd love to see a 3rd book in the series!

  14. A crab apple tree is prized for its gorgeous deep pink blossoms. There was an ancient one at the end of our road in Appleton. It wasn't tall but its "wing span" was almost bigger than the little house it stood beside. It never failed to impress me in spring- so I wrote a mention of one in my story. The old-fashioned breeds have little apples but they were bigger than marbles and homemakers would make jelly out of them. Only the ornamental crab apples with the tiniest of fruit are sold in the nurseries today.

    The mention of eating chili made me smile because every autumn a friend of mine in Maine (Mrs. C.) would hold a family-style Chili Party in her backyard. (It was certainly chili enough to wear mittens.) Mr. C. lit a bonfire. Each guest brought either a Crock-Pot of chili, corn bread, salad, or cookies and apple cider. We ate in the dark, on lawn chairs with the children sitting on logs, around the glow of the fire. Mr. C. played his guitar and we sang some hymns before we said our good-nights.

    So glad you like my stories.

    Thank you,
    Karen A.

  15. A perfect autumn activity and yummy one too. Thank you for sharing! Clarice

  16. Dear Karen,

    What wonderful memories, and beautiful plate! September is so wonderful, after a hot summer of hiding inside the house! I just bought an aster plant from my local nursery that I hope will be as beautiful as the ones in your photo next year.


  17. I love apple butter. I have made it once and should really make a habit of it. And I do not think that Blackberry Inn is corny. I love that book. It always inspires me in homemaking.

  18. The chili party sounds so lovely. Gives me an idea! I just loved your book, and if it's corny, it is in the same way that Understood Betsy is. A little idealistic perhaps, but in a good way: lovely and inspiring.

  19. You've spurred me to re-read your stories this fall...corny? Not at all! Love them. :)

  20. Apples.

    Oh yes.

    "drenched in the coziness of Autumn" as your reader Lucy says it;-) true indeed.

    This was a lovely read today as we celebrate the first week of Autumn.

    I'm certain I would not do well in a climate that doesn't embrace the four seasons. I don't have a favorite because I enjoy them all in their own time.

    I found myself daydreaming of creating an atmosphere in my home more like the homely kitchen in your top photo. So warm. And just what my southern soul longs for.

    I share this fondness of blue and white too:-)

    Your campfire and chili story swoons my heart. And the reader who commented about making pear butter...sounds yummy. I had a friend gift me with some last Christmas. I remember thinking what a fine idea this was.

    I suppose the man-of-the-house will be winding his summer days down at the local market now, and embracing all things autumn for his lady. My heart is always warmed when you post what he has brought home for you.

    Happy Autumn Mrs. Andreola.

  21. Your recipe sounds nice and easy.
    There is nothing corny about your stories. They are nostalgic and touch a place in the heart of many homeschooling mamas.