Mary Meighen (Vicki Benson) and Martha (Jette Berken) peel apples for apple butter in the farmyard Saturday at Historic Forestville during the village's annual Apple Butter Day event.
Mary Meighen (Vicki Benson) and Martha (Jette Berken) peel apples for apple butter in the farmyard Saturday at Historic Forestville during the village's annual Apple Butter Day event.
First they spike the fruit, then they paddle it.

How sweet it is...

"You can use any apples for apple butter - you can't be a chooser when it comes to using up the spare apples. Besides, they'll all be cooked down by two-thirds to the natural sugar," said Historic Forestville site manager Sandy Scheevel, addressing visitors to the village during Apple Butter Day, held Saturday as the site's final interpretive program of the year, sharing the process of making apple butter, the pioneer's choice of spread for everyday winter dining, as jams and jellies were saved for more auspicious occasions.

"We get our apples from the orchard up the road and from Preston," she explained.

The apple cider used to make the spread was pressed from apples put through the apple press during the village's annual Harvest Day event, and the brew that begins the apple butter-making process was placed in a copper kettle over a smoky fire two to three days before the actual cooking day, after which apples would be peeled and added to the pot as it boiled and simmered.

Peeling apples with newfangled contraptions made adding an apple to the kettle so much easier - apple peelers purchased for "40 cents plus shipping," nearly a whole day's wages, put a spin on how quickly they could core and cut apples for the spicy brown butter. The ladies simply put an apple onto the peeler's coring spikes, turned the wheel, and voila, the peels rolled right off and the slices swiveled into the stoneware bowl.

"Tinkers developed things like this after the Industrial Revolution, and they're real timesavers for us ladies who have to be in the kitchen most of the day," Scheevel stated.

The long, slow work of stirring the copper kettle with a five-foot-long wooden paddle continued throughout the day until the apple butter was thick enough to stay put on an inverted plate.

The vintage recipe for apple butter reads: "Boil one barrel of new cider down half, peel and core three bushels of good cooking apples. When the cider has boiled to half the quantity, add the apples, and when soft, stir constantly for eight to 10 hours. If done, it will adhere to an inverted plate. Put away in stone jars (not earthenware), covering first with writing paper cut to fit the jar, and press down closely upon the apple butter; cover the whole with thick brown paper tied snugly down."

"Apple butter was a traditional food annually made on 19th century farms," noted Historic Forestville site supervisor John Grabko.

"Apple butter was cheap to make and was traditionally the spread of choice, because in the 19th century, jams and jellies were often reserved for cakes."

He said the whole process of making the spread was often a family or even a community affair. "Folks would have time to socialize while peeling apples and continuously stirring the pot. Many 19th century farms grew apples, and this was a way of preserving them over long months for later consumption," noted Grabko.

"At Historic Forestville, we bring this tradition back to life, with the sights, sounds and tart-sweet smells of the peeling and rendering of apples - the smoky smell of the fire, the social interaction of staff and visitors alike - all in the 19th century tradition of a cool autumn day."