I have always loved apple butter. Slow cooked apples, caramelized and reduced to create a smooth, thick consistency and blended with various fall spices. A small taste of heaven in a spread. Thus, I could not refuse the opportunity to make apple butter, the traditional way, in a rural field using only fire, copper kettles, wooden paddles and pure man power.
Batesville, a small town south of Charlottesville, has for many a year hosted “Apple Butter Days.” Using local apples donated from Chiles Orchard, volunteers can participate in all aspects of the process, from the peeling to the stirring and the canning. Peeling occurs on a mid-October Saturday afternoon with the stirring quickly to follow, continuing overnight and culminating with a Sunday morning pancake breakfast before the canning.
Hayley, our Produce Manager, and I excitedly drove down to Batesville to participate in a two hour stirring shift. We arrived just as the first batch of freshly peeled apples had been added to the kettles. After a brief instructional period, “stroke a figure eight to avoid scorching…when steam develops, add more apples…and if you hear a scratching along the bottom, those are just the pennies doing their work.” “Pennies?” I asked. “To prevent unnecessary scorching but removed before canning.” And then we began and what hard work! Hayley and I made executive decisions to add more apples when the steam developed and to our chagrin, the churning only became harder! Like The Little Engines that Could, we persevered and upon completion of our shift, we were proud stewards of the cauldron. Although tired and ready for relief, we could not wait for our return the following morning.
Sunday morning found the cauldrons full of thick, smooth, apple greatness! Stirring throughout the night had been a success and after delicious pancakes (served with none other than last year’s apple butter!), volunteers added sugar and spices to the cauldrons. An assembly line of canning began, and by Sunday afternoon, over 150 gallons of apple butter had been jarred. My most favorite part? Scraping the warm apple butter off the bottom of a nearly empty cauldron with fresh bread. Delicious.
During our time in Batesville I kept asking volunteers: “What is your most favorite way to eat apple butter?” One man said he loves his mom’s sweet potato pancakes with a healthy dollop of this heavenly spread. Another volunteer enjoys creating a glaze for his pork tenderloin. Personally, I love mixing apple butter in oatmeal or plain yogurt.
At Feast! we carry MeadowCroft Farm Old Fashioned Kettle Apple Butter. Delicious in every way, I love any opportunity to create a café special using this product. And with the incredible selections at our cheese and charcuterie counter, creating pairings is such a treat. My favorite? French ham and Gruyere panini with sliced local apples, apple butter and olive oil. Another Favorite? Grilled Quebec cheddar and apple butter sandwich on whole wheat.
After a weekend of making apple butter in the traditional way, I not only continue to love the spread but now have a greater appreciation of the product. And as I have recently found, with a little creativity, apple butter can be used in many applications. For Christmas dinner, I just might have to try the volunteer’s suggestion of apple butter glazed pork tenderloin….