Every October for the past three years, I’ve celebrated the setting of summer and the dawning of autumn with a fresh batch of apple butter, using local apples picked from the orchards my grandfather once tended in central Pennsylvania. By returning to the same trees and recipe each year, I feel that, if only for a moment, I can form a fleeting connection with the man I never met, and with a local heritage that is ever-present, but so easily ignored.
If you ask the locals about apple butter’s origins, you’d undoubtedly be told that this sweetly tart and autumnally complex condiment/side dish/ingredient was invented right here in Pennsylvania Dutch country. And, while I (a lifelong advocate for local apple butter pride) would love for this to be true, a little kitchen excavation would show that apple butter’s history extends quite a bit farther than the arrival of Germanic immigrants to the Americas. In fact, many historians believe that the magical art of slowly transforming fruits into spreadable
preserves actually dates back to our friends the Greeks and Romans (though whether they preserved apples is up for debate). From what we can know for certain, apple butter was undoubtedly devised (or perfected) in Europe during the Middle Ages. The Deutsch settlers in Pennsylvania brought this fantastic autumn recipe with them in the early 18th century CE, where apple butter making became a community event. During the apple harvest season (usually in October) large copper pots were filled with apples and cider and had to be continually tended, stirred, and fussed over for days at a time! Now, several hundred years later, the invention of the slow cooker (or crock pot) can save us some of the time and much of the hassle when it comes to making apple butter (not having to stoke a fire for several days is more than fine by me)! Now, bear in mind that the alchemical art of making apple butter is, even now, a slower process than most modern bakers are used to. But, once you bear witness to apples melting before your very eyes, you’ll understand why Pennsylvania Dutch apple butter is worth the wait!
Crock Pot Apple Butter
Yields approximately 3 pints of apple butter
- 6 pounds of peeled, cored apples (any baking apples will do – try experimenting with different varieties to find the blend that you like best!)
- 2 cups of sugar (depending on your apples, this amount can be increased or decreased to taste)
- 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Thinly slice the apples and place in a large bowl.
- In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt together until well blended.
- Pour the sugar and spice mixture over the apples and stir until the apples are evenly coated.
- Place the apples in a slow cooker that can hold at least 4 quarts. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour.
- Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 – 12 hours, stirring occasionally.
- When the mixture is a thick, dark brown sauce, uncover and cook for at least 1 more hour, or until it has reached your preferred consistency. Allowing the butter to cook for additional time will result in a thicker, more buttery spread.
- If you are canning your apple butter, scoop the mixture into sterile jars and submerge in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
- If you aren’t canning your apple butter, scoop the mixture into sterile containers and refrigerate or freeze.
- Enjoy an unmatched taste of Pennsylvanian autumn!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s look into Pennsylvania’s traditional autumn delight. Hopefully you’ll join in and celebrate this fantastic season with a taste of fresh apples that will last all the way until next October! And be sure to stop by the dig this Tuesday for a breakfast recipe that just might incorporate some of this fresh autumnal apple butter!