Sweet Steam

A Copper Kettle, Four Bushels of Apples and a Steam Engine Combine for some Fine Apple Butter

| July/August 2003

Back in good ol' days: Three kettles of apple butter steam along at an apple butter party at the late Hugh Hartzell's farm in October 1964. From left to right are Charlie Ditmer, Harold Ary, Glen Halley, Harold Mote and Hugh Hartzell. The fellow sitting on the Baker's bunkers is unidentified.

One of the nice things about a publication such as this is that it is a good place to record old time ways of doing things. I have seen very little published about making apple butter with steam, so I thought I should add my experiences and maybe prompt some discussion concerning this activity.

Before we get into details, we need to note that making apple butter is one of those 'men' activities, like putting steaks on the barbeque. Only real men would stand around a hot grill on a hot day in the sun cooking steaks. Likewise, only real men would stand around a tub of hot, boiling apple butter on a cold autumn day with the north wind blowing. Now, preparing the apples for use can, and usually does, involve members of the fairer sex, but the actual action that culminates in the concoction is performed by men.

So, why use steam to heat apple butter? As you may know, making apple butter with a fire under a kettle requires constant stirring, or the apple butter will get scorched. Steam, on the other hand, does not get so hot that it will burn the apple butter, so no one needs to stir the mixture. This is even better than grilling where you only turn the steaks once - you don't even have to stir the apple butter. What could be better?

A word of caution, however, and that is you must have a sufficient number of friends and acquaintances to give your apple butter to. If you are a loner, you better love apple butter on everything from sandwiches to grits to steak.


You must have the proper apparatus to make quality apple butter. You will need: a 25-gallon copper kettle, a copper heating coil for use in the kettle, one aged steam engine, piping to transmit steam from the boiler to the copper coil, and a sufficient number of men to talk to. Copper kettles are hard to find, and I don't know if a substitute can be used (maybe a reader can address this point?). If you don't have one, ask around to see if anyone will loan you one.