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.
The copper coil we use is simply -inch copper tubing coiled to
fit onto the bottom of the kettle and with valves plumbed to each
end. The tubing drops into the center of the kettle, runs to the
edge and then coils from the outside edge of the kettle (allowing
about 1-inch of space between successive coils) until it reaches
the center (see photo at top). The tubing then comes up from the
bottom of the kettle to a valve fitted with a pipe nipple, to which
a hose is attached to exhaust steam away from the kettle. Remember:
Never use lead solder on any part of the apparatus.
The steam engine provides steam for heating the apple butter,
and the piping connects the boiler to the coil. We always set the
copper kettle on half of a 55-gallon drum to raise it off the
ground to a convenient height, being careful not to punch a hole in
the copper kettle. It’s also a good idea to place the kettle
under the cover of a building to keep dirt, soot and leaves out of
the kettle during cooking – and to keep the men out of the
You will also need a sufficient quantity of clean mason jars and
lids to hold the final product. If you finish with 15 gallons of
apple butter, you will need 60 one-quart jars or 120 one-pint jars.
A large funnel and ladles will help you fill the jars. And
remember, the apple butter will be very hot, so you will need a
supply of hot pads and towels to clean up spills.
The recipe we used was the same one the late Hugh Hartzell of
Darke County, Ohio, used.
Hugh Hartzell (left) and Lloyd Seman grinding apple slices with
an electric meat grinder. Do you suppose the cigar adds flavor?
The four bushels of apples are peeled, cored and ground to make
the snits, which are the ground up apples and any accompanying
apple juice. This is where the women come in. We used mechanical,
hand-powered apple peelers to peel the apples, and hand-operated
corers to core the apples. It did not take long with three peelers
and corers operating to process the apples. But then, I was with
the steam engine, so I don’t know how long it took. Following
that, we ground the apple flesh through a commercial-type meat
grinder to produce the snits.
First, spray the interior of the copper kettle and coil with a
non-stick baking preparation like PAM. This will make cleanup much
easier and the women will be thankful for your thoughtfulness.
With a properly fired-up steam engine, pour the 20 gallons of
cider into the kettle. Then, when the women are not looking, use a
clean pine stick as a depth gauge and mark the height of the cider
on the stick. Measure one-half of the depth and mark that. You are
going to concentrate the cider by boiling it to half its starting
depth. Adjust the steam flow until you see a rolling boil.
When you have concentrated the cider to half its volume, it is
time to add the snits. These are simply dumped in the kettle and
the mixture is again boiled. At this point the cooking snits are
lightly colored, just like regular cooked apples.
Apple butter will keep without refrigeration because it does not
have enough moisture in it to support microbial growth, so you boil
the mixture until liquid no longer separates from the solids of the
mixture. It gradually becomes thicker as water is evaporated. When
you can take a spoonful of the cooking mixture and no water
separates from the solids, you can add the sugar. The apple butter
will now begin to appear as the brownish mixture you see in jars.
Feel free to taste it, because you may want to add more sugar or
cinnamon. At this point, some homemade bread and butter would be
useful as a toast to success.
When done, turn off the steam and remove the coil from the
kettle. You can now scoop the apple butter into mason jars. You may
want the women to do this because they usually do not make a mess,
and thus the men could do some more taste-testing while they
Apple butter made this way is shelf-stable for a number of
years, as evidenced by the jars still in my cupboard. There are, I
am sure, many variations to making apple butter. One variation I
know is to initially add 10 gallons of water instead of the full 20
gallons of cider, boil and then add snits. This can save cooking
time and did not seem to affect the flavor. Make sure you allow
sufficient time for cooking. It can take five or more hours to cook
a kettle of apple butter.
We found making apple butter to be an enjoyable experience and a
good opportunity for steam folk to socialize a lot of steam engine
experiences are exchanged in the process. I am sure there are
readers with lots of apple butter-making experience, maybe someone
can offer some insight into apple butter flavor and apple
varieties. I would welcome comments and recipes from other
Contact steam enthusiast Dwight Seman at: 1500 Crooked
Creek Road, Watkinsville, CA 30677, or e-mail:
BASIC RECIPE FOR STEAMED APPLE BUTTER
20 gallons of cider 4 bushels of apples to make 100 pounds snits
25 pounds sugar cinnamon optional.