Apple Butter - Background

Background

The roots of apple butter lie in South Limburg (Netherlands), conceived during the Middle Ages, when the first monasteries (with large fruit yards) appeared. The production of the butter was a perfect way to conserve part of the fruit production by these monasteries . In that region, at the time almost every village had its own apple butter producers.

The production of apple butter was also a popular way of using apples in colonial America, and well into the 19th century. There is no dairy butter involved in the product; the term 'butter' refers only to the thick, soft consistency, and apple butter's use as a spread for breads. Typically seasoned with cinnamon, cloves and other spices, apple butter is usually spread on bread, used as a side dish, an ingredient in baked goods, or as a condiment. Apple butter is also mixed with vinegar while cooking to provide a small amount of tartness to the usually sweet apple butter. The Pennsylvania Dutch often include apple butter as part of their traditional seven sweets and seven sours dinner table array.

In areas of the American South, the production of apple butter is a family event, due to the large amount of labor necessary to produce apple butter in large quantities. Apple butter is also used on a sandwich to add an interesting flavor, but is not as commonly used as in historical times. Traditionally apple butter was and is prepared in large copper kettles outside. Large paddles are used to stir the apples and family members would take turns stirring.

In Appalachia, apple butter was the only type of fruit preserve normally rendered into fruit leather.

Apple Butter Makin' Days has been held on the courthouse square in Mount Vernon, Missouri each October since 1967. Apple butter is cooked using century-old methods in huge copper kettles over open fires all day long. Similar events take place in various locations across the United States, usually in the late fall season.

In Jersey, in the Channel Islands, apple butter is known as "black butter" or "lé nièr beurre" and has liquorice among its spices.

Kimmswick, Missouri and Berkeley Springs, West Virginia have an annual apple butter festival.

Wellesley, Ontario has an annual Apple Butter and Cheese Festival on the last Saturday in September.

Fenner Nature Center in Lansing, MI also has an annual Apple Butter Festival on the third weekend of October. The highlight of the festival is the cooking of real apple butter in a large copper kettle over an open fire.

Oak Glen, California has an Apple Butter Festival in November on Thanksgiving Weekend as part of the close of their official Apple Harvest Season.

These days apple butter is used as a fat substitute in reduced fat or fat-free cooking, as well as vegan recipes.

In Europe apple butter is commonly used in the Netherlands where it is known as Appelstroop (Apple syrup) and frequently eaten on bread with (or without) thinly sliced cheese. A sweeter version, made using pears as well as apples, is more popular in Belgium where it is known as Liège syrup (Sirop de Liège/Luikse Siroop). Other than in Benelux, apple syrup is a minority taste in western Europe, although it is sold in Germany, generally in health food shops, as Apfelkraut, and a similar food is produced in francophone Switzerland where it is known as vin cuit.

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