Apple Butter Boiling Comes Alive During Folk Festival
The signs that summer has turned into fall are plentiful and extend far beyond just the calendar that marks the seasons. The hay has been baled, the first frost has come and been followed by several mornings of below-freezing temperatures. The leaves are turning from green to yellow to red, and swimsuits have turned into sweaters.
In Fulton County, the blazing foliage means the Fall Folk Festival is here, and with it comes the area’s showcase of nature’s beauty and harvest bounty.
Tractors and steam engines will rule the streets of Mc- Connellsburg on Saturday morning, and apple butter will be plentiful, once again, at the Green Hill Sewing Club – just as it has been for the past nearly 80 years. Morning will come early on Saturday as club members meet at 4 a.m. to begin the boil that will supplement the many jars of apple butter already in place for festival customers. The club members were given an opportunity to show off their storied recipe in 1977 when they were invited to boil apple butter at the Smithsonian Institution’s Folklife Festival on the Washington Monument grounds in Washington, D.C.
Apple butter boils, steeped in tradition, but short on actual history, are believed to date back to colonial times. Folks from the South as well as many from Ohio will say it all started with them. But most history credits the Pennsylvania Dutch with bringing the tradition from Germany. In addition to southeastern Pennsylvania, it is often associated with the Appalachian region, especially West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. In fact, one of the earliest recipes for apple butter came from The Kentucky Housewife in 1839.
It was a practical way in colonial days to use and preserve fruit, because every farm had at least a small orchard of apple trees. 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. It is a thicker and spicier version of applesauce made by slow- cooking the sliced or pureed apples in copper kettles over an open fire for 12 hours or more. It requires constant stirring, and the mixture becomes harder to stir as it thickens. The spicy flavor comes from the addition of cinnamon and cloves and, in some recipes, nutmeg.
As Green Hill Sewing Club members will attest, it takes a lot of work, and the members meet days in advance to peel and “schnitz” (slicing) the apples. The tools of the trade are simple and include only firewood, copper kettles, wooden paddles for stirring and scrapers. In the old days, the wooden paddles were fitted with cornhusk scrapers on the ends.
Although apple butter can be bought from grocery store shelves, the traditional homemade variety like that of the Sewing Club’s is canned in jars for personal use and often sold at farmers’ markets and craft shows. Apple butter is often spread on bread, used as a condiment much like mustard or mayonnaise. Pennsylvania Dutch tradition was to use it as a side dish as part of their “seven sweets and seven sours” for the dinner table.
The Sewing Club’s annual apple butter boil is, in modern times, likely the only exposure that a younger generation has to the tradition, but older generations remember fondly the days when many engaged in the boiling. There is plenty of evidence here in Fulton County of that tra- dition. One need only go to sales to see the old paddles, scrapers and copper kettles knocked down to the highest bidders, often procured only as remembrances of the past.
In Bethel Township, one country road even bears the name Cider Mill Road as a nod to the late James Hendershot, who once advertised that he would make apple butter for those bringing the ingredients to him. Hendershot, the uncle of Lois Lee Mellott, resided in the home where she now lives on Cider Mill Road.
The late James Denton Hendershot, who passed away in 1954 at the age of 51, was the son of Ellsworth W. Hendershot and Cora Kathryn Hughes Hendershot
Lois Lee’s uncle, her father Kenneth’s brother, made apple butter for about 10 years, apple cider too. He made it in the Gordon oneroom schoolhouse next to Lois Lee’s home. The schoolhouse eventually became known locally as the cider mill.
Besides making apple butter and cider, Jim also ran a battery repair shop in Hancock and farmed. He had 10 to 15 acres of apple orchard and grew a variety of apples, including Stayman and Yellow Delicious. According to Lois, “There were lots of orchards in the Hancock area at the time and that was one of the reasons Uncle Jim decided to make cider and apple butter.”
“Apple butter was eaten on pancakes and apple butter bread served at every meal if desired,” said Lois Lee
Hendershot made his apple butter with steam as opposed to the traditional way of making it over an open fire. He built a mechanized contraption that crushed and steamed the apples. The apple butter was made on the front porch of the cider mill (schoolhouse.) A scraper was used to scrape the harden apple butter off the sides of the copper boiling pot. The scraper, which remains in the family, was made circa 1930.
The family also has the ad copy for making apple butter that Hendershot ran in 1935, likely in the Hancock News. It reads: “I want you to advertise that I will commence making apple butter October 2, 1935, and will make every Wednesday until the end of season. Bring the following material 12 bushel of cider apples, 5 bushel of filling in apples cut into quarters with peeling on and core out, 40 to 50 lbs. of sugar or about 2 lbs. sugar to gallon of apple butter, 6 oz. of cinnamon, 1 1/2 oz. of cloves. This will make from 20 to 25 gal. of apple butter. This apple butter is cooked by steam and cannot be scorched. Anyone wishing to make drop me a card what Wed. you want to make. Also orders taken for apple butter by the gal. when you furnish your own containers. 70 cents per gal. of apple butter. Price per batch $2.50 when you furnish material. James D. Hendershot.”
For those wanting to see how it’s still done, visit the Green Hill Sewing Club (9 miles west of McConnellsburg along Route 30) on Saturday from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. The apple butter boil begins at 4 a.m., with breakfast served from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Soup, sandwiches, apple dumplings and their famous apple butter will also be available.