Family Traditions: Making Applebutter


The air was frigid, frost coated the grass, and you could see our breath as we spoke.  The sun had not completely risen, but that did not stop us from continuing a family tradition.  This tradition was something that went all the way back to Nicole’s childhood.  Over a wood burning fire in the outdoors, she gathered with her mom, aunts and uncle to make an Army size pot of Applebutter from a family recipe passed down from her grandmother.

Even though Nicole is a pure city girl from Cincinnati, where she was born and raised, her family are from the hills of Virginia.  The small town in Virginia where her grandparents relocated from is so small that the exit does not even have an exit sign.  Her grandparents moved to Cincinnati to raise their family but brought their country traditions up north with them and this was one of those traditions.

Over the past couple of years, Nicole has mentioned waking up early and hanging out with her family.  Normally, we’ll post a photo or two about the day, but we have never shared what the day truly looks like!  Keep in mind, Nicole was photographing the day and Ryan was at home sleeping, so you won’t see any images of her throughout the day. Maybe next year we’ll change this and bring Ryan along!

Our day started with some delicious (and much needed) hot coco made by Nicole’s mom!

Funny story… no one wanted to walk to the house to get a knife, so we used a 2 ft long spoon to cut the coffee cake! To say we’re good at improvising is an understatement!

The process of making apple butter over an open fire is a labor-intensive process.  The apples need to be stirred the ENTIRE time.  That’s right… it’s a non-stop all day process. At the beginning of the day, you have to flip the apple chunks with a flat wooden paddle.   The key is to keep them from burning is mixing the bottom apples with the top apples.  Plus, it helps them cook evenly.  Once the apples are cooked down enough, we’ll continue to stirred them until the apples are made into apple butter.  Yes… we add sugar and oil of cinnamon shortly before it comes off the fire.

As the day gets brighter and the task of stirring gets tiresome, reinforcements will arrive. We call them our second wave or fresh blood. Normally, it’s Nicole’s Dad (see below) and her cousin, Keith Michael. Fun tip, we’ve learned if you get Keith Michael talking, he’ll stir non-stop.

One tradition that is a must for the food part of the day are double deckers… make in a certain layer order. This is how my grandmother made them and this is how we continue to make them. Once again… traditions!

You may be wondering why there are black walnuts being cracked at Applebutter making. Well, my uncle’s land has tons of black walnuts and my aunt uses them in making fudge. So, since only one person can stir the Applebutter at a time, others need ways to keep busy. Thus… the cracking of black walnuts!

And in goes the sugar… at least 28lbs of sugar is needed! Crazy right?!

Side note.. if you EVER use cinnamon oil… make sure it’s diluted enough! This stuff is killer and can burn you tongue!

Taste testing is the favorite part of the day, especially for the kiddos…

The only part of the day that is a “rushed” process… pouring the apple butter into jars! Once it cools down, it’s nearly impossible and the colder the day, the quicker the jars need to be filled. On a side note, this past year was the first year Nicole helped pour the apple butter into jars (hence why there are not a ton of photos from this part of the day).

The good stuff!!!!!

After all the jars are filled, we “clean” the pot by using freshly bake biscuits as our spoons to scrape out the last remaining bits of deliciousness.

Yes the day is technically about making delicious apple butter but it means so much more in the grand scheme of life.  These are memories.  Memories that have spanned over decades.  The day is filled with laughter from telling stories or awful jokes.  The day is filled with tears remembering those who are no longer there.  The day is filled with tons of food, that is eaten from the moment we start till we clean up.  The day is just spent with each other, creating new memories to cherish, and passing down traditions.

Have a Fantastic Day!

Nicole & Ryan

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