The Harvest-Time Treat that Wears So Many Hats

Apple butter is a highly concentrated form of apple sauce. It is produced by a long, slow cooking of apples in cider or water. It's cooked to a point where the sugar in the apples caramelizes, turning the apple butter a deep brown.

Historically, apple butter has been the standard answer to the harvest-time question, "What the heck are we gonna do with all these apples, besides making pie filling and applesauce?" Apple butter was what folks turned to when they wanted something a little different from their apple harvest (especially if they didn't have a dehydrator).

And my Aunt Annie was one of those folks-she loved her apple butter. From the time she was a little girl her family counted on apple butter every fall harvest. In fact, the kids made up a poem that they recited every September:

We cross our fingers, eyes and toes

In hopes of hearing our mama utter

Those heavenly words our family knows,

It's harvest time-let's have apple butter!

And according to Aunt Annie, her mama never disappointed them-they would process at least 100 jars of the stuff. Not being that impressed with apple butter, myself, I asked Aunt Annie what in the world they did with all their apple butter? I mean, you can only eat so much on toast, right? Here are just a few of the uses she shared:

  • Apple butter sandwiches! (A little peanut butter and you're good to go!)
  • Apple butter with pork loin or pork chops.
  • Apple butter as dessert—it’s good enough to go it alone.
  • Apple butter swirled into some cottage cheese, sprinkled with grapenuts and raisins.
  • Apple butter swirled into plain Greek yogurt.
  • Apple butter added to morning oatmeal.
  • From professional chef, Tyler Florence: apple butter on a grilled turkey and brie sandwich.
  • Apple butter on a grilled ham (very thinly sliced) and cheddar sandwich.
  • Apple butter as a filling in heated flour tortillas; sprinkle them with a little cinnamon and sugar and toss them back in the skillet for a bit to caramelize the sugar and give them a crispy coating.
  • Melted apple butter poured over pecans that have been warmed in the oven, then sprinkled with a little salt.
  • Apple butter slathered on toast; bagels; panacakes, waffles, and French toast; quick breads (i.e. zucchini, pumpkin, banana); biscuits or muffins; scones; and rolls.
  • Apple butter spread on rice cakes and topped with chopped walnuts.
  • Apple butter as a replacement for some of the oil in a carrot cake recipe.
  • Apple butter barbecue sauce.
  • Apple butter poured over a plain poundcake.
  • Apple butter for vanilla ice cream topping.
  • Apple butter added to lamb stew as both a thickener & flavoring.
  • Apple butter as an “icing” for an apple cake.
  • Apple butter served as an accompaniment with breakfast sausages.

To say the least, I was impressed, and converted. It wasn't long after that that I started making apple butter. Now I get it-you can't have too much. And one of the reasons I say this is because it stores really well. Even as we speak, I have an opened jar of apple butter in my fridge that's been there for over 6 months. It's fine. Then there's store-bought versions-they keep forever!

Now my kiddies and grandkiddies chant the same ditty: "…it's harvest time-let's have apple butter!" And with every year we seem to come up with new ways to use this harvest-time treat that wears so many hats.


    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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