Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Mincemeat and Apple Butter
Nature Bulletin No. 695  November 24, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor

In November, 1895, after a ten-mile drive on a cold gray afternoon, big red Ned trotted into the barnyard at our old home place just after grandmother had taken six large loaves of bread from the oven. Half frozen, we clambered out of the buggy and she met us at the kitchen door with hot slices of crust, generously buttered, thickly smeared with spicy, dark brown apple butter. That was 67 years ago but I can still taste it.

There were many ways of making apple butter. It seems to have been concocted, independently, by housewives of several countries in the "apple belt" of northern Europe. The simplest of those recipes merely required "good sweet apples and pure sweet cider". The pared and cored apples and the cider were boiled, 'stirring constantly until the whole is a rich dark pulp .

Some folks believed that the best apple butter was made without cider. The apples, cut in eighths, were boiled in a small amount of water until tender, and put through a sieve. After adding 4 tablespoons of sugar per cup of pulp, it was cooked and stirred until thick. They might put in a small amount of lemon juice and grated rind. German and Pennsylvania Dutch cooks used 2 qts. water and 1-1/2 qts. cider per gallon of sliced apples, 1-1/2 lbs. sugar and one teaspoon, each, of ground cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Sticks of cinnamon were "still better yet".

In early times most farms had an orchard bearing several kinds of apples from which, each year, they made barrels of cider, 20 or more gallons of apple butter, and mincemeat. Apple butter making was an event as important as butchering and maple sugaring. On the day before, bushels of apples were pared, cored and cut into pieces by the women folks -- including neighbors. Some had little paring machines.

Copper kettles were preferred because the sticky stuff was less apt to be tainted by scorching, but grandma had a 30-gallon iron one, brightly polished inside. It was set up in the yard and, before daybreak, we youngsters poured in the water and built a fire under it. After the water boiled, the cider and apples were added, and all day we took turns at stirring it continuously with a long-handled, perforated, wooden paddle. When it was dark brown, thick and smooth, that spicy butter was ladled into large stone crocks and jars to be stored in the cellar.

For dinner on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas, one of my grandmothers cooked a goose and the other roasted a turkey, but they both served pumpkin pie and hot mince pie. Grocery stores sold Nonesuch mincemeat then -- the same brand on sale in markets today -- but they made their own.

Recipes for mincemeat varied as much as those for apple butter. Some housewives used more ingredients than others and took more pains in making it. The ingredients depended upon the tastes, traditions and prejudices of their families. Straight-laced cooks used fresh sweet cider or none at all. Others, more tolerant, used hard cider and maybe something stronger. Nowadays, here in Chicago, pie manufacturers add cheap brandy and rum to their mincemeats.

The basic constituents are meat, suet, and apples. Most recipes specify lean beef. My folks used pork. The "plain people" in Pennsylvania, pious Mennonites, used the most generous recipe of all. In addition to 4 boiled calf tongues, 2-1/2 lbs. suet, 6 lbs. chopped apples and 4 lbs. sugar, it called for 1/2 lb. citron, 2 lbs. raisins, 2 lbs. currants, 1/2 lb. each of candied orange and lemon peels, 2 grated nutmegs, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, chopped almonds, salt, the juice and rinds of 4 oranges and 4 lemons, one quart of brandy and two quarts of whiskey. This potent mixture was stored in a cool place at least four weeks before being used in pies. Then they celebrated Thanksgiving.

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