Mincemeat and Apple Butter
Nature Bulletin No. 695 November 24, 1962
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Seymour Simon, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
MINCEMEAT AND APPLE BUTTER
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
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.
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.
To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Update: June 2012