What did our pioneer ancestors use to sweeten apple butter? Besides sweet cider, sugar (brown and white), molasses, and in some cases nothing, we found that as far back as 1856, watermelon juice was the leading sweetener for vats of apple butter.
Reporting from Warren, Ohio, a correspondent to the Prairie Farmer said this: “We raise a good watermelon patch each year, planting early in May and then again toward the end of the month so as to have them come on in succession. We eat them freely in hot weather. Then in September, we haul a quantity of them to the house, split them open, scrape out the pulp into colanders, and strain the water into vessels. We boil it in an iron pot, adding apples. Boil it slowly until the fruit is well cooked. Spice to taste. The syrup can be boiled down without the fruit, to a molasses state. It keeps all winter.”
In 1912, Greenville, Ohio newspapers reported the following: “He raised watermelons and lots of them, but not for the usual purpose they are grown. He pressed the juice from them, boiled it down in copper evaporators to a fair syrup. With this syrup, he used apples for thickening to make apple butter. It was of a quality hard to beat. The syrup was of finest quality, and much of it was used.”
We could find no recipes for making the watermelon syrup or including it in a batch of apple butter; we’re pretty sure many of those old-time ways were never put to paper. It’s just the way they did it, and they passed it on by word of mouth and example.
Whatever way you choose to sweeten your homemade apple butter, here are a few recipes using the final product!
• Apple butter
• Peanut butter
• Flour tortillas
1. Spread a thin coating of both butters on flour tortillas. Fold.
2. Place in non-stick skillet over medium heat until tortilla is browned (turning once).
3. Cool before eating, as the sugar in the butter becomes very hot.
• Apple butter
• Thinly-sliced, peeled, cored apples
• Flour tortillas
1. Spread thin coating of apple butter over tortilla.
2. Arrange thinly sliced apples on one half of the tortilla.
3. Fold over and place in non-stick skillet over medium heat. Outside of tortilla can be sprinkled with a cinnamon/sugar mixture if desired.
4. Cook until tortilla is golden brown, turning once. Cool before eating, as the sugars become very hot.
• 3 tablespoons butter
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 5 cups pared apple wedges
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 1/4 cup thick, spiced apple butter
1. Melt butter in large, non-stick skillet.
2. Mix lemon juice with apples to prevent browning. Place apples in skillet over medium-low heat to cook.
3. Sprinkle sugar over apples. Continue to cook, browning apples on both sides. Try to turn apples only once or twice to keep them from breaking down.
4. Add apple butter. Cook until fork-tender. Serve as a side dish to any meal or as dessert.
• 1/3 cup apple butter
• 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
• Sliced gingerbread or rich pound cake
1. Blend apple butter into cream cheese until smooth. Spread on slices of cake. Top with another slice of cake.
2. Can be served by the slice, or using large, round cookie cutters for shaped sandwiches.
For the cake
• 1/2 cup sugar
• 1 cup flour
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• 1/2 cup milk
For the topping
• 2 tablespoons flour
• 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon cinnamon
• 4 tablespoons cold butter<
• 4 tablespoons apple butter
1. Grease a 9-inch pie pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Blend the ingredients for the cake into a batter. Pour into the greased pan.
3. For the topping, sprinkle the flour over the batter evenly, then sprinkle the brown sugar over the top. Sprinkle over with cinnamon.
4. Cut cold butter into small pieces and push them into batter evenly over the top. Use more butter if needed to ensure entire top has ‘butter dents’.
5. Spoon apple butter into dents.
6. Bake for 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Serve warm.
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