I can tell you “first-hand” stories about ancestors I never met. You’ll feel like you were back in the 1700s or 1800s, when it happened. But I have one close relative I know little about — and each new discovery is a gem.
She’s my mom’s oldest sister, aunt Alberta. She was like a “second mom” to her family, helping with a household of little kids close in age. Her mother — my grandmother — had six children by the time she was 26.
Alberta was named after her rather, Bert, and her uncle, Albert. She was nicknamed “Apple Butter” because the youngest in the family, Garnett, pronounced it that way when he was a toddler. Apple butter would have been an easier name from him to know from a young age because every fall my grandmother got out the cast-iron kettle, set it up in the yard over a wood fire, and made a big kettle of apple butter. The kids, who were supposed to be helping, spent more time jumping around the yard, whooping and playing. After being canned, the jars of apple butter would last for months.
When I enjoy apple butter, sometimes I think of Alberta. She spent a quiet young life helping with the household and the younger kids, devoted to her church and family. When she was issued a marriage license in 1936, she was 19. Her husband-to-be, J.C. Tolbirt, was 31 and it was his second marriage. She left no children when she died of a kidney infection in 1940 — a few days after her 23rd birthday.
Part of the intrigue about Alberta is that after she was gone, her husband was, too. The Hamiltons never heard from him again. Grandma didn’t talk much about J.C. Too many problems: he’d been married before, was too much older, and from a “foreign country,” Texas. We discovered this year that he married only two months later. We are still searching for Helen Tolbirt, a daughter from his first marriage, who was my mom’s friend in childhood.
But those are just facts. The sad part for me is not knowing her, because as one cousin once said, “I never met a Hamilton I didn’t like.” Alberta served her family when young, being the oldest sister, and later served the churches and communities where her husband ministered. She helped write sermons and supposedly preached on occasion.
I’m sure Alberta cooked, as all women did then, because she was a pastor’s wife. They lived in north and south Missouri, Kansas, and Texas in their short marriage, serving churches in each place. Though this isn’t Alberta’s recipe (we have no written recipes of hers) I dedicate it to the aunt I never knew.
APPLE BUTTER COOKIES (with Apple Butter Frosting)
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 cups sugar
1 cup lard
2 cups apple butter
Butter for cookie sheets
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup apple butter
Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream sugar and lard together. Then add eggs and applesauce. Mix well. Add in dry ingredients, a third of the quantity at a time, and continue mixing well. Drop by small spoonfuls (about the size of a golf ball) on greased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 8 minutes. When done, let rest on cookie sheet for 1 minute, then cool on wire rack.
For frosting, mix confectioner’s sugar and apple butter until smooth. Add more of sugar to make consistency thicker, more apple butter to make it thinner. When cookies are completely cool, frost cookies with icing. These cookies stay moist for several days.
Makes approx. 4 dozen cookies.
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