Image Alt

National Apple Museum

Grandpa’s Apple Butter Traditions by Moriah Conley

Around 1907, long ago, my great-great-grandmother, Maria Mellott, was born. Our family tradition of making apple butter started when she was a very young girl. Maria grew up being a stern but kind lady. If she asked someone to do something, she expected you to obey right away, not to “dilly-dally around”. Though Maria was very family-orientated, she loved her family and friends very much. She also was a very honest and godly woman as well.
As my great-great-grandmother Mellott and her husband had children, they passed down the tradition of making apple butter. Out of their five children, their second daughter, Juanita, also known as Peggy, and her husband Robert were the ones who continued the tradition. Robert and Juanita had two sons, Michael, my grandpa, and his brother Russel. My grandpa Michael Frost is now the one who owns the kettle and continues the tradition today. Michael is the third generation to keep this custom of making apple butter going! My grandpa is married to my grandma, Debbie Frost, and has three kids, Heather, Matthew, and Johanna. Heather and her husband have three kids, Matthew and his wife have six kids, and Johanna and her husband have two kids. The entire family has their part in making apple butter and this makes the tradition even more heartwarming because the day is spent in fellowship.
My grandpa’s earliest memory of apple butter started after my great-great grandma Mellott moved off her childhood farm. They did not have much property at their new home so the fire for the kettle was built right in the middle of her driveway. Her home was simple and clean. Today, a hundred years later, my grandparents make it in their backyard over a bonfire. To keep the heat going up towards the bottom of the kettle, the men prepare the fire by putting flat pieces of wood around the outside of the stand where the kettle is placed. The process of making apple butter involves a lot of moving parts throughout the day, starting early in the morning until the recipe is finished and the butter is poured into the last jar its lid is seals with a pop.
The forty-gallon copper kettle that my grandpa uses today to make apple butter is over a hundred years old. Every other year, during the beautiful autumn season, we prepare to make apple butter. My great, great grandma would always use Granny Smith apples; today my grandma calls the orchard and orders 4 bushels of Jonagold apples. 50 gallons of unpasteurized apple cider is also bought from the local mill. The last of the ingredients is 40 pounds. of sugar, and about 10 pounds. of various spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. We start by waking up at five o’clock in the morning to start the fire. My mom, Heather, remembers sleeping in her great-grandparents’ attic bedroom every other year and waking up at, “O-dark thirty” as my mom says, to see people already having breakfast and starting the fire. One morning when we made apple butter, my mom, Heather, had to wake up my little sister, Rebecca.
“Do I have to get up already?” complained Rebecca, “it’s still dark outside!”
“Yes, Rebecca you have to get up; we are making apple butter today! Get dressed quickly and then come down and eat breakfast!” my mother exclaimed.
The very first thing that goes into the kettle is a cup of white vinegar to clean the copper. Next we add the cider just enough to level the top of the kettle. Our family used to always peel the apples the day before, but now everyone cuts the apples thought out the morning. Once the warm apple cider starts to boil excitedly across the top of the kettle, small batches of peeled apples are added around mid-morning. The hickory stir paddle comes off the wall that is above the sliding door and we begin to stir the kettle as soon as the first apples go in. As each batch of apples cook down more apples are added. We stir and stir all day. There is an old tale that says if you see a young dating couple stirring the kettle then that means that there is a great possibility that that couple might get married someday. Once all of the apples have softened completely and the mixture is a dark rustic red color, the spices are added. The apple butter is tested with a large ladle and bowl. It is ready if a drop will just dimple the top and not ripple.
When the stirring and the testing of the apple butter is all complete, the copper kettle again comes off the fire, full of 40 gallons of delicious apple butter. As it slowly cools down, men quickly transfer the very hot apple butter from the kettle to many funnels that the ladies are holding over open jars waiting to be filled! Today we use a large funnel that the men pour the apple butter into and then the ladies manually operate it to fill each jar. Once a jar is full, it gets wiped down, capped, and then set off to the side so the metal canning lids can seal with a satisfying pop.
As soon as the men scoop all of the apple butter out of the kettle, everyone who helped or attended lines up. We all wait patiently to take a piece of warm homemade bread and slowly wipe out the kettle to get as much leftover apple butter still left on the bottom and sides of the kettle as we can. My grandpa and a few other men take a soft rag with some soap and warm water to the kettle to get it all cleaned out. While the kettle gets cleaned and put back away in storage for another year, the women wash dishes and wipe things down with wet rags to make sure that all surfaces are sticky-free.
As soon as all of the hard cleaning is finished, everyone slowly begins to leave after a long day’s work. People are glad and also sad that the day is already over. Many of the moms and dads are ready to get home and go to bed. The kids feel like they could still play for hours though, but they too are slowly fading. As everyone says their goodbyes, we all leave with a warm jar of freshly made apple butter and a heart full of joy after a long day of fun and fellowship with family and friends. Grandpa’s apple butter tradition from the past and present have made a lasting impact on the entire family, and for that, we are very thankful.

April Hours By Appointment Only

May 4, 2024 - October 2024
Saturday 10-4
Sunday 1-4

Visit during one of our Events
Check our Events Calendar and join us!

FREE Admission | Donations Welcome!

154 West Hanover Street
Biglerville, PA 17307