Shocking as it may sound, Apple Butter does not contain one pat of butter! What is does contain is the concentrated flavor of apples, simmered down slowly with sugar and spices to create an old-fashioned fruit spread as much a hallmark of fall as the leaves changing colors or Saturday afternoon football.
“If you say Appal-LAY-sha, I will throw an apple at ya! It’s App-a-LATCH-a. Got it?” Joyce Pinson, Friends Drift Inn
On This Page:
- What is Apple Butter?
- What is Apple Butter Used For?
- Additional Serving Ideas
- Shelf – Life and Refrigeration
- What Does Apple Butter Taste Like?
- Balancing Flavor The Friends Drift Inn Way
- Food Pairings
- What are the Best Apples
- Heirloom Apples
- Making Apple Butter
- Picking Apples
- What Makes Apple Butter Special?
- Apples and Appalachia – A Friend Family Tradition
- Shop for Apple Butter – Product Page Link
What is Apple Butter?
Apple Butter is apple sauce – but more.
More concentrated apple flavors. More spices. More caramelization of sugars. More shelf-life.
Cooked down ever so slowly with a combination of warming spices, traditionally cinnamon, nutmeg, and for the adventurous few a touch of ginger, apple butter is a favorite fruit spread used similarly to jam or jelly.
What is Apple Butter Used For?
Here at the big red barn we are always developing more apple butter uses and recipes.
People often ask me what new ideas do I have for fruit spreads.
Honey, let me count the ways! If you have only tried a smear of our fruit spreads on toast, bagels, or biscuits well you are missing out!
- If A is for Apple, then B is for baking. Bread, muffins, cakes, tarts, hand pies, and of course traditional Appalachian Stack Cake are just the beginning! Apple butter adds a moist texture with hints of fruity goodness and spices. It speaks of fall – but brings a cozy comfort in those bitter days of winter.
- Apple Butter Baking Ideas
- Apple Butter as a BBQ sauce is the secret weapon of many a grill master. Add a splash of cider vinegar and mop on the goodness! Apples pair particularly well with pork.
- Breakfast the most important meal of the day deserves apple goodness. Stir a spoonful in oatmeal.
- Take a minute to warm apple butter and dollop on pancakes or waffles.
- Warmed and slathered on a cheese biscuit is one of those happy little winter bites that make snow days bearable.
- Bring on the party! I love appetizers and small bites. Baked sausage balls served with a smear of apple butter is a great choice for tailgating, cocktail parties, and late fall picnics. For charcuterie and cheese trays, add as a unique condiment.
- Did I mention apple butter in cocktails? Apple and bourbon are lovers. Stir, shake, and strain into your bourbon cocktail. Apple butter can be stirred into fall cocktails, especially bourbon mixed drinks. It is a little messy, but I have seen apple butter rimmed around fancy restaurant drinks.
- Sandwiches for Everyone! I love panini sandwiches and pressed Italian-style sandwiches too!
- Apple butter with ham and cheddar cheese is a quick-prep idea for tailgating parties. Want more texture? Add a slice (or two) of bacon and a few wedges of a tart fruit like Granny Smith.
- Our favorite appetizer is a Kentucky Ham Biscuit. Try it!
- Instead of meatloaf loaded with catsup, cook with apple butter on top. Meatloaf sandwiches griddled or served cold make days on the go a little less hectic.
Need More Serving Ideas?
… like jam, apple butter is actually pretty delicious spread across a buttered piece of bread, with a little flaky sea salt. It also works well dolloped on a cheese plate to lend a little sweet, fruity contrast to funkier specimens, or stirred into yogurt.
Does Apple Butter Need to be Refrigerated After Opening?
Absolutely! While sealed, the vacuum keeps out boogers that could cause spoilage. Average shelf life unopened is 11 months.
But after you open a jar, it is very important it is re-capped and refrigerated. It will last about a month in the refrigerator, but we usually finish out a jar in a couple of days.
The same goes for any baked goods or cooked items made with apple butter. Once completed and cooled, wrap them well and stick in the fridge.
What Does Apple Butter Taste Like?
The spread should taste like baked apples and a mix of warming spices. It should be sweet but have a tang.
Good apple butter will flood your mouth with a mellow rich apple finish, smooth and lush.
I admit it. I am an apple snob. It is probably genetic. I come from a long line of orchard farmers, nurserymen, and poor dirt farmers.
We Know Apples
Here’s the thing. All apples are not created equally. A truly superior apple fruit spread combines several varieties of apples to find the perfect balance of flavor and texture.
The spiced fruit spread is cooked down for hours, concentrating tastes and caramelizing sugars. Combining varieties in specific ratios creates a first-class product. It is like a Bourbon Master Distiller creating a specific mash bill recipe. The ratio is critical.
Each year, apple varieties may vary depending on weather conditions, and “whether” the bears come through the apple orchard for a buffet.
It is not unusual for us to run several trial batches of apple butter each season to get the ratio just right.
We take pride in balancing the flavors; we want you to love our apple butter as much as we love making it!
If you are like us, sometimes you will eat it straight out of the jar. Giggles.
But there is more – so much more to apple butter flights of fancy.
Pairings – What Goes with Apple Butter?
Apple butter is a pantry staple at the big red barn. We use it for baking, as a pancake spread, and as a meat garnish.
Here’s some ideas you can try:
- Pumpkin – including pumpkin pie
- Red Cabbage or Sauerkraut (Blame it on my German ancestors!)
- On peanut butter stuffed celery
- With Cheese especially Cheddar or Camembert
- Bacon and Cheese Biscuits or Grilled Cheese Deluxe!
- Chicken, Goose or Duck – with a splash of orange juice
- Sweet Potatoes – Especially in a soft taco wrap
- Bread Pudding with Pecans and Black Walnuts
- Rice Pudding with pralines
- Add to beverages including mulled apple cider, bourbon cocktails, and rum mixed drinks
What Apples Are Best for Apple Butter?
The texture of the fruit can be described as soft, crisp, dry, juicy, mealy, smooth, fleshy, or transparent.
Requiring hours of cook time, too soft a selection will result in a pile of mush. If the flesh is dry, the lush buttery consistency will not materialize.
For complex flavor, there should be a combination of apple varieties ranging from sweet and tart to tangy. Flavors should marry up with warming spices, chiefly cinnamon and nutmeg.
Choosing a variety of apples help to balance tastes and mouthfeel.
- Winesaps are course and grainy; crisp with tartness and a hint of sweetness.
- Lodi has a clean, sharp flavor and is favored for sauces.
- McIntosh are tender, juicy, tangy and aromatic.
- Empire, a cross between Red Delicious and Mcintosh, is an all-purpose apple that quickly becomes soft when cooked.
- Golden Grimes is a favorite for apple butter due to its complex, rich, tangy, sweet and sharp flavor. They are hard to find but sought out by apple aficionados.
There are Cortlands, Johnathans, Gravensteins, Northern Spies, Arkansas Blacks, Rome Beauties, Wolf Rivers, and even crab apples. There are literally over 10,000 apple varieties grown world-wide.
Combining flavor, texture and complimentary spices is an art.
Friends Drift Inn closely guards our apple selections and ratios.
The Virginia Apple Industry has a great graphic that lists flavor profiles for some of the most popular apples used in apple butter.
Do You Use Heirloom Apples in Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter?
In my mind, you need genetic diversity not only in the world’s orchards but in my apple butter kettle!
Apple was the number one fruit at the original Friends Drift Inn orchard. Grandpa was eager to embrace new varieties, but he took great pains to preserve old heirloom varieties as well.
As a second generation nurseryman, he often experimented with grafting old fashioned apple varieties onto heartier modern rootstock in the hopes of boosting production.
Grandpa thought the old varieties were more flavorful, and so do I.
Making Apple Butter
Friends Drift Inn Spiced Apple Butter is made in the CANE Kitchen in Whitesburg, KY. The kitchen once served as a high school kitchen and cafeteria.
These days, the facility is used for food entrepreneurs in the heart of Kentucky’s Appalachia. With two forty gallon steam kettles, we use one kettle to boil whole apples so the skins will slip easily away. Softening the apples, they are then moved into a food mill which pushes the flesh through a fine sieve.
At this point, the product is basically apple sauce. We then move the sauce into another steam kettle and begin cooking the pulp down as we add Pure Cane Sugar and spices.
Apple butter is very thick. To get it to the right temperature requires patience and lots of stirring! Apple butter tends to “pop” when it reaches temperature, so we are very careful. Apple Butter burns hurt!
How Do You Define Heirloom Apple Varieties?
We do use some old varieties, and some that are a little more modern. I suppose it comes down to how you define an heirloom.
According to mofga.org , The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association:
The term “heirloom” has been applied to plants only in the last few decades. Before 30 or 40 years ago, objects could be heirlooms but plants couldn’t. They were just plants. In the orchard, they were just apples. Distinctions were rarely made.
By the mid-20th century, new introductions were preferred, while older varieties were mostly forgotten or discarded or purposely destroyed.
Then came Seed Savers Exchange, MOFGA, Fedco and similar organizations along with a recognition of the value of plants that predate modern agriculture, and the need to differentiate between modern varieties generally available in the trade and those traditionally grown many years ago and passed from generation to generation within families or small communities.
The Trees of Antiquity website is one of my favorite places to browse and dream about all the apples I used to know, and other old varieties I have yet to try.
Exactly what an heirloom plant is can mean different things to different people. We consider heirloom fruit trees as varieties that have developed a historical or cultural significance which have been passed from generation-to-generation and often has a local or even familial significance.
Do You Pick the Apples That Go In Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter?
One farm we source apples from is over Pine Mountain in a place called “Kingdom Come.” There is a park there for hiking and recreation.
It is also a haven for bears. The orchards are located not far from the park. Like us, the bears are apple experts.
We were dismayed when they cleaned out the crop of a special heirloom variety this year. Keeping bears out of apple orchards and bee yards is becoming an increasing challenge here in Appalachia.
What Makes Friends Drift Inn Apple Butters Special?
When we say you taste the fruit first, we mean it. We do not use high fructose corn syrup or added preservatives. We use pure cane sugar, not beet sugar.
We have several variations on our old fashioned spiced apple butter. The spiced apple butter, is a lush velvety brown with flavors of apples, caramelized sugars, cinnamon and ginger.
Our spirited offerings contain Kentucky made bourbon or brandy, adding to the depth of flavor.
No matter which variety you choose, know each jar was slowly stirred and simmered by members of the family – sharing the joys and bounty of fall in Appalachia.
Apples and Appalachia – It is a Family Thing
Photo courtesy University of Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station Special Collections. Photo taken on the Magoffin and Breathitt County line.
Back in the late 1700’s, the Friend family moved from Virginia to Eastern Kentucky. Even though setting up a new homestead required help from all the family, two of the boys were sent back to the old Virginia cabin to retrieve a wagon load of apples stored under the porch at the old homeplace.
By the old road leading from Abingdon to Prestonsburg, family tradition says it took about four days round trip to bring the load home. You can bet, some apples were then dried. Others were made into apple cider. But with the long winters bearing down, putting up jarred fruit spread was an urgent priority.
Traditionally, apple butter was cooked outside in a big kettle – taking all-day and sometimes into the night. Tired bodies finally drug off to bed, weary but content. Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter would carry kinfolk through the winter and into spring.
Inn Keepers and Hospitality
The Friend Family established an inn near Prestonsburg, a few years after arriving from Virginia. Family tradition says they worked with the Dils family to establish apple orchards in the region.
Over time, the family married into several families who were inn keepers and owners of stage stops, taverns, and restaurants across Kentucky and Southern Ohio.
In the 1950’s, the Friend family continued their apple loving ways, planting a commercial apple orchard that became the basis for the Friends Drift Inn diner near Warsaw, KY.
The Legacy Continues
Now days, Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter is made from a selection of apples grown in the Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia areas of Appalachia. No longer cooked outside, our flavorful fruit spreads are made in a certified commercial kitchen under our scrutiny and the government’s too.
The CANE kitchen is under the shadow of Kentucky’s Pine Mountain, about sixty miles from the old mountain homeplace of my great great great grandparents.
We moved away from Appalachia in the late 1800’s, but we are back and proud to call the mountains home!
Canning is still a family undertaking, with brothers, sisters, nephews and momma pitching in.
Somewhere off in the distance I can almost hear Grandma Friend singing “Johnny Appleseed,” a traditional folk song.
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun, the rain, and the apple seed;
Oh, the Lord’s been good to me!
Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter keeps the memories alive. We continue to grow a good life in Appalachia!