MOUNT VERNON — Since the 1920s, Gary McCutcheon’s family has been making apple butter.
The tradition has changed slightly for the family over the years since it first started at the family apple orchard in West Virginia. Originally, their apple butter was made from peeled apples, water, sugar and cinnamon, Dee McCutcheon explained, but now that the family has moved to Ohio, and away from the orchard, plain, sugar-free apple sauces makes a cheaper and less labor intensive substitution. Though, she noted that making apple butter from peeled apples isn’t completely out of the question in future years.
Gary explained that he helped make apple butter in his youth, but got away from the tradition during his working years. Now that he is retired, his friends and family make their way to the home he shares with his wife, Carol, on Old Mansfield Road each year to make the gooey treat. This year they made a grand total of 248 pints (31 gallons) of apple butter.
Though the apple sauce speeds up the process, cooking the apple butter down to its warm chocolately brown color is an all-night affair. This year the cooking process started around 4 p.m. Friday evening and lasted through the night until around 10 a.m. the next morning. Traditionally, the family would start the cooking process early in the morning and finish up late at night, but Gary explained that it is much easier to finish the apple butter and put it in cans during daylight hours.
It’s a long process that takes a small army of around 20 people, which brings friends and several generations of Gary’s family together. Stirrers take 10 minute shifts throughout the night, Dee explained. Helpers come in shifts to make sure that everyone has time to go inside to warm up and rest throughout the 18-hour process.
The prime time to make butter, Gary explained, is “late enough that the bugs are done” but “before you really have snow and bitter cold.” While this year was chilly, in some years they have braved snow storms just for the sweet reward, Gary said.
In the morning, once it is done cooking, everyone gathers back together to help can the butter in an assembly line. Rolls, another family recipe, are also made so that everyone can use the last, uncanned apple butter, for a warm breakfast to signal a job well done. Everyone also goes home with pints of apple butter to last them through the year. The apple butter has grown so popular, in fact, that 15 years ago, the family upgraded from their 30-gallon kettle because they weren’t making enough to meet demand.
Making apples into apple butter was a good way to preserve the unused apples, but now its made to preserve a family tradition, Dee explained.
“We just think it’s a fun time and it’s a good family get together,” Dee said. “Everyone looks forward to doing it.”