Fall’s favorite butter has become the stuff traditions are made of.
Elizabeth McClellan’s grandmother—Granny Annie—was part Iroquois, and she moved to the Huntington area from “who knows where” by push boat down the Ohio River. The family carried all their belongings with them on that boat, and among them was a 15-gallon copper pot that played an important part in McClellan’s earliest memories.
“It was a yearly tradition for me, growing up. The women would sit around peeling apples forever. The whole family got together, and all of the adults took turns stirring. My dad got the pot when my Granny Annie died, and when he died, I acquired it. No one my age wanted it, but I was fascinated by it.”
McClellan and her husband, Trent, decided to start their own apple butter tradition a few years back. “That first year we had no recipe and no clue what we were doing,” she says. “But we tried anyway. It was terrible. We tried again the next year, and the next, and we’ve settled into a process and a recipe.”
That recipe, and last year’s butter, must be a far cry from that first “terrible” batch, because it earned the McClellans first place in the WV Living 2020 Apple Butter Contest. We solicited entries from all over the state, accepted too many to count, and put together an expert panel of judges. They spent a crisp fall day tasting each jar and judging it based on a rubric created for the contest that considered things like aroma, color, consistency, and flavor. It was all very scientific.
The McClellans’ butter took first place, and second-place honors went to Dale Heironimus and the volunteer group at the Greenwood School Community Center in Berkeley Springs.
The community center was formed when the Greenwood United Methodist Church took over the former Greenwood Elementary School in 2018. For the first time in 2020, a group of volunteers made six kettles’ worth of apple butter for a fundraiser to benefit the center. They jarred more than 3,000 pints of apple butter and raised over $10,000 for the center, in addition to earning high marks from the WV Living judges on the very first batch of butter they ever made together. You can find the group—and snag for yourself a jar of the second-best apple butter in the state—this October at the Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs.
How the McClellans make apple butter
They start with five bushels of apples, usually the Rome variety. Once the apples start cooking and the butter reaches the desired consistency, they add sugar and cinnamon oil to the mix. They continue stirring the mixture, each taking a turn with a homemade stirrer and adding apple juice if it gets too thick, until it reaches a dark color. The process usually starts around 6 a.m. and the butter is done around 8 p.m. Five bushels of apples yields around 60 pints of butter that the crew distribute among themselves and give as gifts throughout the year.
How the Greenmont School Community Center volunteers make apple butter
Volunteers manned six kettles of apple butter in the making last year when their award-winning butter was concocted. They used a mixture of Morgan County apples from a local orchard and added white sugar, cloves, and cinnamon oil to the mash. There was less reliance on a single recipe than on the collective apple butter knowledge on hand, so the group went with their guts, tasting along the way, until the vats of butter passed the test. “We just kept adding spices and flavors until, boom, there it was,” says community center Treasurer Heironimus.
Unexpected Uses for Apple Butter
- Use it as a glaze or condiment on meats and seafood.
- Bake it into scones, muffins, bars, and breads.
- Replace jelly or jam with it.
- Stir it into a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt.
- Add it to a charcuterie board.
- Spread it on toast.
- Use it as a topping on ice cream.
- Add it to your fall cocktail recipes.
- Top your pancakes and waffles with it.
- Use it instead of pumpkin or applesauce in recipes.
- Swirl it into cakes or cupcakes.
- Brush it on chicken or pork during the last few cooking minutes.
- Add it to your favorite barbecue sauce.
Where to Get Your Apples
Apple butter makers don’t all agree on what kind of apples make for the best butter. Each has strong opinions about specific varieties, and each apple makes its own unique kind of butter. What they can agree on is that West Virginia orchards grow great apples—many of them in the northeastern part of the state. Here are a few of the places where butter makers get their bushels.
Butler’s Farm Market
Orr’s Farm Market
Reddington’s Farm and Orchard
Spring Hill Orchards
Spring Valley Farm and Orchard
Warm Spring Orchard