Tuesday, November 6, 2012

My Great Grandmother's Apple Butter: Recipe

Nicolette, circa 1976
Nicolette, circa 1981
During my senior year of college, I watched an inspiring documentary on Georgia O'Keeffe, produced when she was 92 years old, toward the end of her life. Her passionate, well-articulated, witty, provocative story prompted me to run back to my apartment to call my Grandmother, then 91 years old. She spent a significant amount of time beckoning Death, and I hoped to help her focus on living. I told her about the documentary I had seen, and asked her to take some time to tell me her story. She did. She sat down with a cassette recorder and proceeded to share the story of her life.

Nicolette Pernot Ringgold was born in Paris, France, in 1903. She was educated in France at the Alliance Francaise and the Institute de Phonetique of the Sorbonne. She earned her graduate degree in English from the University of Paris. In 1932, she traveled to the United States where she taught in Middlebury College, Wellesley College, and the College of William and Mary. At the age of 79, my grandmother lost her central vision and became legally blind as a result of having developed macular degeneration. For years, she cared for my grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. In 1991, the American Foundation for the Blind published my grandmother's book Out Of The Corner Of My Eye, a book about living with vision loss in later life.

My grandmother was both a college professor and a homemaker. Her home was simple and tidy, her silver perfectly polished. She knit and crocheted clothes and blankets for the grandchildren. She gardened, and as she listened to books on tape, she put up food for the winter. I remember running my fingers along the jars of canned fruit and vegetables in her stairwell.

I recently listened to a snippet of my grandmother's story. She reminisced about her childhood, her uncomfortable clothing, her love of maps, family gatherings in their yard, dog yipping at the fence when she returned from school, her father's travels, and some of her mother's cooking. She even shared her mother's recipe for apple butter. With this recipe, I immediately felt connected not only to Nicolette, but to my great grandmother Oma.

My grandmother died in 2003. She was 99 years old.

Kate Walling writes about the power of food and the importance of family recipes. She states that "remembering, collecting, recording and passing down the recipes your loved ones have passed to you is a wonderful way to honor and immortalize your family. These traditions from the past are part of who you are as an individual. Not only will these recipes allow you to create meals that are a meaningful experience, but they will also inspire you to create your own versions of dishes, to add your own flavor and style. You will take what your family has given to you and infuse it with your own meaning and power. Family ties are bonds that stand the test of time. Preserving family recipes is saving and honoring our heritage so future generations can continue to strengthen those ties."

With that said, I would like to share my great grandmother's apple butter recipe. I gave it a try, and it really is delicious. When you make it, imagine a little French girl running out to her shed, reaching into a barrel to grab potatoes for her mother to cook for dinner, only to pull out a mouse!

Great Grandma’s Apple Butter Recipe

makes 6 half pints

8 C. stewed and pureed (organic) apples
3 C. brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 C. cider vinegar

1. Turn oven on to 200 degrees (F).
2. Stir all ingredients in an oven safe pan.
3. Bake for 6 hours, or until reduced by half.
4. Fill jars leaving 1/4 inch head space. Stir with a butter knife to release potential air pockets.
5. Wipe rims and place two part lids on jars. Place in hot water bath and process for 5 minutes.
6. Remove jars from water and allow to cool for overnight.
7. Store for up to one year, and serve with fresh, warm bread or pancakes.


  1. Nicole, that was such a treat to read. Thank you for sharing... today Stew and I are making apple butter and I was going to use my pear butter recipe but nope! Going to try your Grandmother's!!!

  2. What an inspiring story! The apple butter sounds amazing! I can't wait to try the recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Sandy! It's as good as it sounds!


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