Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Making Apple Butter, Molasses and Sweet Cider

I remember helping in the process of making apple butter and mo-lasses in my younger days. While the work wasn’t so easy, the payoff came when those delectable products were ready to process and put into glass jars. Homemade apple butter wasn’t usually made for sales distribution but was usually divided among the folks who contributed the material or helped in the process. Apple butter tasted very good on a hot homemade biscuit when snow-flakes began to fall. Apple butter making today is usually for demonstration purposes at festivals and fairs. Molasses though was a moneymaking project of sorts since the finished product was usu-ally sold by the quart to very willing buyers. Also, it was a take-home-for-eating-later delight. It too tasted mighty good with a pat of butter on a cathead biscuit fresh from the oven.
Both of those enterprises were work intensive. Making apple butter consisted of picking the apples, peeling the apples, cutting the apples up into small pieces and cooking them in a copper kettle over an open fire for several hours. All the while, people took turns stir-ring with a special wooden device to keep the apples from sticking to the kettle. Cinnamon or vanilla flavoring was also added and the finished product was delicious.
More work was required in making molasses. A few of the tasks necessary were preparing the soil, planting the cane, stripping the leaves from the cane, hauling the cane to the mill, extracting the juice from the cane with a special type of mill and boiling the juice in a special vat. A number of mills were once located in Johnson County. It took a special knack to know when the juice was ready to be molasses. Some who had that knowledge were George Pierce, Don Johnson and Joe Shoun. I’m sure there were others as well. In the early days a horse or mule walking in a circle was used to turn the cylinders of the mill but later gasoline engines became common for that purpose.
There was also another enterprise that was popular on farms and home backyards in bygone days and to a much less degree today — sweet or, as some call it, soft cider making. At one time there were few farms that didn’t have a small orchard and cider making was a common fall task. Soft cider is an unsweetened, non-alcoholic drink consisting of apple juice. As a homemade product, it is made by grinding the apples into a pulp and then squeezing the juice from the pulp with a wooden screw-type press. The juice then runs from a spout into a container.
It had been awhile since I had seen cider being made, so it was in-teresting indeed to visit someone last fall who was doing just that. When my wife and I visited the country home of Wayne and Betty Jean Ward, Wayne had a cider mill set up in a field behind and near their house and was making a batch of cider. More interesting still was the mill that was made in 1866, only one year after the close of the American Civil War. Now that has been a while ago. Pretty soon he had some cider ready and we drank a nice glass of the sweet liquid. As we left, I couldn’t help but reflect on the age of that old cider mill. If it could talk, what stories it could tell.