Nothing but Fruit
by Lindsey Walker
Apple butter—a sweet, spreadable concentration of apple cider and apple sauce—is a centuries-old method of preserving fresh fruit that serves our appetite for local food and creates almost no waste.
It’s “a simple food done incredibly well,” says Michael Holahan, who co-owns the Pennsylvania General Store with his wife, Julie. They’ve stocked Bauman’s Apple Butter at their shop in the Reading Terminal Market since they opened 27 years ago. “It’s got an incredible history,” he enthuses. “It’s been on tables in Southeastern Pennsylvania for over 100 years.”
In the 1890s, John W. Bauman founded the family apple butter business, converting his small sleigh-making factory in Sassamansville, Montgomery County, into a cider pressing operation. However, like the sleigh business, competition was fierce—there were several other cider presses in the area serving the abundance of local orchards. After a few years, Bauman began using the recipe his wife Catharine inherited from her German ancestors. The ingredients? Nothing but fruit.
Catharine was raised in the Schwenkfelder Church, a small Christian community descended from the Germans who immigrated to Southeastern Pennsylvania in the 1700s to escape religious persecution. “When settlers came over from Germany, they brought apple butter with them,” says Cathy Bauman, who now runs the family business with her husband, Stanley. “It was one of the things that they credited with helping to keep them alive on the ship, because apple butter is so thick and concentrated that it won’t spoil.”
This thickness is the key to rich flavor, too. Bauman’s uses over five pounds of fresh apples from local orchards—most within a 20-minute drive of their factory—to make just one pound of apple butter. Whole apples are boiled into sauce, then apple cider (pressed from the previous winter) is slowly added while the mixture cooks and thickens for several hours. Before being canned, the butter passes through a strainer to remove seeds and skins.
“Not much is wasted,” Bauman says. “Each thing is a resource for something else.” Pulp left over from pressing cider is often used by local farmers to feed their cattle, and wood used to heat the cooking barrels is scrap from a local sawmill.
Bauman’s also helps farmers process their excess produce into fruit butters and products like ketchup, which they can sell year-round.
“The whole idea of making apple butter and other fruit butters,” Cathy says, “is to make use of the resources that you have at the moment and preserve them for the future.”