Traditional apple butter is cooked for 10 to 12 hours in a copper kettle over an open wood fire. (Kevin Ambrose)

The smell of wood smoke and cooking apples filled the air at the Apple Butter Celebration held at Shenandoah National Park‘s rustic Skyland resort in Luray, Va., on Saturday. Under a beautiful blue sky, apple butter was boiled in 40-gallon copper kettles over open wood fires as hundreds of visitors sampled hard apple cider, apple cobbler and, of course, apple butter.

During the day-long event, volunteers and visitors took turns stirring the apple butter with wooden paddles continuously for 10 to 12 hours. That’s a lot of stirring! The wooden paddles had very long handles to ensure the boiling brew didn’t splatter up onto the arms of those stirring the pot.

After cooking, the apple butter was poured into canning jars and prepared for sale. The apple butter produced during the celebration is usually sold out on the same day it’s made, even before the jars finish cooling. It’s very good, and it’s very popular!

Lindsay Abbot and Mollie Spivey stir the apple butter at Saturday’s Apple Butter Celebration at the Skyland resort in Luray, Va. (Kevin Ambrose)

David Foltz, who supervised the cooking of the apple butter, told me that the recipe used on Saturday has been passed down in his family through multiple generations and is at least 100 years old. I asked David whether he would share his family recipe with us, and he was more than happy to disclose all of the buttery details. A word of warning, however: This recipe calls for an open wood fire and a 40-gallon copper pot.

Apple Butter Ingredients

  • 9 bushels of golden and red delicious apples –peeled, cored and finely sliced
  • 50 lbs. of sugar
  • 13 teaspoons of cinnamon oil
  • 3 gallons of apple cider


  • Pour the apple cider into a 40-gallon copper kettle and place over an open wood fire.
  • Add the sliced apples and sugar into the copper kettle.
  • Add the cinnamon oil.
  • Cook for 10 to 12 hours while stirring continuously.
  • Serve or can when the mixture is thick and dark brown.

Since many of us can’t prepare David’s family recipe at home, here’s a link to an old-fashioned apple butter recipe that will scale to your kitchen: All-day Apple Butter.

The Apple Butter Celebration was held at mile 42 of Skyline Drive. A wide view from Skyline Drive on Saturday shows the foliage is just starting to change color. (Kevin Ambrose)

The event also included music, dancing, pony rides, locally made wine and cider, and plenty of food. Skyland is located at mile 42 on Skyline Drive, where the views are terrific. Despite the warm temperatures, there was a definite feeling of fall at the event. The smell of wood smoke, cooking apples and cinnamon helped set the mood. Also, the trees at the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains are starting to show a hint of fall color.

Apples are peeled, cored, sliced and slowly cooked into apple butter. (Kevin Ambrose)

The Apple Butter Celebration is held on National Park Service property and is run by Delaware North. Helen Morton, sales director, and Nick Smith, general manager, of Delaware North said this was the event’s 18th year. There is also a blackberry event that is held in July at Skyland called Blackberry Delight, but it’s not quite as large and popular as the Apple Butter Celebration.

If you missed Saturday’s festival, Berkeley Springs, W.Va., will hold its downtown Apple Butter Festival during the weekend of Oct. 7-8. Capon Springs resort will also produce apple butter in October.

Cinnamon oil is a key ingredient of the apple butter made at the event. (Kevin Ambrose)

Let us know your favorite apple butter recipes, stories or events, and tell us your favorite way of serving apple butter. For me, I love to make peanut butter and apple butter sandwiches. I also toast bread, spread on a lot of butter, then add a thick layer of apple butter. I’ll even eat apple butter out of the jar with a spoon. But I don’t double dip — really.

Stirring apple butter at the Apple Butter Celebration (Kevin Ambrose)

Freshly baked apple cobbler with a side of ice cream was served with a smile. (Kevin Ambrose)

Kelli Stover, sales and marketing manager of Showalters Orchards, helped serve hard cider from Old Hill . (Kevin Ambrose)

Pine Wind Music by Timothy Seaman  performed at the event. (Kevin Ambrose)

Pony rides were available for the kids. (Kevin Ambrose)

Locally produced wine was also available for tasting and purchase. (Kevin Ambrose)

The author took a turn stirring the apple butter. (David Foltz)

Jars of apple butter produced this month at Capon Springs . (Jonathan Bellingham)