Apples were a staple food of early America. John Adams, like many members of the First Continental congress, started the day with a glass of hard cider. Europeans brought apple seeds and later saplings to the colonies which quickly became established in the native soil. Although of a different flavor, color, and fragrance than their European roots, apple trees thrived in every colony in America by the time of the Revolution.

Cider was a universal favorite and carefully stored apples provided both settlers and Indians with an important supplement to their winter diet of smoked and salted meats.

From the 1833 diary of Sally Brown, age 22:

Friday, November 1 – Worked about the house and boiled sweet cider and pared apples.
Saturday, November 2 – Did some chores and boiled cider.
Sunday, November 3 – Finished boiling cider and made sweet applesauce. We have boiled two and a half barrels of sweet cider besides some sauce.

Fruits were dried for winter use or preserved by boiling with sugar. Some were taken to the local cider mill for pressing. Apple pies were made with the large supply of local fall apples. The first pies were tart rather than sweet and were served at the breakfast tables of New England. Pie crust was made with corn flour or dark flour, salt, pork-lard or rendered chicken fat. The apples were sweetened with molasses, brown sugar or maple sugar. Cane sugar and molasses were imported from the West Indies and were expensive.

Thanksgiving to-day. We baked three ovensful of pyes. The pyes were a great deal better than they were last Thanksgiving for I made them all myself and part of them were made of flour we got of Mr. H. Hastings therefore we had plenty of spice. – Elizabeth Fuller, age 14, November 25, 1790.

Following are some colonial apple recipes.

Helpful hint: quick oven is a hot oven. Testing of an oven was done by throwing in some white flour. A slow oven would turn it to a straw color in five minutes, a medium one to a light brown, and a hot oven to a dark brown.

From Early American Cookery by Margaret Huntington Hooker

Margaret Huntington Hooker, in 1895, assembled a fine collection of colonial cooking recipes from all over New England, adding her own illustrations.

Apple Bread

Mix stewed and strained apple, or grated apple uncooked, with an equal quantity of wheat flour; add yeast enough to raise it, and mix sugar enough with the apple to make it quite sweet. Make it in loaves, and bake it an hour and a half, like other bread.

To Make Apple Fritters

Take four eggs and beat them very well, put to them four spoons full of fine flour, a little milk, about a quarter of a pound of sugar, a little nutmeg and salt, so beat them very well together; you must not make them very thin, if you do it will not stick to the apple; take a middling apple and pare it, cut out the core, and cut the rest in round slices about the thickness of a shilling; (you may take out the core after you have cut it with your thimble) have ready a little lard in a stew-pan or any other deep pan; then take your apples every slice single, and dip it into your batter, let your lard be very hot, so drop them in, you must keep them turning till enough, and mind that they are not too brown; as you take them out, lay them on a pewter dish before the fire till you have done; have a little white-wine, butter, and sugar for the sauce, grate over them a little loaf sugar and serve them up.

To Make Apple Dumplings

Take half a dozen coddlings or any other good apples, pare and core them. Make some cold butter paste, and roll it about the thickness of your finger. So lay around every apple, and tie them single in a fine cloth, boil them in a little salt and water and let the water boil before you put them in. Half an hour will boil them. You must have for sauce a little white-wine and butter. Grate some sugar round the dish and serve them up.

To Make An Apple Pie

“When you make apple pies, stew your apples very little indeed; just strike them through, to make them tender. Some people do not stew them at all, but cut them up in very thin slices, and lay them in the crust. Pies made in this way may retain more of the spirit of the apple; but I do not think the seasoning mixes in as well. Put in sugar to your taste; it is impossible to make a precise rule, because apples vary so much in acidity. A very little salt, and a small piece of butter in each pie, makes them richer. Cloves and cinnamon are both suitable spice.” – From The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Child, 1832

Make a good crust and lay it around the sides of a deep dish, pare, quarter and take out the cores of your apples. Lay a row of apples thick, then some sugar, throw over a little lemon-peel minced fine, squeeze a little lemon, then a few cloves, then the rest of your apples and more sugar. You must sweeten to your palate, and squeeze a little more lemon. Then boil in fair water the peelings and cores with a blade of mace till it is very good; then strain it and boil it with sugar till there is but very little and good. Pour this into your pie. Put on a crust and bake it.

Botanical Apples Image

Botanical Apples Image

From The Compleat Housewife by Eliza Smith, 1729

This was the first cookery book to be published in the Thirteen Colonies of America: it was printed in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1742. It contained the first published recipe for “katchup”, and appears to be the earliest source for bread and butter pudding.

The book includes recipes not only for foods but for wines, cordial-waters, medicines and salves.

To make Puff-Paste for Tarts

Rub a quarter of a pound of butter into a pound of fine flour; then whip the whites of two eggs to snow, and with cold water and one yolk make it into a paste; then roll it abroad, and put in by degrees a pound of butter, flouring it over the butter every time, roll it up, and roll it out again, and put in more butter: so do for six or seven times, till it has taken up all the pound of butter. This paste is good for tarts, or any small things.

Apple Pasties to fry

Pare and quarter apples, and boil them in sugar and water, and a stick of cinnamon, and when tender, put in a little white wine, the juice of a lemon, a piece of fresh butter, and a little amber-grease or orange-flower water: stir all together, and when it is cold put it in puff-paste, and fry them.

To dry apples

Take apples and thrust a picked stick into the head of them beyond the core; then scald them, but not too tender, and pare them the long way; put them in water, and take the weight of them in sugar; clarify it with water, a pint of water to a pound of sugar; strain the syrup, and put in the pears; set them on the fire and boil them pretty fast for half an hour; cover them with paper and set them by till the next day; then boil them again, and set them by till the next day; then take them out of the syrup, and boil it till it is thick and ropy; then put the syrup to them; if it will not cover them, add some sugar to them; set them over the fire and let them boil up, then cover them with paper and set them in a stove twenty four hours; then lay them on plates, dust them with sugar, and set them in your stove to dry; when one side is dry, lay them on papers, turn them, and dust the other side with sugar; squeeze the eye to the stalk; when they are quite dry put them in boxes, with papers between.

An Apple Pudding

Peel and quarter eight golden runnets, or twelve golden pippins; put them into water, in which boil them as you do apple-sauce; sweeten them with loaf sugar, squeeze in two lemons, and grate in their peels; break eight eggs, and beat them all well together; pour it into a dish covered with puff-paste, and bake it an hour in a slow oven.

To make Apple Fritters

Take the yolks of eight eggs, the whites of four, beat them well together, and strain them into a pan; then take a quart of cream, warm it as hot as you can endure you finger in it; then put to it a quarter of a pint of sack, three quarters of a pint of ale, and make a posset of it; when your posset is cool, put to it your eggs, beating them well together; then put in your nutmeg, ginger, salt, and flour to your liking; your batter should be pretty thick; then put in pippins sliced or scraped; fry them in good store of hot lard with a quick fire.

To make an Apple Tansey

Take three pippins, slice them round in thin slices, and fry them with butter; then beat four eggs, with six spoonfuls of cream, a little rose-water, nutmeg, and sugar; stir them together, and plur it over the apples: let it fry a little, and turn it with a pye-plate. Garnish with lemon and sugar strew’d over it.

Sturtevant Hamblen (active 1837–1856), attributed, Little Girl with Apple, found in New Bedford, Mass., ca. 1840. Oil on canvas, 21-1/4 x 17-1/4 inches. Courtesy of a private collection. Photography by David Stansbury. Source

More Recipes

To make Apple Tarts

Pare them first; then cut them into quarters, and take the cores out; in the next place, but each quarter across again; throw them, so prepared into a sauce-pan, with no more water in it than will just cover the fruit; let them simmer over a slow fire, till they are perfectly tender. Before you set your fruit on the fire, take care to put a good large piece of lemon peel into the water. Have the patty pans in readiness, and strew fine sugar at the bottom; then lay in the fruit, and cover them with as much of the same sugar as you think convenient. Over each tart pour a teaspoonful of lemon juice, and three spoonfuls of the liquor in which they were boiled. Then lay the lid over them, and put them into a slack oven (moderate heat).

Icing for Tarts

Beat and sift a quarter of a pound of fine loaf sugar. Put it into a mortar with the white of one egg, that has been well beat up. Add to these two spoonfuls of rose water, and beat all together till it be so thick as just to run, observing to stir it all one way. It is laid on the tart with a brush or small bunch of feathers dipped in the icing. Set the tarts, when so done, into a cool oven to harden. But take care not to let them stand too long; for that will discolor them.

Apple Dumplings

Pare and core as many codlins (small immature apple) as you intend to make dumplings. Make a little cold butter paste. Roll it to the thickness of one’s finger; and lap it round every apple singly, and if they be boiled singly in pieces of cloth, so much the better. Put them into boiling water, and they will be enough in half an hour. Serve them up with melted butter and white wine; and garnish with grated sugar about the dish.

Apple Pumpkin Bread with Honey

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
8 ounces of canned pumpkin
1 1/8 cups honey
1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3″ loaf pan. in large bowl, sift together the first six dry ingredients. (Stir in freshly grated nutmeg; it doesn’t sift well.) In separate bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, honey and eggs. Add the flower mixture to the pumpkin bowl, stirring until the two mixtures are well combined. Fold in the chopped apple. Bake the loaf for 50 minutes or until a straw comes out clean. Let loaf cool in pan, about 45 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool completely. The bread keeps well when tightly wrapped. Yield, one loaf.

Baked Apples

6 to 8 small tart apples (Stayman, Granny Smith, MacIntosh)
2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons flour
Grated nutmeg or ground cinnamon
Chopped walnuts – small package

Core apples and place in shallow baking dish. Fill apples with raisins. Mix sugar, flour, milk and eggs. Remove hot coals from fire with a shovel and set on hearth. Place Dutch oven over the hot coals. Put a small trivet in bottom of Dutch oven. Place baking dish with apples inside Dutch oven. Pour liquid over apples in dish. Sprinkle with walnuts and nutmeg or cinnamon. Bake 45 minutes with lid on.

After 45 minutes, add coals to lid (be sure to cover entire lid with coals.) Also, be sure to keep coals under the pot even and hot. Cook 45 minutes more. Coals may be changed every 15 or 20 minutes.

Oven method: Use a 9 inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours. Test apples for doneness.

To make Apple Sauce

Take as many boiling apples as you choose, peel them, and take out all the cores; put them in a sauce-pan with a little water, and a few cloves, and simmer them till quite soft. Then strain off all the water, and beat them up with a little brown sugar and butter.

Another Way

4 medium apples
3/4 to 1 cup water
4 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

masher or sieve
apple corer
paring knives

Wash, core and quarter apples (do not peel). Place in saucepan with water. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until apples are tender. Mash or press cooked apples through a sieve. Add sugar and cinnamon and mix. Cool until ready to serve.

Dried Apple Bread

2 cups dried apples
4 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup boiling water
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Take dried apples and cut the slices small. Cover them with boiling water and leave to soak for one hour. Beat together the butter and sugar. To them add the eggs, dried apples, and the liquid in which they soaked. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Blend this mixture into the batter. Stir in the nut meats. Pour into buttered loaf pan. Bake in a 325 degree oven for about one hour. Yield, one loaf.

Apple Butter Making

Apple butter is a highly concentrated form of apple sauce produced by long, slow cooking of apples with cider or water to a point where the sugar in the apples caramelizes, turning the apple butter a deep brown. The concentration of sugar gives apple butter a much longer shelf life as a preserve than apple sauce.

Winona Fisher, Apple Butter Making in VA, 1953

Winona Robertson Fisher, Apple Butter Making in Virginia, ca. 1953

We made in one season six barrels of cider into applebutter, three at a time. Two large copper kettles were hung under the beech-trees, down between the springhouse and smoke-house, and the cider was boiled down the evening before, great stumps of trees being in demand… the rest of the family gathered in the kitchen and labored diligently in preparing the cut apples, so that in the morning the “schnits” might be ready to go in. – Phebe E. Gibbons, The Pennsylvania Dutch

Ralph W. Hoffman describes apple butter making in Chester County, PA.

To make Apple Butter by neighbors…
The host set a copper kettle on rocks to keep kettle off ground about twelve inches so that firewood could be put underneath it. The kettle was filled to the top with cider, the fire started with dry shavings cut from firewood and old newspapers and kept going mostly all day until the cider had boiled to half the amount and the fire was put out and the kettle covered.

The next day the neighbors or neighbor came with their apples and knives, pans, etc. and the ladies all cut apples into small sections and kept dropping them into the kettle with other ingredients – which had previously been brought to a boil – and one of the gentlemen had to keep stirring the cider and apples all the time with a wide paddle with holes and long pole to keep the pot from sticking. The paddle couldn’t be stopped and as soon as one gentleman got tired another gentleman took over. When the kettle was full of apples and cider it was considered finished – which usually took all day – and the families divided the apple butter between them and considered they had a very enjoyable and profitable day.

I can attest to the fact that it was very extra good.

Apple Butter

10 pounds tart apples (Jonathans are good)
5 cups apple cider
4 cups sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Dash of nutmeg

Core and thickly slice apples. (About 30 cups sliced.) Place in 10-quart kettle, add cider. Bring to boiling, reduce heat. Cover and cook until apples are soft (about 30 minutes), stirring occasionally. Press through food mill or sieve, return to kettle. Boil gently, stirring frequently, until mixture is of desired consistency, about 2 hours. Stir in spices, cook and stir 15 minute more. Pour into sterilized jars, adjust lids and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes approximately 6 pints.

Grandma Moses, Cooking Apple Butter

Grandma Moses, Cooking Apple Butter

Grandma Moses, Apple Butter Making

Grandma Moses, Apple Butter Making

Grandma Moses, Apple Butter Making, Detail

Grandma Moses, Apple Butter Making, Detail

From Wikiart:

Although many people think of apples as a New England commodity, J. A. Apple Butter Making is actually among a handful of paintings based on Moses’ Virginia memories. The house in the picture is the Dudley Place, one of several farms the Moses family occupied as tenants during their years down South.

“Late summer was the time for apple butter making,” Moses wrote in her autobiography. “The apple butter was considered a necessity.”

To make apple butter, you take two barrels of sweet cider {you grind apples and make sweet cider first), then you put them on in a big brass kettle over afire out in the orchard and start it to boiling. You want three barrels of quartered apples, or snits, as they called them, with cores taken out, and then you commence to feed those in, and stirring and keeping that stirrer going. . . . Womenfolks would keep that going, feeding in all the apples until evening. Then the young folks would come in to start stirring. They’d have two—a boy and a girl—to take hold of the handle. They’d have a regular frolic all night out in the orchard.

Moses’ personal recollections—parts of which read like recipes, others like social history—were mirrored in the content of her painting.


  • Adam’s Luxury, and Eve’s Cookery; or, the Kitchen-Garden display’d… London: Printed for R. Dodsley, in Pall-Mall; …1744. Facsimile reprint by Prospect Books Ltd, London, 1983.
  • Richard Bradley, The Country Housewife and Lady’s Director, sixth ed., (London: Printed for D. Browne, 1736), facsimile reprint by Prospect Books, London, 1980.
  • The Diaries of Sally and Pamela Brown, 1832-1838 and Leslie Hyde, 1887, Plymouth Notch, Vermont Paperback, January 1, 1979.
  • The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Child, Boston, Carter, Hendee, & co., 1832.
  • Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1796 Ed., (Facsimile reprint by Archon Books, Hamden Connecticut, 1971)
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  • E. Smith, The Compleat Housewife: or, Accomplish’d Gentlewoman’s Companion, 15th ed. (London: printed for R. Ware, 1753. Facsimile reprint by Literary Services and Production Limited, London, 1968.