Apple Butter: No Sugar, Just Memories

Fall is the best.  It is the best colors, the best food, the best aromas, and, unless you want a winning professional football team, the very best that Northeast Ohio has to offer.  Fall is apples and crunchy leaves and early, smoky dusk.  It is pumpkins and bonfires and flannel shirts.  Fall is a time to listen to Van Morrison and Otis Redding and get sentimental and pleasantly sad about the sweet, distant past.

No, we weren’t much help. Also, we lost my dad’s best flashlight in that leaf pile.

I have 10,000 happy childhood memories that take place in the fall, but the one I most enjoy re-living is the Apple Butter Festival in Burton, OH.  My parents used to take us every year, and when I visit as an adult, the smell of apple butter cooking in giant copper kettles transports me back immediately (it helps that the event takes place in a historic village, so it is truly timeless).  As a child, my favorite snack there was a slice of thick white bread spread with warm apple butter, straight from the kettle.  My second favorite (and my parents’ very favorite) was the bag of trail bologna and cheese that we’d get to snack on while we walked around.  Today, my tastes have veered very, very far from cured meat (my parents would be so disappointed!), and the festival offers kettle corn, so it’s a natural substitute.  You can’t walk around the Apple Butter Festival empty-handed!  You’ve got to buy something delicious.

Back in the day, you could buy “sugar free” apple butter, which was usually sweetened with some kind of sugar substitute.  In my family there are several of us who’ve chosen to watch our sugar intake for one reason or another, so historically there have been a bunch of “sugar free” condiments knocking around.  But in 2017, when I am grown up who would like fewer chemicals in my food?  What I have to say about that is apples are made of sugar. Here are some quick facts I’m going to use to convince you to make naturally sweet apple butter, no sugar or sugar substitutes needed!

  • Apples are 80% sugar.
  • Apple butter’s brown color comes from the caramelization of all that sugar.
  • You will get a more concentrated apple flavor if you keep the ingredients list short.  Don’t bother with the sugar!

So if you really like apples, and want to take on a kitchen challenge that will taste like pure Ohio autumn in a jar, try this recipe!  The only thing that makes it a “challenge” is the length of time it takes.  Choose a day when you want to sit around looking at old photos while listening to that Van Morrison playlist and occasionally giving a mindless stir to a crockpot.  Mine was an especially Ohioish batch, because I used apples from Patterson Fruit Farm – another family tradition.  Read on if you’d like the recipe!

[Bonus points if you also make yours in your mother’s Corningware Crockpot from the 1990s–I do own a modern crockpot, but this one still works and I use it for things that are messy or likely to burn. If you’d like to read more about vintage Corningware, the site CorningWare 411 is a treasure trove of info!  It’s how I learned that this is the “Forever Yours” pattern, and was only produced from 1990-1993.  Which means this thing has been working for a minimum of 24 years!]

Continue reading “Apple Butter: No Sugar, Just Memories”

Your New Favorite Pancakes (Palačinke)


Fluffy pancake recipes are a dime a dozen. But have you ever wondered what would happen if your pancakes were a tiny bit more like crepes? (or if your crepes were ever-so-slightly more like pancakes?)  Would you be even more excited if you could do it with only 5 ingredients that you probably already have?  If so, you’ve been waiting to discover Grandma Pancakes… and the anticipation is officially over!

Growing up, there were huge benefits to sleeping over Grandma’s house.

  • She would let you paint her toenails any color you wanted as long as you kept relatively quiet during General Hospital.
  • There was almost always one of those three-flavor tins of popcorn sitting around  (because this was one of the only items on Grandma’s birthday or Christmas wish list, followed closely by things that played music and things that lit up, the gaudier the better).
  • All the sparkly light-up music-playing things to play with! (like this one below, although I’m pretty sure hers played “You Light Up My Life“)
  • In the morning, you were treated to the World’s Most Delicious Pancakes!

When I began researching these pancakes, I discovered a few interesting things.  First of all, everyone in my family who has a copy of the recipe has the same one — the one that does not tell you how much milk to add, just “as needed.”  That can be perplexing if you are not making these pancakes on a regular basis.  Do you need a teaspoon?  Half a cup?  A pint?

Additionally, the name of what we’ve always just called “Grandma Pancakes”seems to have multiple origins.   My Grandma would always spread her serving of pancakes with jam and cottage cheese and call them what sounded like “polla-chinki”.  I thought this was a name for that specific style of serving them, but it turns out that palacinke, or palatschinke, or palačinke just means “crepes” or “pancakes.”  I’ve seen them listed as Hungarian, Serbian, Croatian, Ukranian, Macedonian, and yes, Slovenian in origin.  And that’s just a partial list.

Nearly every Eastern European cuisine seems to have its own version, and they vary slightly in ingredients and technique: cream vs. milk, one egg vs. two, separated or not, beaten egg whites vs. club soda (for leavening).  Some recommend serving with powdered sugar, some with jam (cottage cheese is a little less common, and maple syrup, the favorite of US and Canadian pancake connoisseurs, is not easily found in Europe).  However, what all these recipes seem to have in common is hitting that sweet spot between fluffy American pancakes and delicate French crepes.  And that’s why you need to try them!

Without further adieu…

These are not officially “Grandma-style” since I substituted ricotta for cottage cheese.      But they were equally delicious.

Grandma Pancakes

makes about 8 6-inch pancakes

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar1
  • 2 eggs, separated (room temperature is best)
  • 3 Tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled2
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups milk (room temperature is best)3

Preheat a skillet or non-stick pan over low heat.

Put flour and sugar in a large bowl.  Make a well in the middle.  In a small bowl, beat together egg yolks, milk, and melted butter.  Pour into well and mix into a smooth batter.  In another small bowl, beat egg whites until stiff, and fold into batter.

Increase temperature to medium-low.  These pancakes are most perfect when cooked in butter, but you can use your oil/fat/spray of choice.

Enjoy with your favorite topping!


  1. The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup sugar.  I think these are sweet enough with half that amount, but I don’t like super sweet breakfasts so feel free to experiment as your taste dictates!
  2. OF COURSE, the original recipe calls for Oleo.  I don’t happen to live in an Oleo household and can assure you that butter is a delicious subtitute.
  3. I tested this since, as mentioned above, the original recipe doesn’t tell anyone how much milk to use. 1-1/2 cups milk gives you a slightly thicker pancake; adding more will get you closer to crepe-like.
  4. You can certainly try other kinds of flour or non-dairy milks, but my experiments have proven that the original ingredients are far and away the best for texture and taste.
  5. I recommend the room temperature eggs and milk so you don’t end up with solid chunks of butter in the batter.  It’s not the worst thing in the world if you forget, but taking the milk and eggs out of the refrigerator early is a big help.

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