By Mark Wieser
Oktoberfest isn’t as old of a tradition as I had once thought. Seems a Bavarian King named Ludwig I, held the first such celebration in honor of his marriage which happened to be on Columbus Day, 1810. (I am not certain Europeans celebrated that any way.) Nevertheless, the citizens of München were all invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates. It was also widely believed it had been proposed by an officer or even a coachman in his National Guard, but when the king arrives at the same decision—any petty officer yields. It seems the city of Munich had also held horseracing around this time of year ever since the 15th-century. The decision to combine and repeat these celebrations launched the annual Oktoberfest tradition. Ludwig was determined to make Munich famous and that no one could claim to know Germany if one had not seen München.
I have been to München many times, but I have never attended an Oktoberfest there. I have, however, attended the second largest German Oktoberfest held in Stuttgart. It was unbelievable! Each brewery set up its own, huge tent. There must have been a dozen or more—tents that might have dwarfed a Big Top! Inside each was not only a dance hall with an oompah band, but a restaurant and exclusively featured their own brand of beer. Outside the larger tents were dozens of creative and decorated booths featuring either some variety of German foods like pretzels or trinkets in keeping with German traditions. While there, I was reminded of my first visit to the world famous Hofbräuhaus in Munich. Outside each entrance were long trough-like tubs with running water much like the cattle troughs we had on our ranch. I need not explain why they were there. Germans think of everything.
This October, Munich’s Oktoberfest would have celebrated its 210th anniversary! Forty years ago (1980), the Pedernales Creative Arts Alliance began Fredericksburg’s 1st Oktoberfest and, much like King Ludwig, we can now say, no one has really come to know Fredericksburg without attending our Oktoberfest. For Fischer & Wieser, Fredericksburg’s Oktoberfest holds a very special place in our hearts because it helped get our business started. Case and I would put on our Lederhosen and German Hats. Deanna had her own Dirndl dresses, designed and stitched by Jane Woellhof using material direct from Germany. We would set up a booth with our jams and jellies and invite people to try them. At first, we had just a 10×10 foot space, but soon we were allowed to set up a larger tent which we rented from Schaetter’s Funeral Home. Though the tent itself carried the funeral home logo, which may have seemed out of place at such a festive event, we were grateful to use it and the revelers didn’t seem to mind.
One of our crowd-pleasing demos, besides free product tasting, was when we set up a large, black kettle and cooked apple butter just like they used to do in the olden days—outdoors. The aroma of spices attracted more visitors to our booth and while it was only intended for show, the bubbling brew occasionally attracted some to snitcht a spoonful here and there. It was a lot of work, but we always looked forward to having Oktoberfest on our calendar of events.
Apple butter was not something we ate in our family and my Mom never made any. Although my dad had planted dozens of apple trees around the house, they were never used for preserving or for making apple butter. We had lot of trees that produced green apples in all sizes. They had no red color or even a blemish at all and all were really, really tart—so tart that one could not help puckering. So good! They made the best cobbler and pies in the world because they kept their crispness while being baked. The Red and Yellow Delicious—we simply ate. An apple with a balance of both sweetness and tartness were the Winesaps. Incidentally, one can tell where a Delicious Apple was grown by looking to see how elongated it is. Washington state Delicious apples are easy to spot. In Texas a Delicious apple remains more rounded.
When Case returned from A&M, we began to expand our selections of jams and jellies to include butters. Remarkably, not a single recipe for apple butter was ever submitted to the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cookbook—as far as I have been able to determine, but then my most recent is only the 11th edition. My sister-in-law, Jean Wieser, came to our rescue and created our recipe for making apple butter. Even before joining Oktoberfest, she and Case would demonstrate making apple butter outdoors in a large kettle we set up at das Peach Haus.
It may be interesting to know that the Germans who settled here did not apparently know of apple butter. Perhaps it was the reason no recipe was ever included in the Fredericksburg Home Kitchen Cookbook although here our first immigrants discovered native Texas Crabapples – these were certainly edible and could have been used had they so wished. One final note—our native German dialect for jams, jellies, and preserves derives from Apple Butter—Apfelmus, which is essentially applesauce. The definition for Mus in Texas German came to mean any jam, jelly, or preserve. Had we known of apple butter we likely would have called it Apfelbutter. Butter(bútter), of course, is butter, churned from cream. Our Fredericksburg German has a few such archaic pronunciations not found in Standard German.
So, in the spirit of Fredericksburg’s Oktoberfest, which we were all denied from enjoying last weekend, here is an easy apple butter recipe for you to try.
4 pounds good cooking apples (Granny Smith or Gravenstein)
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
4 cups white or brown sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp allspice
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1. Cut and core apples into quarters, without peeling.
2. Purée them in a blender until completely smooth
3. In a medium bowl add water and vinegar, blend in sugar, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and the zest of the lemon.
4. Bring to a slow rolling boil on medium-low heat until the mixture becomes thick, glossy and develops a deep golden-brown color.
5. Expect this to take 2 to 2 ½ hours.
6. At around 1 ½ hours stirring becomes necessary.
7. When you feel it is ready, test for thickness by spooning a bit on a plate.
8. The mixture should set immediately with no evidence of spreading or wateriness.
9. Bottle and seal.