“This is how we started,” Joe Dickman tells me as I study an old black and white photo showing his father and a teen-aged Joe stirring a large copper cauldron over an open fire.
“Over there is the wooden stirrer my grandfather used to make apple butter,” he says pointing to a long wood pole with a flat paddle on the end that hangs over the desk where his wife Paula is sitting. “And that one we’re using to hang drapes was my father’s.”
Dickman’s family (he’s one of seven siblings) raised sugar beets and chickens—over 11,000 of them--on their Northern Ohio farm.
“In the fall we made 60 gallons of apple butter and people coming to get eggs would see us making it and ask if they could get some and my father would always tell them yes,” says Dickman. “My father learned to make it from my grandfather.”
The family also gave their apple butter for holiday presents and Dickman loved seeing how happy these little gifts of homemade goodness made people feel.
It was this sense of rural tradition that inspired Dickman to reconnect with these old family foodways. Living just south of U.S. 12 on a dirt road in Galien, Michigan just north of the Indiana border. Dickman loved the bounty of the nearby orchards that surrounded them. And so he and Paula decided to follow the traditions of his family—and recipes to make fruit butters the old fashioned way, albeit without cooking it over an open fire.
“It takes 12 to 14 hours to make good apple butter, waiting for the fruit to caramelize to develop the taste and flavor and people can tell. Good food often takes time.”
Fruit butters are fruits slowly simmered in their own juices until they are the consistency of a thick spread—when Dickman dips a spoon into his peach butter it coats the edges. They differ from jams and jellies in that very little sugar, f any, is added. Jams and jellies, according to Dickman, by USDA definition must contain around 55% or more sugar.
“When you buy jams, jellies and chutneys, you’re buying sugar enhanced fruit,” he says. “And a lot of time it’s incorporated with high fructose corn syrup. Our butters are Diabetic Friendly and 100% Gluten and Lactose Free.”
The term Diabetic Friendly means that the butters meet certain standards such as being low glycemic, low in sugar, contain net carbs which are simple carbs that digest quickly, have a minimum of salt, are low in trans-fats and also contain good fats. Besides that certification, Southwestern Michigan Buttery products are also kosher.
The Dickmans not only use fresh Michigan produce but other Michigan products as well including sugar from the Michigan Sugar Company in Bay City, which is packaged under the Pioneer and Big Chief brands. Their butters are packed in eco-friendly recycled glass jars glassware from TM Klein & Sons Honey in St. Charles, Michigan.
Paula does the marketing and she also helps create recipes for their fruit butters such as Toasted Brie, Turkey and Rhubarb Butter Sandwich, Broiled Tilapia with Peach Butter Glaze and chicken salad with a touch of apple butter.
“Fruit butters aren’t just for breakfast or something you put on toast,” says Paula. “You can put plum butter on Cornish game hens or use one of the butters to make a vinaigrette. I have a lot of friend and family who love to cook and they help with the recipes. Plum is great as a marinade for various water fowls, peach is good on salon and you can use the plum in Asian dishes. It’s also very Ukrainian.”
Even their young grandson, Jacob has suggestions such as using the plum butter in a milk shake (they tried it and liked it).
Currently Southwestern Buttery offers apple, peach, plum, rhubarb and blueberry butters but Joe says his goal is to have 12 butter varieties.
“I want to make a cranberry butter,” says Joe. “But it takes time. Each variety of fruit has its own subtle idiosyncrasies. It’s really a science. Every batch is different.”
Southwestern Michigan Buttery is located at 17851 Nye Road in Galien. (269) 545-9989; swmichiganbuttery.com. Their products are available both online and available in more than 50 stores including Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen in Chicago and Groceries By Joe in New Carlisle, Indiana. Southwestern Buttery also does fundraising for schools and churches. Last year they sold 9000 jars of fruit butters in two weeks at East Side Elementary in Niles, Michigan.
Toasted Brie, Turkey and Rhubarb Butter Sandwich
1 loaf of Nine Grain Bread
1 wheel of Brie cheese
Slices of roasted turkey (you can also use smoked turkey from the deli)
1 jar of Southwestern Michigan Buttery Rhubarb Butter
1 stick of butter, softened
Butter two slices of 9 grain bread and toast in skillet with thin slices of brie on top (like you're making a grilled cheese sandwich). Heat the turkey slices and add to the sandwich, topping the turkey with Southwestern Michigan Buttery Rhubarb Butter.
Perfect Plum Butter Vinaigrette on Mixed Greens Salad
1 large bag of mixed greens salad
1 bag of dried cranberries and pomegranates
1 can of roasted pecans
1 Jar of Southwestern Michigan Buttery Plum Butter
Red wine vinegar
Toss your mixed greens in a large salad bowl, along with 1 cup of cranberries and pomegranates and one cup of roasted pecans. Whisk one cup of Southwestern Michigan Buttery Plum Butter and one cup of red wine vinegar together to make the vinaigrette. Dress the salad with the plum butter vinaigrette.
Butter Baron's Best Roast Pork Loin
1 pork tenderloin
1 jar Southwestern Michigan Buttery Apple Butter
Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Wash and pat dry one boneless pork loin. Season with salt, pepper and poultry seasoning. Place in roasting pan or 9"x13" baking pan fatty side up. Pour a ribbon of apple butter on top of the loin. Bake approximately 15 minutes per pound, until internal temperature reaches 165 F degrees. Pull from oven and let rest 5-10 minutes. Slice and serve with apple butter on the side as a condiment.