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From the Publisher's Desk – Steps turn apples into butter (Sept. 16, 2015 issue)

There had been hours of peeling, coring, slicing and preparing enough apples. They were first cooked a little on the electric stove and processed through a colander to remove any lumps before putting the applesauce in that big copper kettle to thicken into apple butter. As a child, I was excited when the big day would roll around, but I didn’t have to do any of the hard preparation to get to that moment.
Firewood blazed underneath the big pot as red hot coals built up to maintain a boiling heat. Cane-back chairs were off to the side for those resting after taking a turn at stirring.
At some point I got my turn to stir with the wooden, long-handled, L-shaped paddle. “Don’t stir too fast and slosh it out,” I would hear. “Don’t let it stick.” It required a constant stirring motion to keep it from sticking. It was almost hypnotic. Too much effort had gone into this project for me to be the one causing a mishap.
It actually took hours of cooking time over the fire to get the large batch bubbling and cooked down to the perfect consistency. I am sure it seemed longer to adults who had actually done more work than this young boy.
It took tasters with years of prior experience, to know just how much sugar to add and how much liquid cinnamon to put in for flavoring. Clean Mason jars awaited the finished delight.
Those times were years ago but still hold a fond memory in my mind. With all great things come modern day shortcuts. The process in my family turned into a covered kettle in the oven and eventually a crockpot version. Still, the finished product is tasty and with much less work.
My mom decided to take on such a project last week. With two bags of apples from David and Jennifer Briggs, she peeled and peeled and peeled. By the time I got home, she had it in the crockpot, somewhat cooked, and was using a potato masher to get rid of clumps. She no longer thought she would have use of the old colander and had given it to my aunt.
I got the blender out, thinking we would just pour some applesauce mixture in at a time and turn it into puree and lump free. I sat the container on the motorized base and poured enough fruit in to fill it. However, I noticed the container didn’t seem to be fitting properly on the base, so I lifted it up to adjust. At that moment, warm applesauce rushed out of the bottom like a flowing river onto the counter and onto the base of the machine. Luckily, I saw it in time to rush the container back over the large pot of sauce, where it finished oozing out.
Mom was nearly begging me at that moment to get out of the kitchen. She assured me she could handle it. I think she really just wanted to save what was left for fear I would make another fumble. I retreated to my room and waited awhile before entering the kitchen again. At this point she had the owner’s manual out, looking at the proper way to assemble the blade, gasket and container on the blender. Yes, I had it completely wrong.
I have never been one to read the manual for anything unless it was my very last resort. Usually a quick scan of the illustrations is my game plan.
After approximately 24 hours of cooking, sweetening, flavoring and occasional stirring, the finished apple butter was ready. Now, I don’t know that it would stand the test with that made by my ancestors, but it was pretty darn tasty to me.
I think the element that was most missed was the family time gathered around the big kettle in the yard, stirring and talking for hours. I am sure there are still plenty of readers in the area that have made apple butter or still do by one fashion or another.
Jan Hendren Bradley has carried on a family tradition of making apple butter the old fashioned way. It is a good way to hold onto heritage and have a family activity at the same time. Alexa gave me a jar one year and it was truly delicious.
Last year Gary and Betty Chandler gave us a quart of the delicious apple butter they made. It was just the right consistency and taste. It is good to have neighbors like them. We received fresh grown vegetables several times this summer.
The Erwin Rotary Club is the most famous in our county for apple butter. They make batch after batch to sell this time of year and during the Apple Festival. The money goes toward the club’s many projects that help all across the world. We have boxes of the club’s apple butter in the Record office that we sell on their behalf. Quarts are $9 and pints are $6. Stop by and pick up some or catch them at the Apple Festival.
Whether you are making your own or buying it from others, this time of year is perfect for the taste of apple butter. If you need any help, you can reach me here. I will bring along the blender and a roll of paper towels for the clean up.