The Veterans of Apple Butter

WV Veterans...Sam McClure, Allan Meek, Jack Jeffrey, Walter Sansom, Bob Smith, Norm Alred, John Mullins, Jimmy Robinson, Pete Jones, Bob Steele
Hours before dawn, a group of 'veterans' gathered at the farm.  Some began to sanitize four robust 50 gallon copper kettles with a vinegar wash while others neatly placed fire bricks in four separate large squares on top of the cement slab.  The chopped wood was already stacked and stored under the old dairy barn's overhang.   The applesauce and sugar knew their places on tables next to wall.  The oil of cinnamon bottles, though small in comparison to the other supplies were waiting to pack their punch in the afternoon.  What in the world is going on and why are people of sound minds braving the 30 degree weather in the dark?  Veterans?  This isn't a war memorial though it was Veterans Day...
I was casually invited the day before to join the New Baptist Church members while they made apple butter!  These gifted souls had done this for years and were veterans in their own right.  And to top it off, many of the members were indeed true Veterans!  What a treasure it was to meet these brave men who sacrificed for our country!  What an honor it was to meet their wives who supported them with unwavering love fueling their loved one's brave hearts while they protected our freedoms.  Thank you is not enough nor would be the words that I could ever type...
I never watched this process before so my brain was trying to soak it all in.  How come they used applesauce instead of apples? I am always asking questions, unafraid of how silly they might seem.  In the old days everyone used apples but due to time constraints and the laborious task of pealing and coring, applesauce is much easier.  A whopping 239 gallons was purchased. Wow! 

The fires were lit, the kettles were cleaned and the applesauce was dumped into the hot pots.  The first step takes about 5 hours of boiling and constant stirring with long wooden tools some lighter with wooden handles, others a bit longer and heavier with metal handles.  The orange liquid gurgled and popped and steamed and smoked, and I smelled awful. I did try my hand at stirring and the angry bubbles were like a tide, they rose out of nowhere and seemed to enjoy spitting at me so with defiance I dragged the wooden tool causing those persistent orange air pockets to disappear for a brief second.  They had a gift for multiplying!
After the sugar is added, the apple butter darkens.
Soon it was time to sweeten things up a bit and 90 pounds of Domino's best was poured into the first kettle.  Knowing when to add the sugar depends upon the texture of the applesauce and Peggy (the pro) knew exactly what to do.  Another two hours of boiling was required before the oil of cinnamon could be added. 

Everyone looks forward to the end of the process, not because they have stood and stirred all day but because it is great fun to watch the ladies ladle and what comes afterwards.  Once the glass jars are filled and sealed and the pot is emptied, the long awaited pan of home-made warm biscuits are served!  No double dipping mind you but it is customary to dip your biscuit on the sides and scrape the delicious leftovers.  Now that was good!

I must say a kind word about the baker of the biscuits who does have a real name!  Mary McClure, the local Pumpkin Queen, captures the coveted title year after year during the Pumpkin Festival held in Milton, WV.  Beautiful Mary has graced a page of a national magazine and one of my favorites to boot.  Southern Living!  She was featured in the October 2005 issue around page 108.  My husband will not be happy tomorrow while I scatter my numerous saved editions on the living room floor searching for Mary's article.  Her pumpkin recipes are fantastic and her pumpkin corn chowder is currently featured online and can be found in the Department of Agriculture's Market Bulletin. 
Wagon rides were given throughout the day with Audy Perry leading the way.

Besides the veterans, along with Peggy and Mary, everyone was so nice and kind.  But  there was one individual that really brightened my day.  After taking the group photo of the veterans, Pete Jones pointed at his friend who had a ring of very fine copper wire held in his hand.  This sweet man was appreciative of my photography efforts of his compatriots and wanted to give me something.  Really?  I couldn't wait.  I had to run to the car and get another pen and when I came back, I was given a beautiful angel!  Then I got an airplane with a movable propeller!  And then a little bear!  (Jimmie's nickname  is Teddy Bear).  And then there was no more wire, the ring around his wrist was gone.  Thank you Jimmy Robinson!  You are the one who is an angel and your copper creations will always be displayed in our home reminding me of the kind words you whispered about what the angel represents. 

Guess how many pints of apple butter was made today?  200?  500?  900?  Nope, a whopping 1009 pints would not be possible had it not been for everyone helping, stirring, carrying, filling, sealing and cleaning.  The members of the New Baptist Church that I met today are a fine group of people who's varied talents all contributed in the making of the delicious apple butter.
The afternoon began to cast its first cool shadows hinting that the day has only a couple more hours till dusk.   It was time to leave.  Someone was hosing out a kettle, metal shovels were scraping the hot ashes from the fire brick and cars began to pull out of the farm.  I now know how to make apple butter but I certainly am no veteran, that is for sure.  I was invited to come back next year and I just might do that...Happy Veterans Day and to the members of New Baptist Church, thank you for making me feel at home and comfortable.  Heritage Farm is truly a wonderful place filled with good people and if you time it right, good apple butter!


Jill said...

Wow!! What a wonderful day! A lot of hard work and a sweet reward. Love the copper plane.

Linda said...

What a great post--thanks! I loved reading about the process of making apple butter and you really brought me there with the pictures. It looks delicious.

Verde Farm said...

What a fun day! I bet the apple butter is delicious!


How fun ! Looks like a pioneer village, how wonderful. Love the photos and post ! Have a great day.

Doreen said...

Looks like a wonderful day! Thank you so very much for stopping by my blog and leaving such a sweet comment. I'm adding you to my "blogger friends" list and will be back to visit often :)

Wishing you a lovely day,

Appalachian Lady said...

We have a local church that does this also. I can almost smell the apple butter. What a great tradition. I am glad I found your blog and you found mine.

Angela said...

Wow! That was a lot of apple butter they made! It looks delicious! I've heard that you are supposed to put copper pennies in the bottom of the kettle so it won't stick. Hope you got to take home a jar or two!

Have a Great Week!

Home In The Hollow said...

How cool!! When we make apple butter...we only make one case and we use our crockpot!! But it sure is yummy as I'm sure your is...:)JP

Tipper said...

Never seen it done on such a huge scale-neat!