Sunday, October 2, 2011

Apple butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

Charlie, BethIf it’s autumn, it must be apple butter time!

Yesterday was my family’s fall get-together, when we make a big pot of apple butter. (That’s me in the football jersey, and Ken’s Mom is in the blue coat.) My cousin Tom and his wife Nici have everyone over at their place out in the country; they have several acres with paths out through the woods, with a really nice older farmhouse. It ended up being a beautiful fall day for it. Although it was chilly in the morning, the sun was shining and there wasn’t much of a breeze.

If you needed to warm up, you could stand by the fire where the apple butter was bubbling in a big iron pot. I don’t recall the exact recipe, but Tom (he was always Tommy when I was a kid, but I think the only person that calls him that now is my Mom!) takes 22 gallons of cider and boils it down to 11 gallons, which he freezes for the following year; there are cut up apples that go in (I think it’s about two and a half bushels), and ten pounds of sugar. Oh, and several pieces of sassafras root. I believe that is the only seasoning. It has to be stirred constantly, or it will burn, and a large wooden paddle is used to stir it. Ken had lots of stirring time this year! This is the way my Grandpa (my Dad’s Dad) made it for many years, and I’m glad that it continues to be a family tradition.

We have a big lunch with all kinds of food. Tom cooks a turkey in the ground, and I think it’s the most tender turkey I’ve ever had. This year I made that broccoli salad with sunflower seeds and dried cranberries, and people seemed to like it pretty well. There wasn’t much left.

After the apple butter cooks down for several hours, Tom checks the consistency and the color and the taste, as well as using a special tool to see how much it has boiled down. The special tool is a stick with markings on it. This is high tech stuff, man! When Tom decides it’s ready, we start the assembly line at an outside table. Nici has sterilized the jars and lids and brings those out to the table. We line up on both sides of the table and each do a part of the jarring. Tom would bring pots of the apple butter over to the table; my Mom and Cousin Suzanne dipped the apple butter into the jars; my sister Sue and someone I didn’t know (I think she must have been a friend of Tom and Nici’s...I didn’t recognize her as a family member. I have a big family, so it’s entirely possible that we were related. haha) wiped the lip and rims of the jars; Cousin Doris and I used tongs to put the heated lids onto the jars; Ken’s Mom and my sister-in-law by marriage put the rims onto the jars, and voilĂ ! A few dozen pint jars of apple butter! It all moved really fast, and I’d say we were done within a half an hour. That was fun for me, because I had never been there late enough to help with the jarring.

This was an especially fun get-together, because we had, as they say, some Very Special Guests™! My Aunt June and Aunt Marie have been visiting from Florida for the past week and a half, staying with my Mom. (That’s Aunt June in the white scarf and hat it the pictures up there. She was freezing!) They’ve had a crazy time, and neither of them had been to an apple butter-making before. Aunt June had also never had a S’more, so I was joking with her that she got to cross that off of her bucket list! They are two of the sweetest and most fun ladies I know (they and my Mom, Shane and Matt, and I met on Wednesday for lunch and a visit to the Studebaker Museum...Aunt June was one of the very last Studebaker employees, so she enjoyed it very much), and it was wonderful to have them there.

Also, Ken’s Mom came along with us, and she told us later how much she enjoyed it. It’s hard for her to be around a bunch of new people, but she had met a few in my family before, and for the ones she hadn’t...well, I know how my family is, and I knew that she would feel welcome. That is exactly what happened. She told me later that my sister Sue was sitting and chatting with her. Ken’s Mom was telling her that she really doesn’t have any family left other than her kids. Sue told her, “Well, you have a family now.” Ken’s Mom said she was really touched by that, and I told her that I can guarantee that Sue was 100% sincere.

I don’t agree with my family (both my Dad’s side and my Mom’s side) on everything, especially politics. My sister Diana and I are the rare liberals in a family of staunch conservatives. However, they are very good-hearted people who welcome new members of the family with open arms. (When I introduced Aunt June to Matt on Wednesday, I think Matt was startled—and maybe pleasantly surprised—when Aunt June gave him a big hug!) We were talking last night about how it’s a real shame that Ken’s kids have been discouraged and removed from being around my family just because someone (not to mention any names) has a beef with us. I can say with conviction that ANY kid would benefit from being around my family and knowing that they are completely accepted as full members of a truly decent bunch of people that they were “married” into. It is very much their loss, and it’s too bad that such anger and bitterness has deprived them from such positive influences and from knowing that an extended family can be close-knit and a source of acceptance and comfort that can be precious hard to come by these days.

I’m sure some people might find this sort of countrified family get-together kind of lame and silly. [shrugs] That’s okay. It probably is. I recall someone writing several years ago that such techniques (iron pot, wooden paddle, open fire) were “crude,” and their way of cooking it in the crock pot was far superior. But I’m glad we carry on this tradition that has been going on for decades (with a few gaps along the way), and I’m glad that I have a large family that loves not only me, but anyone I bring into the fold. Not everyone has that, and I’m grateful for it.

As Whitesnake said, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I sure know where I’ve been.” I love my family roots...even the sassafras ones!