Nine bushels of apples, seven hours of peeling, and 25 volunteers taking turns stirring a huge copper kettle over an open fire for 16 hours in 86-degree heat: The combination created apple butter and memories Saturday.
This time the cinnamon-spiced preserve was made at the Salem Museum as part of its Appalachian Festival. In past times, making apple butter was way to keep summer’s bounty so people could feed their families with it on biscuits on frigid winter days.
Making apple butter was a way to bring family together, explained Cindy Reynolds, who with fellow Salem Museum Docent Connie Stone came up with project, bought and brought the supplies.
“That’s what makes the apple butter so sweet,” Reynolds explained, “family coming together.”
She recalled apple butter making at the family home of her husband, Dennis, when family members would sleep on pallets on the floor “and I would get them up at 3:30 or 4:30 the next morning so they could help.”
Nobody slept on the floor of the museum this time but Cindy and Dennis and friends started plenty early – 4 a.m. The day before, they and eight docents and other volunteers had washed, peeled and cut apples for hours, getting them ready for the 30-gallon antique copper cooking kettle.
Peeling helpers used a combination crank-handle apple peeler, corer and slicer gadget that hasn’t changed much in years. Cindy had an older model iron corer-peeler for show.
She and Dennis had trekked to Floyd County on Thursday to get McIntosh, Winesap and Golden Delicious they ordered fresh off the trees at Wade’s Orchard.
Saturday, students and teachers from Glenvar High School came to help with the Appalachian festival. They, people in their 70s and 80s and anybody who came to the museum and wanted to take a turn stirred the apples. They worked side-by-side, two at a time, holding onto a 7-foot wooden paddle Dennis made.
There was family, too. Connie Stone’s daughter Wendy Rout and the Reynolds’ granddaughter Irene Jenkins stirred and stirred.
Cindy showed volunteers the pattern for stirring, which even has old rhymes to help keep the rhythm. One old rhyme is: “Once around, twice through the middle, hit the bail (handle) and kiss the kettle.”
“What that ‘kiss the kettle’ really meant was kissing the person you were stirring with,” she said, laughing.
Some people formerly used copper pennies in the bottom of the kettle to keep the apples from sticking as they cooked. Dennis made the copper chain he and Cindy use instead.
Saturday, the cooks started the process by pouring in a gallon of apple cider vinegar and the prepared apples. They added 15 pounds of sugar and 1-1/2 teaspoons of pure cinnamon oil later. “It’s really concentrated,” Cindy explained, so we didn’t need much.”
By 7:15 that night, volunteers started carefully dipping hot apple butter out of the kettle and into a large container, then carried the steaming goodness to the canning area set up in the lower floor of the museum. Ladies filled glass 96 pint jars, screwed on pre-sterilized metal lids and rings, and set the jars upside down to cool.
“We turned them upside down in order for the lids to seal, since we weren’t doing water-bath canning,” Cindy explained.
“We started at 4 a.m. and got the apple butter off and in the can by 8 p.m.,” Cindy said. “It was a really long day. We had a gallon of apples not used in the apple butter which I took home and made into applesauce on Monday and canned it,” she added.
The finished apple butter went to the people who helped make it. There was apple butter at the museum for tasting and for sale from Jamison’s Orchard in the Oak Grove area of Roanoke County.
“It amazed me how many people had never tasted apple butter, especially children,” Cindy said.
Cindy and Connie Stone had coordinated a massive apple butter making demonstration before at West Salem Elementary School, where Cindy was a teacher’s aide and school secretary for 30 years and Connie was a reading specialist.
“Over 350 kids had an opportunity to stir that time; parents came, even the mother of kindergarten teacher Barbara Oetgen came from Ohio to stir,” Cindy remembered.
This time, Cindy and Dennis’ younger granddaughter, Irene Jenkins, came to help “because she has never seen apple butter making before,” Cindy said. Her sister, Denise Jenkins, wanted to come, too, but was working at Radford.
Mary Ann Hollandsworth, another docent, and Connie Stone worked all week long making sure there was food for all the volunteers and whatever they needed, Cindy pointed out. “Mary Ann was manning the kitchen Saturday, making sure everybody working on the apple butter who needed to be fed got fed.”
The Appalachian Festival featured a talk on Friday night by national award-winning Appalachian novelist Sharyn McCrumb; and on Saturday, demonstrations of quilting, bee-keeping, talks on gardening and herbal remedies and live music as well as children’s games. The event was of the largest the museum has hosted, Director Fran Ferguson said. Glenvar High School was the event partner, and it was sponsored by Bill and Ellen Arnold.