Northminster Presbyterian Church

"Taste and See That the Lord Is Good"


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While January and February are seemingly strange times to be thinking of apple butter, it is actually one of the best times. It is one of the joys of winter to sit with a hot biscuit or piece of toast and slather on our homemade apple butter. It is a sensory delight for the taste buds, nourishment for the body and an instant reminder of the teamwork, fellowship and fun that went into producing it.

Our congregation has made apple butter twenty-two times since 1989. The idea originated in the Young Adult Class and was approved by the session. The emphasis then, as well as now, was on the fellowship and not on the raising of funds. However, the funds raised have supported a number of projects for our church. Currently the funds raised are earmarked for honorariums for our graduating high school seniors and youth activities.

That first year in 1989 is memorable for our collective lack of experience. Only one Young Adult Class member had helped make apple butter and that was only one time. However, what the group lacked in experience was more than made up with enthusiasm. We borrowed a copper kettle from Howard Thompson, purchased some apples from an orchard in Franklin County and went to work. Being afraid that we might scorch it, we cooked it very slow and it seemed to take forever. That first year we made 26 gallons, had a great time, and decided to try it again the next year.

As most of you know, there is no one right or wrong way to make apple butter. However, we prefer the old fashioned, traditional method of starting with whole apples and cooking over an open fire in a copper kettle. There are as many different recipes as the chefs who make it. We have tried different varieties of apples over the years and have settled on the following: 1⁄2 Stamen apples, 1⁄2 Golden Delicious apples, oil of clove, oil of cinnamon, white sugar, and brown sugar.

We peel the apples two days prior to boiling them and we use mechanical apple peelers driven by variable speed drills. Our many faithful volunteers finish the peeling and remove any seeds they find. As Miss Eliza Leslie said in the 1848 edition of her classic cookbook, “It is not worthwhile to prepare apple butter on a small scale.” However, trying to prepare too much apple butter can take all of the fun out it. We’ve settled on boiling one kettle full; a 50 gallon one purchased by our proceeds and made in Botetourt County. We peel 20 bushels of apples in approximately three hours start to finish and store them for two days.

Early the following Saturday morning, around 4:30, our dedicated volunteers arrive and soon the cleaned kettle is setting over a roaring fire waiting on the apples. While a number of individuals have had the honor of lighting the fire over the years, Sarah and Devin Jones have the honorary title of, “Apple Butter Acolytes” for their faithfulness in starting the fire. Once the apples go in, the stirring begins. The methods of stirring are as varied as the individuals that perform them, but all have one common theme: keep the apples moving so they don’t scorch. The stirring will continue for the next 10-12 hours depending upon how juicy the apples were that year. Those 10-12 hours are also when the fellowship, storytelling, reminiscing, and yarn swapping occur in earnest.

Once the apples have been boiled to a beautiful brown smoothness, the sugar is added and it is boiled back down to the appropriate thickness. In go the spices and twenty minutes later we go into motion carrying and canning the apple butter, wiping the jars, putting on the lids, and finally putting on the labels. The teamwork is a site to behold!

We have been blessed over the years with good weather and at various times have also enjoyed the follow- ing while stirring: served homemade ice cream cranked on site; served potato chips and sweet potato chips fried on site; served hot apple pies baked on site, and had cherry cobbler cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven in the leftover coals.

It is said that not inviting someone back to make apple butter is a sure way to lose a friend. Therefore, each and every one of you is invited to help us make apple butter next fall. As has been stated, “This tradition brings together people in a spirit of warmth and cooperation. There is love in every sticky bite.”

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