The holiday season is upon us. There are Thanksgiving turkeys to prepare and Christmas shopping at the mall. A time when family and friends are getting together to celebrate the holidays with pumpkin pies and homemade dressing, and those special recipes that are passed down from generation to generation.
The cool fall weather brings back wonderful memories of making apple butter in a great big copper pot in my grandmother’s backyard. There were basically two times a year that you would harvest apples for making apple butter, the early summer and the late fall, and with each season there was a specific recipe. The summer apple butter was usually made with red cinnamon candy. The fall apple butter was made the old fashioned way with spices. The apples were gathered from the orchard as they ripened, then stored in the cellar until it was time to make the apple butter. They were peeled on an old timey crank apple peeler making the chore much easier. Then the apples were cut up and tossed in the copper pot. We took turns stirring the apples as they cooked over an open fire. The smell that rose from the pot was heavenly! After the apples were reduced to a thick boiling slurry, they were pressed through a sieve with a wooden mallet leaving just the tart apple sauce.
Now, a basic apple butter recipe consists of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, however, every family has their own secret recipe of just the right spices and just the right amount of sugar to make theirs the best. My grandma perfected our family recipe long ago, and no one has had the nerve to alter it since!
After the spices were added, the apple butter was allowed to “cook down” or thicken, stirring constantly to keep it from burning. When it was done, the big pot was removed from the fire, and the apple butter was put into the jars. The whole family had a hand in the making the apple butter. There was a job for everyone, no matter how young. The jars were filled and then heated in boiling water to seal the lids. The jars were then set aside to cool. This gave time for wonderful stories and even roasting marsh mellows over the camp fire! The best part of the whole day was dividing the jars for each family to take home. My mom would make the best homemade biscuits to go with the apple butter. We called them “cat heads” because they were so big! Yum! Yum! We had enough apple butter to do us through the winter as well as some to share with neighbors!
This was an annual tradition that brought the whole family together and kicked off our holiday season. Traditions are important to families everywhere. They are wonderful ideas and practices that enhance the lives of all that participate. Having traditions help to pass on the family’s history to the next generation and gives a sense of closeness to young family members. In this day and time when our lives tend to be very fast paced and families seem to spend less time together, it becomes more important to preserve these special traditions. I think growing up in the mountains around my extended family was a very unique experience, and certainly left me with some wonderful memories. These memories make wonderful subjects for paintings as well. Capturing these traditions on canvas is another great way to preserve our history. These are visual reminders of those great times and soon become family heirlooms as well. Family history can be handed down in so many ways, from story telling and writing to painting and even teaching a lost art. Whether it is for passing on traditions or preserving family history, sometimes it’s just nice to look back and remember the good ole’ days! Happy Memories!