WERE you so fortunate as to be born in a small town? Were you so fortunate as to be born long enough ago to remember the big gypsy kettle in the back yard, the gypsy fire underneath, the novel outdoor cookery, the long wooden stirrer, the barrel of cider against the fence, that tantalizing, luscious, spicy, fruity odor, then, in the golden, frosty twilight, the finished clear, product—the product that the winter long was to form a welcome part of the daily fare, and daily was to call forth that pleasant autumn picture?
Can’t you see it now? Can’t you smell that wood smoke, see the blue haze encircling the mammoth kettle? And don’t you wish you could taste real apple butter once again, compounded of smoke and eager young response as _well as of the tangible ingredients? But apart from the sentiment of the thing, how good and wholesome it was, how worthy a place in the daily fare. The carefully prepared apples, the fresh cider, the artful mixing of spices, the right sweetening, this American dish has no superior, I trow, anywhere in the world.
The day the wonderful barrel was hoisted on its support in the back yard did you not, now and then, slyly stroll over in the vicinity thereof with a chosen friend or two, stand watchful of the dripping bung, presently boldly toy with the spigot, though all the time fearful you might not be successful in turning it off and might occasion the loss of the precious vintage—and the more precious apple butter? But who could forego quenching one’s thirst with new cider, especially when standing close to a drippin bung? '
Did they let you take part in that great paring of the evening before, family and neighborly helpers gathered in the big kitchen where, amid quip and gossip, they deftly pared and cored and quartered until a tub, shiningly clean, was well filled with the fragrant fruit? Fingers got shrunken and stained in the labor, but that just showed apple-butter time had come; with these living in a small town, the ceremonial of the year.
Maybe they let you stir the precious stuff after the sweetening was in and the mixture must be watched every instant to keep it from burning. A proud, responsible, happy trust, the fortunes of the family—at least the winter well-being—dependent on your devotedness to this duty. You scraped the sides, you sounded the bottom, you stood over the seething mass until your arms ached, your legs wobbled, your eyes burned, your cheeks smarted. Presently relief came; mother approached with saucer and wooden spoon to test the contents of the kettle. No, not thick enough yet; must boil down more. So the post of stirrer becomes one that tests endurance to the utmost, that requires shifts of workers. When the next watch comes to your relief, burned, benumbed, you seek a sunny “lair of grass” where you can lie relaxed, and, without the drawback of aching muscles, enjoy the delectable odor commingled of brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, “rhambos,” and cider.
In apple butter East and West meet; the spices from the Orient are called to add their tang to the harvest gathered from trees growing on Ohio hillsides, to the fruit and to the juice of the fruit. As the mixture thickens and darkens to the point where it is pronounced “done,” the air, too, grows thicker and sweeter with the perfume from hot spices, the whole neighborhood learns that the Blanks are “making their apple butter”; have arrived at their ceremonial. ‘ .
Dusk, and at last the apple butter is done, is ready to be put into the jars. “Crocks,” you called them, and they stood there in array; big ones, middle-sized ones, and little ones. When filled they were neatly covered, then carried to the cellar and placed arow on a shelf devoted to their sole use. The shelf the winter through yielded the welcome “sauce” craved in that period before fresh fruit from the tropics had become a commonplace, before bananas, oranges, and grapefruit were in daily use in the average household. Scribner's Magazine ..., Volume 66