Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Autumn Reminiscing

I had another topic in mind to write about today, but here in my little part of the world it’s finally feeling like autumn. The sky is overcast with gray clouds that at any given moment may send down the rain. The air outside is cooler and crisper. It’s the kind of weather that signals the season’s upcoming changes--the varied color of the tress, the leaves crunching under foot. As much as I love summer, I love fall almost equally.

As I am sitting here drinking a mug of apple cinnamon tea, I am automatically reminded of making apple butter with my grandfather. I’m not even a big tea drinker, but the aroma of the spices alongside the fruit conjures up many wonderful memories of the fall season. Deeply inhaling the scent takes me back to some of the most cherished days of childhood that are forever engrained in my mind.

My grandfather believes in doing things the old fashioned way, everything from mowing the lawn to repairing things, this includes making apple butter. I suppose it could be made in a crockpot and while it would certainly be much less work, but the results couldn’t be the same. My grandfather has, for as long as I can remember, made his in a huge copper kettle over an open flame outside on a cool, crisp autumn day. The whole entire process takes a few days from beginning to end with picking, peeling, and cutting the apples to the end result, as well as a lot of help, patience, and fun.

As a child I remember getting up early and heading to my grandparents homestead. Everyone would be there: my grandparents, my cousins, my aunts, a who knows how many times great aunt, my great-grandmother, and usually a few of my grandfathers friends and neighbors. My grandfather would already have a roaring fire going out in the side yard making it possible for us kids to not have to wear our coats, just long sleeves. After the fire would die down, he would set up the wrought iron stand, place in the copper kettle which in turn would be filled with apple sauce and apple cider he had made a day or two before using apples from his orchard. As soon as the apple sauce hits the kettle it has to be continuously stirred. The long handled wooden paddle would be taken down from its place of honor next to the fireplace from their basement and only those trustworthy enough were allowed to stir. We grandchildren would take our turns begging to be allowed the honor of stirring and of course, our grandfather would oblige us, but never for more than a few minutes for fear the apple sauce would burn, stick to the bottom of the kettle and ruin the whole process. During this time, the applesauce is also run through a strainer contraption type thing to get out the chucks of apples, to ensure a smooth consistency. Let me tell you, we used to (and still do) stand there waiting with plastic spoon in hand to eat the warm apple sauce that collects at the top of the strainer. My brother, cousins and I used to fight over taking turns cranking the metal handle of the strainer while our grandfather would hold a metal pot underneath to not miss a drop of the strained sauce.

After a few hours of cooking, he would add the spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, and who knows what else, it’s a family recipe that’s been handed down over the generations but never written down. The aroma of apples and spices that wafts through the air mixing with the smell of burning wood is something you have to experience rather than imagine. I can remember standing at the edge of the fire closing my eyes and just deeply breathing in the air, feeling it fill my senses. The apple sauce eventually cooks down into apple butter after several hours of stirring back and forth with even strokes of the paddle. Sugar is added then stirred and cooked some more. Every so often, my grandfather would take a big wooden spoon, dip it into the kettle and again we grandkids would line up with our plastic spoons to do a taste test. More spices or sugar would be added, sometimes more apple cider. During the process of the cooking, lawn and camp chairs would be set up around the fire. Adults would sit around talking; catching up on recent events and the kids would run down past the large garden, in and around trees, draw or jump rope on the driveway. It was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Sometimes some would bring an outside smoker and we would smoke turkeys or pheasants. Even though there was enough for my grandma to do, she would make a big homemade lunch for all of us, homemade mashed potatos and gravy, vegetables plucked from the garden, her own canned peaches and pears.

Then later, the kitchen would be transformed into apple butter central. Aprons would come out, big dutch ovens placed on the stove, jars, and lids would be boiled, jar rings on the table. My mom, aunts and grandma (and later me after I was older) would take turns running the apple butter from outside up the back steps into the kitchen. Like a finely oiled machine, we all had a job to do and did it with perfect precision and timing from filling the jars, lifting the shiny silver lids out of the boiling water, carefully placing them on top, wiping around them so they could properly seal, and forcefully twisting down the rings to create a perfect jar of apple butter. Depending on how big the initial batch was sometimes this part of the process would take a few hours.

After the fire had long died down, the shiny copper kettle cleaned, the wooden paddle with the slots returned to its rightful home, and all the dishes were done and dish rags thrown in the laundry, various types of breads and crackers would appear; we would all enjoy some warm apple butter.

Now that my grandparents are older the batches of apple butter aren’t quite as big. My cousins and I have our own lives and activities going on so there are few times when the gatherings are as big as they used to be. A new garage has been built complete with a stove and counter space to can the apple butter in closer proximity to the fire so no one has to run up and down the steps to the kitchen. My grandfather is still picky about who gets the privilege of stirring the apple concoction in the kettle. But every year most of us are drawn back to my grandparents in the fall to some way participate in the annual apple butter making, to remember the simplicity of our childhood, make new memories, and of course take home some of my grandfather’s wonderful apple butter.


Beya said...

Oh my goodness, I wish I had memories of grandparents like that!!! I want to go!!!!! It sounds like a wonderful wonderful day and memory. Thank you for taking us there with you today.

Rachel said...

Dan has those types of memories for the winter. His Poppa would make his Swedish booze called Gloog and the house would smell like berries and cloves. We now host Gloog parties in hopes of keeping the tradition alive.

Cherrie said...

Oh my gosh, as I sit here with tears in my eyes! I have memories
like these with my family.

My last grandmother died in July of this year. Just this morning, I was really sad about things I used to do growing up with my grandparents in the fall.

Cherish these moments with your grandparents while you can. I wish I had made more time than I did once my kids starting getting older...what I would give to have just one more day!

Your writing is amazing...I really enjoy reading your blog!


Lauren Elizabeth said...

Yum! I can just smell the apple butter from the way you described it!

Andy said...

I'm with Coconut. I was feeling all the smelss and everything as you were describing them.


Auburn Kat said...

I had a mug of apple, cinnamon tea at work today...we seriously could be best friends forever! HAHA

MeLaNiE said...

mmm...apple butter! :)

Bayjb said...

Aww I loved reading this and reminiscing too. I am so jealous you are getting to actually experience autumn. In the city, with few trees, we're not so lucky

Cameo said...

I honestly teared up reading this lovely post. You truly have a gift with writing. Have you submitted anything??? I remember my grandparents making ice cream and I know I wasn't older than 4 or 5. Fall always reminds me of my grandpa as his birthday is the 9th of October. How I miss him so, even though it's been over 7 years since he passed. Enjoy the memories and make time to make more of them.

Katie said...

What a sweet memory. And how delicious it sounds. Memories like this are so comforting and warm.

Thank you for sharing. And thank you for your well wishes.

Trina G. said...

great memories. I felt like I was there with YOU! I remember similar memories. We kids grow up and things aren't as big and traditional anymore, are they? it's a bummer.

Sounds perfect.

Frank said...

That's an amazing story. I'm really craving some apple butter right now, for some reason...

Autumn is by far my favourite season. The colours, the cool air and frosty nights, cider, raking leaves, apple picking, Halloween...brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.

Mandy said...

Beya -- They are some wonderful memories.

Rachel -- Gloog parties? Sweedish booze? Can you please send me directions to your house?

Cherrie -- Thank you, I am glad that you have these sorts of memories too.

Coconut -- I love the smells of apple butter!

Andy -- It is Awesome!

Auburn Kat -- we so could be.

Melanie -- I agree

Babyjb -- I find that disturbing, not experiencing autumn? Makes me sad.

Cameo -- No I haven't not even sure where I would begin with the submitting things. Ohhh, making ice cream sounds awesome.

Katie -- Thanks for stopping by! And I agree love memories like this one.

Sissy -- It is, my gma and I have issues now. I miss the simplier times.

Frank-- I made you smile! YAY!! I couldn't agree with you more on autumn.