Sunday, January 2, 2011

Farm Focus: Backyard apples

After the corn had been cut and wrapped in shocks, pumpkins gathered into heaps, and the grapes were all picked, the people's minds turned to making apple butter. It was an exciting time of the year. The excitement of seeing the landscape change to the beautiful colors of autumn made people think about the spirit of parties and along with parties came apple butter making.

What other preserve can so evoke the pioneer spirit? Apple butter is still celebrated and made in the old-fashioned way at autumn festivals around the country. I feel a strong sense of kinship with generations of apple-preservers every time I give an entire day over to stirring my pot of sauce.

In the old days, there was usually a group standing around the kettle humming, singing, or talking. Stirring the apple butter was an important job and somebody had to be doing it all the time. The old method for doing it was "twice around the outside and through the middle once" with a long paddle. Of course people had to stir right on through the meal times, and they took turns eating.

I've quoted extensively from this site, where you can read all about the traditional recipe. I guarantee it will fill your nostalgia quota for at least a month. You'll notice that I've strayed a bit from the letter, but not the spirit. And certainly not the main ingredient!

Men hitched up their light spring wagons and drove over the fields and hills collecting sweet apples because on early farms not all the apple trees were planted near one another. In fact, before 1775, apple trees were not confined to orderly orchards at all, but likely to be anywhere on thousands of acres and even in the middle of a woods. The men had to gather the apples wherever they were.

It occurs to me that I could probably collect apples from thousands of acres around the bay area, but mine always come from one backyard in Orinda. Thanks, Sue!