Time for makin’ apple butter
By Katie Scarvey
Madeline and Charles Sheppard have made gallons and gallons of apple butter over the years.
Both remember helping their mothers make apple butter when they were kids growing up in the mountains of North Carolina.
Charles, 77, remembers working in a sawmill as a teenager and having apple butter biscuits in his dinner box.
He also recalls that they had to keep a sharp eye on the large apple butter kettles, lest they be taken by moonshiners.
“There were liquor stills all over that place,” said Charles, describing the area where he grew up. Two apple butter kettles, soldered together, worked well to cook up moonshine, he says.
Charles, who has been a preacher for 46 years, didn’t appreciate that kind of behavior.
“My momma always raised us to read the Bible every night,” he says.
When he and Madeline got married, they continued the apple butter tradition.
And after 55 years of marriage, they’re still making apple butter with their 10 children and their more than 100 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“We always have all the young ‘uns down here,” Charles says.
Last Thursday, they were making what they refer to as “a run” of apple butter at their home outside of Cleveland. Three of their daughters were on hand to help: Rita Boger of Salisbury, Brenda Rupard of Woodleaf and Barbara Shook, who lives next door to her parents.
“It’s something we’ve always done and enjoy doing,” Rita said.
Typically, the whole family, or as many as can make it, gather at the Sheppard’s home in Cleveland to make apple butter in October. This year, their children who live near Banner Elk were having a hard time arranging a visit, so Charles and Madeline went to them and made a run of apple butter in the mountains, where they also live part of the year. (Their children bought them a mobile home in Newland, near Banner Elk.)
Most years, apple butter day is same day as Charles and Madeline’s wedding anniversary, Oct. 2, but they were a little late this year, Charles says.
The ingredients of apple butter are pretty simple. All it requires is apples, apple juice or water, sugar and some spices like cinnamon and cloves.
Of course, if you’re making a dozen gallons of it, the way the Sheppards do, you’ve got to peel a lot of apples ó about five bushels.
They used Stayman Winesap this time, but Madeline prefers the Wolf River variety.
The apples, juice and sugar are cooked outdoors in a large kettle over a small fire for five or six hours. As the mixture cooks down, more apples are added. By the end of the process, the concoction has taken on a rich, dark brown color.
For this particular run of apple butter, the Sheppards borrowed a 15-gallon brass kettle. They own a nice copper one that cost $800, Charles says, but it only holds 10 gallons, and they wanted to make a big batch.
The really challenging part is the stirring.
As it cooks, the apple butter mixture must be stirred constantly with a long-handled wooden paddle or it will burn.
Madeline says she’s only burned a batch once, about 15 or 20 years ago.
She puts a silver dollar in the bottom of the pot, which helps keep the apples from sticking. It’s a 1922 Liberty dollar ó the same one her mother used when she made apple butter, Madeline says.
Around 2 p.m., Charles was perched in a dining room chair outside, not far from the pot. “I’m about stirred out,” he said.
The apple butter was done, ready to be ladled through a metal funnel into pint-sized Mason jars. As the jars were being filled, bees ó or were they wasps? ó gathered expectantly, drawn to the sweet substance on the sides of the kettle. A few fell in and had to be skimmed out ó but at least they died happy.
Charles and Madeline got about 80 pints from this batch, which will be shared with family and friends.
Madeline cans a lot of other things besides apple butter, including beans, corn, peas, tomatoes and jelly.
She entered her apple butter, squash pickles and pickled corn in the Avery County fair this year ó for the first time ó and won blue ribbons for all three, plus a red ribbon for dill pickles.
Madeline laughs as she remembers that her daughter Loretta’s comment: “Well, that’s four jars we won’t get to eat.”
The apple butter? There should be enough of that to go around.
If you’d like to make some apple butter in the comfort of your own kitchen, without all the stirring, here’s a crock pot recipe.
Crock Pot Apple Butter
3 quarts apples, peeled and sliced thin
2 tsp. cinnamon
3 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. cloves
Put apples in crock pot and cook overnight on high. The next morning, add cinnamon sugar and cloves. Cook all day on low. You can use applesauce if you do not have time to prepare the apples. ó Recipe courtesy of www.cooks.com