By John L. Ross
Tradition — whether it’s a holiday celebration, a style of dress or a pre-Wildcats tailgate party, we all, in one way or another, have been affected by tradition.
As many people get older, traditions become a little more cherished — whether it’s passing along a tradition or clamoring to have one passed on to you, it’s something many adults begin to crave.
Such as it was for many folks this weekend who descended on Pebble Mountain Family Campground in Greeneville, Tenn.
An annual tradition was born many years ago for campers there — they would hold a pre-Halloween “festival” of sorts, usually involving several of the regular or full-time campers.
But a few years ago, the “old-fashioned” way of making apple butter became a part of the festival. Some of the festival-goers are able to take time during the process to reminisce how their parents or grandparents followed this same method.
Other festival-goers got the chance to experience how life once was for many pioneering Americans.
Traditionally speaking, of course, making apple butter the “old-fashioned way” takes a great deal of time, and if you plan right, manpower.
Let me further explain.
Before the long cooking process can begin, there are many things done to prepare.
Ingredients must be ordered and/or purchased.
Tools and equipment needed for the arduous task must be gathered, checked, and cleaned — including a big kettle, and a sturdy, wooden paddle.
Jars to can the finish product must be bought or gathered, cleaned and ready with lids.
This year the decision was made to go with approximately three and a half bushels of apples.
For the recipe used, that many apples requires approximately 15-20 pounds of white sugar, 8-10 pounds of brown sugar, and flavoring such as clove oil, cinnamon oil, and/or real vanilla.
Once everything is together and you’re ready for the process — then you’re ready to begin the process — the day before the cooking.
First, all the apples must be peeled, and cored, and all seeds removed.
Now, modern times have afforded a small machine to do the work for you. You jam an apple on the prongs of the peeler, turn the knob, and the cutter peels the skin, then the corer does the coring work.
Despite modern technology, with four apple peelers going at once, about five or six hours were spent “peelin’, slicin’, and corin’.”
Once those are finished, they are simply put aside, covered, until time to cook.
The next step for us was to get ready for an early-morning fire — gathering wood and kindling to ensure a quick and efficient start.
At 6 a.m. or so last Saturday morning, the familiar fire crackle could be heard through the campground — and it was calling for people with a good back to help stir the mixture.
The start time for the cooking process was about 7 a.m. that morning.
And what we really needed was those folks with the good backs — because the mixture requires constant stirring once over an open fire to avoid the sweet fruit from sticking to the sides or bottom of the kettle, thereby scorching the product and ruining its flavor.
That morning it was pretty cool — maybe 20-25 degrees, and there was a heavy frost.
The start of the apple butter that day had at most a half dozen souls layered up against the cold ready to take a 20 minute or so turn stirring the apples for the butter.
And so the process began. I took a turn, then someone else, then someone else, and then many of us started getting tired, and sore.
After almost 14 hours, the brown, sweet, boiling hot apple butter was ready to can.
But remember I spoke of tradition. Many times at these types of events the younger generations tend to bore quickly and look for something electronic and easy.
But last Saturday, I, and a few other hardcore apple butter makers, got to see something pretty amazing.
A well-known and well-liked family camps there quite often, and their daughter sometimes brings friends with her to camp and swim.
Last Saturday was no exception — the young lady brought with her a couple of her gal pals.
And when the group joined the circle of people, the girls sat down and watched the process.
At least an hour passed — maybe two — when one of the girls from that group volunteered to stand, hold the paddle, and stir.
Many times younger folks will take a stab at the stirring issue, work the paddle for five or 10 minutes, then give it up — and disappear.
But when this 13-year-old girl took the reins of paddle-working the apple butter, we had no idea that the teen, named Julia Haga, was capable of what many of us deemed as “heavy labor.”
I could only handle working the paddle for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Most others could do about the same, some pushing a half-hour.
So the various chattery conversations continued, and the fellowship and camaraderie commenced.
And 15 minutes drifted by.
Miss Haga stirred.
A half an hour passed.
Miss Haga’s hands still held the paddle.
I was hungry, and managed to sneak in some time to chow down on some potluck items brought by the people attending.
Then I had some prep work to continue, and some other chores came up.
I even had a couple of chats with other campers before returning to the fire.
And when I did, more than an hour had passed.
And Miss Haga still led the pack for stirring.
Comments began to swirl among the folks there — mainly about this young girl working so hard performing and learning about an old tradition of making apple butter.
And she stirred in the correct fashion — getting a rhythm, rocking on your feet, and making sure to stir from the bottom and sides of the kettle, not just the center.
Four and a half hours later, with blistered hands but a focused facial expression, Miss Haga was forced from the paddle by the mother of her friend.
Miss Haga learned another piece of the tradition — the stirring activity brings people together, and taking turns ensures the workload is minimal for participants.
But we all were amazed — this young girl out-stirred everyone who took a turn at the paddle.
She said later that her mother cooked and canned apple butter from a crock pot, and she wanted to learn and see another way to create the delectable sweet treat.
I believe this young lady will return for the next go-around with apple butter making.
I also believe the fading art of traditional, old-fashioned apple butter cooking may stay alive for another generation — with the concentrated efforts of 13-year-old Miss Haga.
ON A SIDE NOTE: Many children will be roaming the streets and neighborhoods this evening. Please be safe and keep your children safe during this annual Halloween tradition. Trick or treat in groups, if possible. Drivers, keep an extra set of eyes on the roads to ensure mini masked marauders aren’t run down on the Tri-County’s roads.
John Ross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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