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Apple Butter

By Hannah Hensley

Ervin, Tennesseeapple butter

 

For most of 2020, I allowed fear to rule my life and control me. Afraid of getting sick. Afraid of who will be our next President. Afraid of financial ruin.  Afraid of anything and everything that the news channels were telling me to be afraid of. And of the things that they were telling me not to be afraid of. Until one day my thoughts ran wild and I was imagining what could be the worst and most graphic thing that could happen to me. I thought of a painful death, slavery, and imprisonment, due to my convictions and faith. But no matter how horrible the things I imagined were, God’s grace and love were enough. If I die, I go to Heaven to meet Jesus. If I am imprisoned, I know it’s for His glory. If I am enslaved it’s not without a purpose. If I get sick, it’s not without reason, for God ordains all things to happen. So, no matter how horrible things may get, God is still my Father, and I, His child. Pain and suffering, and the fear of pain and suffering, are not enjoyable, but God did not promise us a life free of them.

When I came to these conclusions, I realized I had a fight on my hands; I must fight for a life free of worldly fears. I must fight for His Kingdom. I must fight for the good in this world, no matter the cost or the pain.  A fight not for me and my securities, but for my children and grandchildren and on. But how do I know what is good?  I know that God gives good gifts to his children. So, I thought, why not write out some of those good gifts no matter how small or large?

Of course, I thank God for a roof over my head, food to eat, clothing to wear, clean water, a job, family to love, friends to laugh with, freedom of speech, freedom to worship, the Bible, freedom to choose my medical options, freedom to own land, etc. But I am also thankful for some of the more mundane and unnoticed moments in our lives. I am especially thankful for the moments or memories that come once a year or even once a lifetime.

One of those memories for me is making apple butter. Every year my family makes apple butter with cinnamon, in a copper pot that has been passed down for generations, over an open fire. This almost always happens on a Saturday in October at the old family homeplace.

A few weeks before the apple butter making, we search for apples to buy. Most of the time we buy from neighbors, sometimes we have to drive 1 to 2 hours to retrieve them. We have used Virginia Beauty or Romes or Winesaps or a mixture of all and we always try to add some Bellflower apples from Great Papaw Joe’s tree. We store them in a dry cool place, like our can house, until we are ready to peel them. All who can gather on Friday evening to peel. We usually have about 4 bushels to do, so with our favorite kitchen knife or pocket knife or maybe a hand crank apple peeler, we get right to work. There are contests to see who can peel an apple without breaking the peeling or peel the fastest. There are always stories being told during this time, which brings laughter and discussion. When all the apples have been peeled, we put them in bags and store them in the fridge or on a back porch to stay cool till the next morning.

Early the next morning, before the sun comes up, one of the men gets the kettle and puts the stand in place, and starts a fire. A little water is added to the pot then the apples are added in small batches. We use a wooden paddle with a long handle to stir the pot. Soon everyone makes their way to the fire with coffee cups in hand, taking turns stirring the pot and warming by the fire. By now all apples have been added to the pot and the pot must be stirred nonstop, all day long, to keep the apple butter from scorching. A ring around the pot is worn down from everyone stirring while walking in circles. More coffee is made and the sun begins to rise over the top of the mountains. As the morning fades into the afternoon, people begin shedding their coats and gloves.

Around the kettle, people stand. Dad tells the stories of a time when he was a little boy. Haven tells us of things he accomplished that week. The kids stand underfoot, eagerly awaiting their turn to stir the pot. Dad hugs mama. Papaw gives Mamaw a pat. The kids have us laughing. The sun and the fire have us warm. The smell of cooking apples makes our mouths water. After hours of constant stirring, the sun begins to set, the apples are cooked, and it’s time to add the sugar. Ten pounds of sugar goes into the pot. We stir it in and then taste it.  Some think that’s enough, while others want more added. So, another 3 pounds is added to the pot.  We stir for about an hour or until it thickens.

The women go into the house to prepare canning jars, rings, and lids. They also make biscuits and ham to enjoy with the hot apple butter. Outside the men yell “It’s time!”, then out go all the jars, lids, and rings along with bowls of water and cloths to clean with.

Momma gets the bottle of cinnamon oil and with a dropper, she adds the oil. The spoon is passed around again. “Needs more cinnamon”, says someone.  So, Mama adds more and after everyone has had one more taste, it’s agreed that it’s time to can this delicious goodness.

The fire is put out and a table with the jars is moved closer to the kettle. The men fill the jars with hot apple butter and the women clean the jars and screw on the lids. Once the kettle is almost empty, we get a bowl to fill for our supper. Everyone helps to carry in the warm jars to the house. And the men carry the kettle to the water spigot to wash and clean it. Once the kettle is washed and put away everyone sits at the table for an evening meal of ham, biscuits, and warm apple butter. Dad says the blessing and then the feasting begins.

“Boy! that is some good apple butter!” says dad.

“This is a good meal!” says Papaw George

I look around the table to see the tired, yet happy and satisfied faces of my family. I taste the delicious fruit of our labor and the labor of generations before me.  And I think to myself…what a good day we’ve had. I want to give my children a day like today. A day starting before sunrise with a cool morning and mountain air. A day of work mixed with pleasure. A day spent with family. A day enjoying the harvest. A day of feasting and much joy. A day filled with all of God’s goodness and grace. A day to be thankful for. A day worth fighting for.

God is with us, always.  So, with everything we do, may we do it to bring Him glory. In the ordinary and extraordinary moments. In the mundane and the pain. In the joy and celebrations of the day. So, keep your chin up, fight the good fight. Even if that means just making apple butter on an Autumn day with generations of a family with you and among you in memory.

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Hannah Hensley, 22, lives in Erwin, TN with her family. She is the oldest of 8 children. She loves living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, writing stories and visiting her grandparents, who live in Mitchell County. You can read more good news from Hannah HERE.

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