Well, it was just a lovely day for my family's apple butter festival!
It may be officially fall, but today was downright summery. Not a cloud in the sky, temperatures rising to about 78° in the afternoon, and plenty of good company.
Actually, I think we had more people at this get-together than we had at the reunion this summer, so that was pretty cool!
This is part of Cousin Tom and his wife Nici's back yard--they're the ones who always have the apple butter shindig. It's been years since I've been to their place--I don't think I've been there since I was a little girl--and I'd forgotten how nice it is. It's an older farm house that sits on 10 acres, and Nici has lots of beautiful flowers. They maintain trails out in their woods, and Ken and I took a walk out there. (Plenty of others also took a stroll.) It's beautiful, with a mixture of hardwood trees and evergreens, and it was neat to take a walk out there.
We got there a little before 10 AM, and asked what we could do. We went into one of the garages, where they were prepping the apples. One person peeled the apples (with one of those crank-type peelers), another cored and sliced them with one of those handheld thingies, and then the rest of us cut off any trace of peel and cut out any bad spots. My hand was cramping by the time we were done, but it went pretty quickly!
They had already started the fire and the apple butter by the time we got there. It was 20 gallons of cut-up apples, added gradually, about 20 gallons of apple cider (which Tom boils down and freezes for the following year...otherwise it would take forever to cook down), and eventually some sugar, after it all cooks down. The final ingredient is some sassafras root. This year, Tom got Cortlandt apples, but the recipe that comes down from our Grandpa says that the best apples are Grimes Golden, which Tom says are a little more solid and tart. There's a guy in the area that has Grimes Golden trees, but Tom wasn't able to get any this year.
A big pot of apples. I'd guess that about ten times this was what was needed for the apple butter.
Here's Cousin Tom stirring the apple butter. It has to be stirred constantly, otherwise it will burn and stick on the bottom of the pot. The "stirrer" is a paddle with a six-foot long handle, and Cousin Wayne showed us all an original paddle from our family--it was hand-hewn, and it was neat to see the aged wood. Hard to believe my family has been doing this for so many years, but kind of a neat tradition.
Ken took a turn, too.
Even when we started eating, someone had to stay back and stir the apple butter, and Cousin Doug took that duty. Ken relieved him, so Doug could have lunch.
Part of lunch was a turkey baked in an underground oven. Apparently that's the Boy Scout way! A small pit holds the turkey, Tom places stones around the container, puts on the lid, and builds a fire on top of it. Then he covers it with dirt, and it bakes in the ground. Kind of fun, and wow, it just fell off the bone! And holy moley, there was SO MUCH food there! (I'm glad I didn't make deviled eggs--THREE people brought them, including Mom! Ha ha!) Chicken and noodles, sausage and sauerkraut, ham, turkey, macaroni salad, plenty of other things, and a table full of desserts. I was so full by the time I finished my meal, I couldn't even eat anything for dessert. Drat! There was some good stuff, but I just cannot eat that much.
One of the best things about today was getting to see my Cousin Bill. (I keep wanting to call him Billy, but it's been a long time since he went by Billy!) He and his wife Mary came up from Texas (he's Tom's brother), and I think it's probably been 15 years since I've seen him. (The last time was my Uncle Bill's--Bill and Tom's father--funeral, so this was a much happier occasion.) In this picture, left to right, is Bill, Cousin Emma Jean (who is a total sweetheart), my sister Susie, and my Dad. When I was a youngster, I used to occasionally spend the night with Bill and his wife at the time, Akiko, who was from Japan. (Bill met her while in the service.) It was my first exposure to another culture, and I remember how much I enjoyed those times. I remember Akiko making sukiyaki, and we dipped the meat and veggies in raw egg yolks. Very exotic for this Midwestern girl! (It was delicious, by the way.) Bill and Akiko seemed to enjoy having me there, and I would exchange letters with Akiko's niece in Japan (this was pre-email!) and Akiko would translate. Bill and Akiko divorced some years later, and Mary is a very sweet and friendly woman. It made my day to see Bill, and he gave me a big hug.
If I could climb upon my soapbox for a moment, Bill is also our family's "medical miracle." He'd been on dialysis for some time, due to kidney failure from hypertension. Last year, he received a kidney transplant. He's getting close to his one year anniversary, and that's the time when the hospital contacts the donor's family and asks if they want to meet the recipient. Bill said that he hopes they agree to it, because he really wants to thank them and tell them how he owes his life to their family member. We talked a bit about being an organ donor, and unless you have religious beliefs that prohibit being a donor, please make sure that you are a donor. Organ donors save lives...a donor saved my cousin's life, so please consider it! [climbing down off soapbox]
We left a little before 3 PM, before the apple butter was done and jarred, but I know Mom and Dad will get us a jar. It was such a beautiful day that we were able to put the top down on the Mustang on the way home!
It was a great day spent with family, and I'm so pleased we were able to go.