October is definitely apple season here in Michigan with many small towns holding apple fests throughout the month. Our state ranks third in the nation’s apple production with only New York and Washington State surpassing us.
There is just something about apples that says home, country and cozy. Many a friend and neighbor have kicked off their shoes and settled at the kitchen table for a cup of coffee and a piece of warm apple pie. Nothing entices the palette more than the aroma of apple dumplings straight from the oven or a large pot of spiced apple cider simmering on the stove on chilly nights.
Not only do these little orbs tantalize the taste buds, but they are also good for you as they are packed with an array of nutrients. They are packed with a powerhouse of antioxidants, which are compounds that fight a multitude of diseases. Although all apples are super health foods, Red Delicious and Granny Smiths rank highest in antioxidants. Eating the fruit’s flesh and peel can help curb all sorts of cancers, protect against Parkinson’s, help avoid Alzheimer’s, decrease the risk of diabetes, and a whole lot more. Eating an apple a day may really keep the doctor away!
One of my personal favorites this time of year is the fresh apple cider you can get at most orchards. All cider is not created equal though. It all depends on what kinds of apples are pressed for the cider. Ideally, a mixture of tart and sweet produces the best flavor, and many orchards have their own “recipe” of exactly what mixture they use so all their cider will have consistent flavor. Then some producers use whatever apples have fallen to the ground, so the taste varies from batch to batch. I especially like it when an orchard is recreating how it used to be done by having demonstrations with old-fashioned cider presses. It just doesn’t get any better.
Another blast from the past that is making a comeback is making apple butter the old-fashioned way. A couple years ago we had an opportunity to attend an apple butter boil near Sylvan, Pennsylvania. We had no idea what a treat or kind of day lay in store for us as we traveled back to Little Cove, not far from where Jim grew up. A cove is a small valley between two ridge lines that is closed at one or both ends. The folks in this particular valley live much as their grandparents did.
We had sent some friends, Margaret and Alan Jaynes, an article that had appeared in Country magazine about a family who made it a tradition to have an apple butter boil every year. They were intrigued by the article and decided to start their own family tradition.
It started the night before the boil when the family peeled and cored 5 bushels of apples. Joan and Alfred Weller, Margaret’s sister and brother-in-law, swore they had never seen so many apples and wondered if they would ever get down peeling and slicing.
The next morning at 5 a.m., Alan started the fire and then placed the copper kettle filled with 10 gallons of cider over it on a tripod. The cider had to cook until it boiled away half its volume. This took until a little after noon. Then they added the apples a few at a time.
The important step at this point was to keep stirring. A large paddle approximately 5 foot long is used and, if the stirring quit at any time, the contents would start to stick and burn at the bottom of the pot. This was actually a lot of fun as there were nearly 40 people at the boil, including friends and neighbors who stopped to see what was going on. Each one took their turn stirring so, in essence, it took 40 people to make a batch of apple butter.
It wasn’t all work, though. Everyone that came brought a dish to pass, so Alan and Margaret’s garage became one huge smorgasbord. Everyone munched all day, chatted with family and friends and there was even a man playing the fiddle.
By 5 p.m., all the apples had been added and it was time to add the sugar and spices. Then it had to cook down to a spreadable consistency. Nearly 7 p.m. and it was time to ladle it into canning jars and, of course, for everyone to have a taste.
Considering that it takes roughly a bushel of apples to make about 3 gallons of cider, it took almost 9 bushels of apples to make nearly 6 gallons of apple butter that day. However, the bushels of memories that were made that day could never be measured. Everyone had a wonderful time and a little of that autumn-spiced flavor went home with each and every one.
I don’t know of any other fruit that brings people together in so many ways. The apple fests, apple butter boils, cider mills and orchards where families can pick their own fruit all provide quality family time in the fresh autumn air.
This is not to mention all the country and primitive décor that focuses on apples. Our kitchen has always had apple accents because they give the feeling of warmth, safety, happiness and contentment. When we remodeled our kitchen three years ago our then 10-year-old grandson Wyatt asked how I was going to decorate. “With apples, of course!” I answered.
He tried for the longest time to change my mind. He suggested cherries, blueberries, lemons and even mushrooms. Sorry, Wyatt, the apples stay, you don’t mess with success. At the end of a long day an apple can soothe the tummy and the heart.