The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Apple Butter Time

By Patti Perry-Armes © 2015

Online: November, 2015

(Editor's Note: Patti Perry-Armes lives in the country, just outside Knoxville, Tennessee. She enjoys writing short stories, particularly about rural life and living in the Appalachian region. A number of her stories have been published in anthologies, and both print and internet magazines.)

There was crispness in the air and Mother Nature was dressed in her autumn finery. Once again it was time to make apple butter. Each year we meet at Grandma Perry's house in the country; mom, my younger sister, aunt, two cousins, and me for this female bonding ritual.

We were thankful that Grandma had finally given into doing this process indoors. She had always made her butter outside, in a big copper kettle over an open fire. "It's the way that it's supposed to be done," she had insisted. But we found it much warmer and more comfortable out of the smoke and chill of the frosty morning.

As a gift for her birthday this year, her two son-in-laws had built a canning shed over her underground root cellar, complete with electricity. It contained a stove large enough to hold her canning pots, a deep sink, a long table, and shelves to hold the canning jars. Mom made her cheery yellow gingham curtains for the door and the little window in back. "This is too fancy for working," was her protest. But her shy grin told us she was proud.

The sun was just peeking through the trees when we took our places at the table and began the task of peeling the apples. We had set up our jars and other equipment the night before to save some time this morning.

There would be no interruptions; no cell phones, pagers, children, or husbands. The only sounds heard were our laughter and the bubbling of our mixture. An occasional somber time found its way into our day as we remembered those we had lost.

The sweet smell of spices, sugar, and apples began to permeate the little shed as the process of cooking began. We took turns stirring the concoction and stopped only for a lunch of homemade vegetable soup and cornbread that Grandma had made earlier, while we were still in bed.

As the afternoon progressed, the reddish-brown jars of butter began to line the shelves above the table. Soon there would be enough for all of our families to enjoy for the year.

Friends and co-workers often ribbed us about all the work that we put into our task when we could just "buy" apple butter. But we didn't think of it as work, it was a labor of love; a time to catch up on what was happening with family and friends for the past year. And we so looked forward to this time together.

The day faded into dusk too quickly and we gathered our jars for travel, sad to see it come to an end. Some of us had traveled for miles and others only down the road. We vowed to meet here again next year and looked forward to our new recruit. Grandma's first great granddaughter would be joining us. She would be twelve, old enough to learn the tradition, and we were pleased to be passing it on to a new generation.