After our five hour flight to Atlanta, Georgia, we had a two hour drive to my brother-in-law’s house in Pell City, Alabama. I remarked that we would want to eat before we got to Pell City. The usual freeway signs pointed to McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King–that is, corporate death burger. Jill’s brother Eric took us to the Flying Biscuit in the village of Candler Park. We sat among a field of cheerful sunflowers painted on the wall in a room cooled by the winter weather. The hot biscuits arrived along with a tin of stuff. As the uninitiated often do, I pointed at the stuff and asked “What is that stuff?” “Oh, apple butter, it’s really good.”
The GEMCO downtown Walnut Creek carried apple butter when I was a child. The Target that replaced GEMCO some twenty years ago almost certainly doesn’t. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a jar of apple butter. Looking at the small dish of brown jam sitting on the dinner table at the Flying Biscuit, the apple butter felt like such a relic. My dad went through a period where he loved apple butter and tried to share his love of it with us kids. The apple butter of my childhood looked like nasty brown paste. It tasted even worse. However, when I was a child, I didn’t like spinach either.
The apple butter at the Flying Biscuit looked better than the brown paste my dad used to buy, so I tried it. It was fabulous. Slightly tart, slightly sweet. Full of flavor.
Our freezer at home had two large bags of light brown chopped up apples. I had planned on creating an apple pie with the apples from our tree. When the day came to make apple pie, I just didn’t have the time. So they’ve sat in the freezer–stiff, almost hard–waiting for their turn. We still have two bags of fresh apples in the garage. We’ve been equally uncertain about their fate. Jill and I have worried over our apples like two gnomes guarding their treasure. After slathering apple butter on hot biscuits in Candler Park, Georgia, I knew that those frozen apples would make perfect apple butter.
We spent a couple of hours on a Saturday making the stew of apple butter and storing the cinnamon colored jewels in shiny Ball jars. I used a combination of recipes from Clearly Delicious and Betty Crocker.
1 1/2 cups of apple cider
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
sugar – 4 Tablespoons per 1/2 cup of mash
Toss the chopped apples into a large soup pot. Pour the apple cider over it. Bring to a boil. Well, as much of a boil as you can. Simmer for about 30 minutes until the apples are very soft. Press the apples with a potato ricer or shove it through some wire mesh if you don’t have a potato ricer. Better yet, just buy a potato ricer and be done with it. You can use it for mashed potatoes–the potato ricer, not the apple butter. Put the apple mash back into the pot. Take the dried sticky stuff out of the ricer and set it aside for putting into something like an apple cake or apple muffins. Measure the mash. Add 4 Tablespoons sugar per 1/2 cup of mash. Add the spices to the apple mash. Simmer for about 25 – 30 minutes or until you get a texture to your liking. Makes about 4 pints. At least for us it did.
The apple tree in the backyard has a single gold leaf hanging from a slate grey branch. The recent winter storms blew down all of the other leaves. While the apple tree stands forgotten in the backyard, appearing dead, we’ll be inside where its warm enjoying apple butter. In many ways, apple butter itself was forgotten, dead. Overcoming my childhood fears of apple butter and embracing a tradition from the south opened up a new perspective and brought life to us. Over time the apple tree will blossom, turn green, and bear fruit. And once again, it’s life will awaken us to old memories and new experiences.