Apple butter is the Apple-achian scent of fall

By Candace Nelson - 10:00 AM


Here's my latest column in the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

The quintessential Appalachian fall day includes rainbow-hued leaves falling to the ground, cool breezes whipping through trees and a giant copper kettle.

That giant copper kettle is, of course, filled to the brim with apple butter.

A thick spread made by cooking apples with sugar and spices, apple butter is a fall delicacy in Appalachia, with many families and communities crafting their own homemade versions to last through the winter months.

It’s perfect on biscuits, toast, oatmeal, and just about anything that needs a little extra sweet and lightly spicy kick.

Creating a large copper kettle’s worth of apple butter takes time, patience and lots of apples.

It most often involves peeling, coring and chopping local apples; dumping them, along with cinnamon and other spices, into the copper kettle over fire; and stirring the mixture with a wooden paddle for hours.

This labor of love has persevered through the years — with festivals throughout the state celebrating the tradition. You’ll find apple butter festivals in Berkeley Springs, Salem and Chapmanville annually. Often, there are pageants, live music and contests to accompany the celebration of the fall staple.

Like many Appalachian foodways, the art of making apple butter was created to fill a need. Apples, which are plentiful in our mountainous region, can be preserved in the form of apple butter to last throughout cold winters.

Communities would often come together to make quick work of the task while also enjoying each other’s company. Those gatherings evolved into the festivals we know today.

While the festivals may be taking 2020 off, you’ll still find folks making smaller batches of this iconic fall treat at their homes. The community gathering aspect is an important piece of what makes apple butter so special — the memories, the hard work, the fun.

Fortunately, you can find solace in the rich, complex flavor of apple butter, knowing its long history and role in Appalachian food culture. The sweet, thick spread is deliciously steeped in resourcefulness and ingenuity.

Each bite is a taste of fall, with a touch of tradition.

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