For months we had been looking forward to visiting our friend’s house to make his grandmother’s cherished apple butter recipe. It was a bright, warm Saturday in Cloverdale. A football game in a distant snowstorm murmured from the television. We had balloons, and a soccer ball, and two charming children to chase around outside. Even the near-constant onslaught of church bells from across the street couldn’t dampen our mood. Apple butter!
We might have been novices at making apple butter, especially top-secret West Virginia recipes, but we aren’t novices at eating it. We usually like ours thick and brown, more apples than sugar (but not stinting on the sugar), maybe with a little cinnamon or nutmeg, close enough to pie filling that there’s a strong family resemblance but not so close that you feel guilty piling the stuff onto biscuit after flaky biscuit. Our friend is even more of a fan. His fridge is like a museum of apple butters, each jar from the Publix brand to the heirloom Ellijay brand found wanting somehow and consigned to the bottom shelf of the refrigerator door – one step above oblivion in most households.
We knew we had ourselves a real connoisseur. After his voluble son introduced us to a marginally comprehensible pirate narrative inspired by the Disney movie inspired by the Disney ride, we were ready to get cooking. The ingredients were unveiled.
That’s right. Red hots. We know. We were also a little surprised. We’d rather pictured the whole enterprise as some kind of super-rustic quilting bee-inspired Old Fashioned Apple Buttering. We soldiered on. Our friend is a trustworthy and decent fellow. Surely he wouldn’t lead us astray? The recipe card, in his grandmother’s handwriting, spelled out the game plan:
Quick Apple Butter
9 cups Apple Sauce
5 cups Sugar
1/2 cup Vinegar
Cook this 15 minutes
then add 1/2 cup cinnamon candy
Cook 5 minutes
Put in pint jars, place new can seals on and tighten. Make sure they are sealed before you put them away.
Cinnamon candy! We were intrigued. As our young friends decamped to play soccer in the courtyard, we began. First, both jars of applesauce went into the big pan – slightly more than the recipe required, so we added a bit more sugar and apple cider vinegar to compensate. This smelled super delicious as it cooked – like fall, somehow, and sweet-tart.
After fifteen minutes, it was cinnamon candy time. This was truly intriguing. They disappeared immediately into the sugary brew, the steam preventing effective picture taking. Our host explained that these candies were a little larger than he usually used, so we let them cook for ten minutes, until they were nice and dissolved. And then, improbably, we were done. Apple butter! In under 30 minutes! and bright red! We put into jars.
Since there was plenty of football left to watch, and children to chase around in the unseasonable warmth, we decided to eat some. We weren’t sure what to expect. But on toast, it was delicious. Really, really, really delicious. It didn’t taste like anything we’d ever described as “apple butter” before, but sometimes the words you have outlive their usefulness, and we are fine with that.