It's time for apple butter

October 26, 1997


Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - What do you get when you mix 175 bushels of apples, sugar, oil of cinnamon and cloves?

Around 350 gallons of apple butter - and cold cash.

On Saturday, members of the Shepherdstown Volunteer Fire Co. and community volunteers hosted the company's eighth annual Apple Butter Festival at the fire hall on a damp and chilly day. But the weather did little to deter the crowds, said fire company treasurer Denny Barron.

"We have over 1,000 quarts on order now," he said. "We made around $5,000 altogether at last year's festival. I expect us to net at least that much this year. The crowd's been good."


While the apple butter was bubbling in 15 huge copper kettles outside, visitors to the day-long festival had the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch at the fire hall and stroll through the craft bazaar inside the building.

Volunteers said the work began a week ago when they began peeling and coring and mashing the apples into a pulp that would go into the kettles. On Saturday, volunteers showed up at 2 a.m. to begin filling the kettles with the apple mixture. They started stirring the mix with long-handled wooden stirrers about three hours later.

At 2 p.m. they were still stirring. It would be at least another hour before the apple butter was done, and the mason jars could be filled and sold.

The unofficial apple butter expert on Saturday was Naomi Miller, who lives in the Martinsburg area but grew up in Shepherdstown and comes back every year to help out the fire company.

"I've been doing this for years," she said, as she checked a sample of butter for thickness. "The copper kettles turn the butter that red color ... after we've cooked the mix down we put in the sugar and stir for another hour. The last thing to go in is the oil of cinnamon and small amount of oil of cloves. Then you cook it for another 20 minutes, and it's done."

Another veteran apple butter maker was John Lowe.

"I've been doing this for 60 years," he said as he stirred one of the large kettles. "I've done this since I was four or five years old. We lived in the country, and the only thing we ever bought was sugar and flour and things like that. We made everything else. Making apple butter was a family thing. It was a big affair. That's what's nice about this festival. It brings people together."

Lowe said he'd been teaching some outsiders the tricks of the apple butter trade.

"I've had around 40 people stop by here today," he said. "They were from the city, and they had no idea where apple butter comes from. They just go in the store and buy a jar. They were city slickers - but nice people - who'd never been exposed to something like this before."

Those same visitors got to see Tommy Bowers of Kearneysville demonstrate his old corn sheller and corn cracker machines, and watch blacksmith Frank Graves II of Shepherdstown and apprentice Mark Poole of Hedgesville create wrought iron accessories on an old forge.

Young Stanley Reimer of Martinsburg didn't consider himself a city slicker, but admitted he didn't know much about apple butter making.

"I didn't know it was so much work," he said. "It surprised me. When they told me how long it took to cook it, I'm like, wow!"

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