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Blue-ribbon good

October 08, 2003|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

CHERRY RUN, W.Va. - The 30th annual Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs will be held this weekend - and the festival's reigning apple butter champions are ready.

Members of the Pleasant View Community Center in Cherry Run recently prepared about 200 gallons of apple butter in anticipation of the festival on Saturday, Oct. 11, and Sunday, Oct. 12.

Center members, their families and friends spent a recent Friday peeling, coring and quartering 80 bushels of Golden Delicious apples into the snits - prepared apple pieces - that they boiled and spiced with about 500 pounds of sugar and cinnamon and cloves into their prize-winning apple butter the next day.

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Veteran apple butter maker Leila Stuckey and other members of the now-defunct Hemlock Homemaker's Club in Morgan County helped launch the festival 30 years ago - and created by trial, error and plenty of tasting the apple butter recipe that's reigned supreme many years since.

Their secret? Freshly ground snits cooked and stirred constantly for at least eight hours before the addition of lots of sugar, oil of cinnamon and oil of cloves. Using powdered cinnamon and gloves makes the apple butter much darker, Stuckey said.

"Other people do it differently, but that's our recipe - and we've been blue ribbon a lot of years," she said.

It takes a core group of at least two dozen volunteers about 20 hours to prepare their apple butter. The group starts the process by running hundreds of pint- and quart-sized jars through the commercial dishwasher at Pleasant View Elementary School. The snit marathon starts bright and early the next day, as volunteers move, peel, core, cut, wash and bag thousands of apples at the community center - a former two-room schoolhouse along W.Va. 9 between Hedgesville and Berkeley Springs.

Jack Stotler of Hedgesville orchestrated this year's fruity affair - keeping volunteers armed with apples, restocking bags and baskets, and pulling 5-gallon buckets and massive copper kettles from an upstairs storeroom. Those kettles would be washed with salt and vinegar "to shine 'em up and get 'em ready to go" before the fires started beneath them at 5 a.m. the next morning, Stotler said.

Thirteen-year-old Caleb Smalley of Berkeley Springs kept busy by filling bushel baskets from a pile of apples in a large wooden crate, and delivering the goods to three volunteers manning commercial peelers - which can process about six bushels of apples per hour - and nearly two dozen people peeling and coring by hand. While first-timer Richard Millner and two other men speared countless apples onto the electric peelers' rotating prongs, Stuckey and her peers peeled, cored and cut with paring knives and endless patience.

"It takes all day," Stuckey said. "People come and go."

The snits were then washed in large vats outside the center, and placed in plastic buckets in preparation for the next day's work.

Volunteers were slated to arrive at the crack of dawn on Saturday, Sept. 27, to light wood fires beneath seven 25- to 50-gallon kettles mounted on iron stands. The snits would then be ground, dumped into the kettles, stirred and cooked for eight to 10 hours until all the water was boiled out of the apples, Stuckey said.

Constant stirring is a must to avoid scorching and sticking, Stotler added.

After the apples reach the right consistency, sugar is added and the concoction is cooked for another hour before adding the spices and removing the hot apple butter from the fire. The Pleasant View folks complete the process by canning the hot apple butter at long tables set up inside the community center. The jars automatically seal as each batch cools, Stuckey said.

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