Turning apples into butter Benefit: A fund-raiser at Piney Creek Church of the Brethren outside Taneytown features hands-on cooking plus an opportunity to buy the finished product.

October 29, 1997|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Bob Wiles never liked apple butter as a kid. But in high school, he took an apple-butter sandwich for lunch every day. There were eight children in the family; apple butter made an inexpensive but filling midday meal for a growing boy.

Unfortunately, daily doses of apple butter did nothing to improve Wiles' opinion of the farm-kitchen staple, and he swore he would never eat it again.

But Wiles' love-hate relationship with apple butter didn't end there. His heart -- and taste buds -- have softened over the years, and all that apple-butter expertise, including many a fall day spent making it at home on the family farm, have worked to benefit Wiles' fellow members at the Piney Creek Church of the Brethren outside Taneytown in northwestern Carroll County.

Come Saturday morning, Wiles will preside once more over the kettles at the church's annual apple-butter boil. The old-fashioned fund-raiser provides financial support for a variety of church projects.

Wiles said the boil usually attracts a few hundred people -- neighbors and friends who look forward each year to taking home a few jars of the fresh-made butter, and others who are interested in seeing an old-time skill that is fast becoming a lost art.

Linda Baumgardner, a member of the boil committee, said she can remember when nearly every farm family made its own apple butter. Raised just over the Maryland line in nearby Ortanna, Pa. -- "prime apple country," she said proudly -- Baumgardner said her mother cooked two kettles each autumn.

"I helped from the time I was a child. My mother worked in a canning factory all her life, so I guess it's in my blood," Baumgardner said.

Wiles said his parents also made a few kettles of apple butter each year to carry the family through the winter. And for all his apple-butter animosity, Wiles admitted he and his siblings have kept the tradition going. Though they don't bring out the kettles every year, the family still gathers at one or the other's farms every few years -- often at the urging of the younger generation -- to turn out a kettle or two.

Wiles and Baumgardner said the camaraderie inherent in the apple-butter cooking process is the biggest reason members of the Piney Creek Church cherish their annual boil.

"The whole church works together that day," Baumgardner said. "It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work, too, but we all love it."

The boil was begun four years ago by the late Rev. Bill Copenhaver, a former pastor of the church who moved back to the area after he retired.

Wiles said the most important ingredient in making apple butter is dedicated help, because it takes a lot of work. Piney Creek Church, which has about 60 active members, depends on nearly all of them to make the boil a success.

Wiles and other committee members secure the apples -- which are often donated or sold at wholesale by local orchards. The committee prefers Golden Delicious, Stayman, Winesap or Rome varieties, "but we'll use whatever's available," he said.

The Thursday before the boil, church members meet to sort, wash and peel the fruit. They start with 8 bushels, which yield about 5 bushels after all the apples have been peeled, Wiles said. The peeled apples are then quartered and stored in tubs.

Boil day dawns early for Wiles and other committee members, who arrive at the church at 5: 30 a.m. to clean the 30-gallon copper kettles, borrowed from church members and friends.

The kettles and utensils used to stir the butter must be made from a material that will not react with the acid in the apples, Wiles noted. Cast iron and other metals can affect the flavor. He prefers to use a wooden paddle to stir, because it won't hurt the kettle or change how the apple butter tastes.

Though the kettles used to be heated over wood fires, Wiles said, the church has found gas heats more quickly quicker and provides a more consistent flame, making for a better butter.

Wiles first cooks 15 to 20 gallons of apple cider for about 2 1/2 hours, until it has become a syrupy glaze.

"That makes the apples easier to cook, and you don't have to use as much sugar," he explained.

"Then we start cooking the apples. You start stirring, and you don't quit stirring until you stop cooking the apple butter," Wiles said.

The key is to have a number of different people man the paddles, and Wiles doesn't hesitate to hand his paddle over to visitors who want that authentic apple-butter-making experience. "The old saying is, 'Two times around and once through the middle.' That keeps it from sticking and helps break up the apples," he said.

Wiles said it takes about 3 1/2 hours to reach applesauce stage. After a taste-test to see how sweet the apples are, Wiles and other committee members begin adding 40 to 50 pounds of sugar, mixing it in, a little at a time; this process takes about 30 minutes.

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