Season of harvest, rich with tradition Autumn: Rites of fall, such as stuffing scarecrows and making apple butter, are still done the old-fashioned way at local festivals.

October 05, 1998|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Almost always, autumn is a chill warmly received.

It is the season of assessment, the beginning of the end. Not much more will grow this year, nothing more you can do. It is a somber season, when reality takes the place of spring's high expectations. But it is a freeing time, too, a moment when nature needs no help from central air conditioning or electric heat, a space between summer's overexposure and winter's bundling up.

So it was yesterday, when dozens of families turned out to stuff straw into scarecrows, sample gingerbread and ride wagons at local festivals. Rain was no deterrent; it provided the proper temperature for hot cider, the right gray backdrop for angry painted pumpkins and green gourds tall and pretty as vases.

Autumn is the moment for complicated tasks, like stirring apple butter in a 40-gallon copper kettle with an old-fashioned wooden paddle as tall as you are. That's the way 74-year-old James Caulford does it at the Fall Harvest Days at the Carroll County Farm Museum, because that's the way his father did it.

He starts, with the help of two sons and a slew of others, by peeling 12 bushels of apples of all types. The hard apples -- what his mother called "flavor apples" -- are the best.

Then they're cut into what Caulford calls "apple snits" -- pristine pieces (no bruises allowed) that have been halved, then halved, then halved again. Of these, applesauce is made that will bubble down to the color of earth over the course of 10 hours.

Ten hours of constant stirring.

"You don't stop stirring 'til it's time to take it off," said Caulford. "You gotta stir from beginning to end."

Of 40 gallons of sauce, they will lose 10. This is, after all, the point -- to come out with a brew that bubbles slow and sensuous, every drop of water consumed.

There are more modern ways to make apple butter, of course; contraptions that will do the stirring for you. But this is the way James Caulford knows, and the way his sons know.

"It's just to stay with your roots a little bit, I guess," he said. "When you do it in a factory, it don't have any smoke to it."

Farming history

Fall used to be harder for grain farmers, too, as the Mason-Dixon Historical Society showed with the demonstration of a 1930s-era thresher.

Its red belts wheezed and shook as the thresher pulled grain from its stalk, spitting bits of naked straw into the air.

"It's history," said Donald Fleming of Mount Airy, a board director of the society who found himself fixing the old machine's belts throughout the day. "We forget this, nobody will know what it was like."

At the Baltimore County Historical Society's Old Farm & Home Day in Cockeysville, Civil War re-enactors dressed in the uniforms of the Confederate First Virginia Infantry Regiment ate salt beef, apples and cheese to demonstrate the patterns of fall camp life.

"The weather is changing," said Al Kaspar of Freeland, who wore a lieutenant's gray frock and spoke of the war as if it continued today. "We've probably got only another six weeks of campaigning. During this time of year, we're pulling back to Richmond."

Scarecrow makers

Ellen Kelly of Jarrettsville and her aunt, Sue Messics of State College, Pa., busied themselves with the construction of a scarecrow at the Carroll County festival, following two pages of detailed directions.

They hauled the finished product -- complete with felt eyes, a jaunty ivory hat and a torso filled with straw -- over to Messics' husband and named him Dunden, after the son David Messics had dreamed they had.

Finished project

HTC Their project wasn't the only one to harvest rewards.

About 2: 15 p.m., when not a drop of extra moisture fell from the apple butter on the tasting spoon, the Caulfords were satisfied: It was time for jarring.

"Don't burn yourself," said a small boy, handing one to a purchaser in exchange for $2.

It stayed warm all the way back to the city.

Pub Date: 10/05/98

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