ABOUT THE TIME the leaves turn to brilliant shades of gold and orange, Dr. John Kable of Westminster makes a detailed shopping list: 80 pounds of sugar, 10 bushels of apples (Staymans, Romas and Yorks), cinnamon oil, clove oil, jars and more.
Kable, a veterinarian at Airpark Animal Hospital, and his wife, Robin, also are mailing invitations to neighbors and friends. Bring the peelers and your contribution to the potluck dinner, the invitation announces. It's apple butter time.
For the fourth year in a row, the Kable family opened their back yard, and folks gathered for a taste of Americana.
From 3 p.m. Nov. 2 until 3:30 p.m. the next day, they peeled apples, stirred the "snits" over an open fire, talked, dined and ultimately sealed more than 120 quart jars.
Making apple butter the old-fashioned way has been a Kable family tradition for years, but John took a break from it while he pursued his medical practice and raised four children. He only recently resurrected the tradition, after Robin found a copper kettle and the wooden stirring paddle at auction and gave the set to him for a birthday present.
The last weekend in October, John's cousin, Marty Kable, pulled more than 25 families together at his farm in West Virginia, and they made 150 gallons of apple butter.
The West Virginia friends and families have enjoyed the tradition for 30 years, so Marty is quick to offer his Westminster cousin advice.
"He told me that we could shave about two hours off the whole process by putting the apples through a sausage grinder before cooking them down," John said. "But we won't. We're not in any hurry."
Each year, John chronicles the apple butter making process, noting subtle changes such as "used apple cider instead of just water for the first stage."
Each year he notes the start and finish time (and the time for each stage in between) for the whole process.
He keeps the notes tucked in his copy of The Lost River General Store Cookbook, from Lost River, W.Va.
"Total - 120 quarts. Start at 5:50 a.m., stop by 3:50 p.m. Apples all in by 10 a.m. Sugar in between 12:30 - 1 p.m.," his notes from last year read.
"I've always been interested in how the early Americans handled things," neighbor Ben Rogers said as he peeled apples Saturday afternoon (and into the night). "This whole process makes me feel like I'm doing something that my grandmother would do. If the Kables had a blacksmith in one corner of the yard, we'd have it all."
Unlike the conversations that probably took place hundreds of years ago, the 2002 apple butter fest at the Kables included talk about the latest technology, teen-agers, new and old movie stars and the annual high school band competition.
Apple butter time is also a reunion for John Kable, a native of Carroll County and a graduate of Westminster High School, and many of his childhood friends. Some of their stories (about BB gun shootouts and late-night rendezvous) go way back.
Many of them are not fit to print, and all of them ended with comments such as, "Times are not like they used to be. I'd never let my children do that."
When the last jar was sealed and the sides wiped clean, the Kables and their friends had produced 140 quarts of apple butter. Everyone leaves with as many jars as they can carry. The Kable children, Kye, Ben, Thomas and Caroline, have given apple butter as teacher's gifts over the years.
This year, many jars will go to local soup kitchens, and the Kable's church, where they will be placed in baskets for shut-ins.
"This year, the highlight for me was looking up at the stars at 5 a.m. with my friends," John Kable said. "Throughout the year, every time I open a jar of apple butter I remember what we did to make it."
Mount Airy resident Linda Morton honors friend and former co-worker Rochelle Applewhite as her Living Treasure this week. Morton and Apple- white met in 1983, when they worked together at East Carolina University.
"Rochelle has her priorities in order - she is optimistic, creative, and she always finds humor in every situation," Morton said "She has not had an easy life and, by the paycheck standard, she has not been hugely successful. But as a person, she is rich. Her life is a spiritual quest, a celebration of everything she loves - from teacups to poetry. Her life is also an expression of gratitude to her maker and to her fellow travelers."
Brighten the day of someone who has made a positive difference in your life. Send in a name and specific reasons why someone has been your Living Treasure to: Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster 21157.
Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.