On the farm where my great grandmother, Ethel Shepherd, grew up (between Price and Brush Mountains in Virginia), there was fruit aplenty in the summertime. There were wild blackberries in the pasture fields, and pear, wild plum, and cherry trees nearby. They also had a small apple orchard. Sometimes, they would even borrow a team of horses and wagon to go up the mountain for the day to pick huckleberries, packing sandwiches and water for lunch.
The fruit was eaten fresh in season, and then canned, dried, or preserved to enjoy the rest of the year. Here were her techniques for making jam and apple butter:
Preserves were made by measuring one cup of fruit to one cup of sugar, and boiling in an open pot until thick. To judge thickness, put a spoonful on a saucer and let cool to see how it sets. This requires twenty minutes minimum for strawberries, and more for other things depending on the ripeness of the fruit.
Making apple butter presented an occasion for neighbors to get together. Peeled apples were cut into snits (small sections). The next day, the 40-gallon copper kettle was set up over an open fire with several gallons of cider in it. The apples were dumped into the kettle and cooked to a mush. Then, the sugar and spices were added and it was cooked some more. It had to be stirred constantly. The stir was ten to fifteen feet in length, with a crossbar on the handle. The stirring was done by two people at a time, preferably a courtin’ couple. If they hit the handle on the kettle with the stir, they got to kiss!
And you’re buying your apple butter at the store!