Monday, October 14, 2013

One Sweet Day

What do you get when you combine apples, sugar, spices, friends, fire, and a whole lot of stirring? Apple butter, of course! All those things came together at our house on Saturday, and we ended up with a whole lot more than apple butter.

The fun began Friday afternoon, when friends showed up to begin peeling six bushels of apples.

Two mechanical apple peelers helped out considerably, but it was still a lot of work.

When all the apples were done, there was a huge pile of cores and peelings, which made quite a feast for our chickens.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Robin and his cousin, Bruce, started cooking in the sugar house. If the photo looks a bit blurry, it is. That's because I was still blurry that early in the morning!

Well before daylight, the apples were simmering in a one-hundred-year-old 30-gallon copper kettle over a wood fire, and the stirring had begun!

By the time all the apples were in the kettle, it was almost full to the rim!

Thus began a day filled with fellowship

and stirring

and food (keep reading, I'll explain)

and stirring

and stirring

and conversation

and stirring...get the picture?

By early afternoon, the apples had cooked down enough to add the sugar and spices. The aroma was delicious and the apple butter was almost done, but still there was stirring.

After another half hour or so, the time finally came to can the apple butter. It was easy to see where the saying, "Many hands make light work," came from. It took quite a team to get the 23 gallons of sweet apple goodness ladled into quart, pint, and half-pint jars while it was still hot.

And in the bottom of the kettle, two silver dollars, put there for good luck and maybe to help prevent the apple butter from sticking.

When the kettle was empty and the last jar filled, the popping of the jar flats as they sealed was music to our ears.

Making apple butter is a tradition all across this great country of ours, be it a family affair, a church fundraiser or a festival event. I can barely remember when my family made apple butter in our backyard in 1964. This photo of the women peeling apples is the only one I could find. That's my grandmother on the left, and next to her is my mother. The other ladies were neighbors, I think.

For our apple butter making, we incorporated some tradition by using Robin's grandmother's copper kettle and putting the silver dollars in the bottom. We might have even started a new tradition: curly fries for lunch! Someone had the good idea to put some potatoes on the apple peelers and fry them in hot oil. Boy, were they good!

All in all, it was a wonderful day, filled with some of the most important things in life: family, friends, and little hands helping big hands.

At our house last Saturday, we made more than just apple butter. Everyone, young and old, went home with a host of good memories. In more ways than one, it was a mighty sweet day indeed.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Food Photo Challenge

It's been a crazy week, and an even crazier day, but I don't want to miss out on this month's photo challenge for food photography, which I've been experimenting with for a while now. I thought it would be easy, seeing as how food sits still, and you can take your time setting everything up. Boy, did/do I have a lot to learn! You can read about my first experience here, where I learned that light is everything. As I kept trying, though, my photos improved, thank goodness! If you want to take a look at my progress, just click on the link for Recipes and Food in the Posts By Subject list on the right.

I've found that natural light works best for me. In my kitchen, it's in the afternoon that the sun streams through the windows over my sink. That means that the light is hitting my food subjects from the side, which makes for a nice photo. I've also learned to use the tripod to make sure that my photos aren't blurry. As for camera settings, I use "auto without flash" or aperture priority for pretty food shots.

Here are a few of my favorites.

This is my homemade pepper jelly over cream cheese. I snapped this one at my sister's house, without a tripod or natural light!

My friend Ginny retired from a 30-year career as a middle school teacher last June. We had a nice celebration on my screen porch. It was fun to use my mother's china and crystal. As for the food, I don't think there's anything much prettier than a bowl of peaches.

We love rhubarb pie! You can find the recipe here.

Christmas goodies, up close.

Thanks to Donna for hosting this challenge each month. You can join the fun by clicking here for the link to the Personal Photo Challenge website.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Needle and Thread

Yesterday morning, with the remnants of a tropical storm drumming on my roof, I was in my sewing room. And I was actually sewing, which was comfortable and familiar, even after a long, long absence from one of my favorite hobbies.

Learning to sew was a given in our house. Mom made just about all our clothes, at least until we were teenagers and jeans took over our closets. She made play clothes, school clothes, and Sunday clothes for all three of us girls, besides making her own clothes and a vast wardrobe for our Barbie Dolls. How she did it is beyond me, especially after she went back to a full-time job when I was five. Even the shopping boggles my mind, what with all the choosing of patterns, fabrics, buttons, and such for the four of us. But without fail, whether it was Easter Sunday or the first day of school, we were decked out in new finery, all made by Mom.

Connie, Janie, Mom, and me in our Easter dresses, 1963, when I was three.
It naturally followed that all three of her daughters learned to sew under her careful instruction. 4-H projects were also good teachers, with each of our creations evaluated and scored by Home Demonstration agent Eleanor Shanklin. Her sharp eyes and high standards pushed us to learn and perfect new techniques every year, always in pursuit of another blue ribbon.

By the time I was in high school, I was making most of my own clothes, mostly dresses, skirts, and tops.

I made this dress for my senior prom in 1978.
(FYI, that nice fellow is not my husband.)
Then, in college, I lugged my grandmother's ancient but very reliable portable sewing machine to my dorm room (on the fourth floor with no elevator!) so I could spend weekend hours making new clothes. I continued sewing after I got married, making a good portion of the clothes I needed for my job as an elementary school library media specialist. I even made a wool suit and placed 5th in a "Make It Yourself With Wool" contest. I kept on sewing right up until the turn of the century. That was when several things came together and caused me to leave sewing behind. For one thing, fabric stores disappeared and finding quality fabric and notions was just about impossible, especially for me since I live so far away from shopping opportunities. Pattern prices went through the roof, with one pattern costing $10 or more when they used to be considerably less than $5. (I wonder what they cost now!) Notions, especially buttons, also skyrocketed. The last two dresses I made buttoned all the way down the front ( and I'm tall), and the buttons cost more than the fabric!

In addition, at about the same time, I discovered clothing manufacturers were finally making sleeves, pant legs, and hemlines long enough for my tall frame. And there were sales! Add to all that the fact that the year 2000 ushered us  into the elder care season of our lives with a vengeance, and sewing simply faded into the background, becoming something I used to enjoy.

I haven't made any clothes for over ten years now. I've done some mending, and I made a blaze orange jacket for my dog to protect her during hunting season, but I've not cut out and sewed a new creation for many a year. Until the past few days, that is, when I finally got around to making a skirt for the laundry room sink at the Guest House.

It's the original sink that was installed when indoor plumbing and a bathroom came in the late 1950s. I am delighted to be able to re-use it, but it is a little stark. I bought fabric to make a skirt months ago, and finally got around to it late last week. After careful measuring (more than once) I cut out the pieces for the skirt and a band around the top.

Then there was a lot of stitching

and gathering

and pinning and pressing

and still more stitching,

some of it by hand.

I was pleased with how it all came back to me: the fabric and thread, pins and needles working together under my hands, with the hum of the sewing machine and the rain on the roof creating a pleasant soundtrack for my work. When I snipped the thread from my final stitch, it was with a very contented sigh.

I don't know what it is about us humans that makes so many of us want to create with our hands. Whether our medium is fabric, clay, wood, or paper, there's a desire deep within to make something: something useful or beautiful, something sturdy or delicate, something to keep or give away. After being away from my sewing for too many years, it has been sweet indeed to once again make something by setting my hands to the rhythm of scissors, needle, and thread.