The Apple Butter Bee

I was driving home from town the other day and happened to see a lady hanging sheets out to dry.

That reminded me of one of our trips to WV when mother was doing research on her ancestry.

It was 1967 or ‘68, I believe, when we stopped off at the Contraption, Ky community, to see my cousin Zookie. You remember her, the lady with a son named Abe that had a thing for a lass named Dillie?

Anyway, we pulled up in the yard and got out of the truck, made our “howdys”, and started passing the time of day.

It was about then that I really noticed what was going on.

Cousin Zookie and a group of  her neighbors were gathered around a huge iron cauldron, which was set on a pile of stones among which a large fire was burning.

One lady was vigorously working the contents with a large paddle.

Becoming more interested by the minute, I stepped back, simply to observe the proceedings.

After a bit the lady started pulling bed sheets from the vat and with help managed to get them all wrung out and placed in a basket.

It was then that the other ladies started dipping the water from the pot and disposing of it by tossing it over the yard. As big as the pot was there was no way all the water could be dipped.

Curious as to what all the other ladies were waiting for, it became obvious they were about to cook apples, since they all had baskets of peeled, cored and washed apples.

Feeling they had enough water dipped from the vat they began pouring their apples into the pot and added water to their satisfaction and, after stirring the fire, and using the community paddle, began stirring the mixture.

After a short conversation with cousin Zookie, I learned that they were having a community apple butter making “bee” as it were.

I told cousin Zookie that I thought that was real nice that the community could come together like this.

Then, thinking I had seen it all, each of the ladies took out a copper penny and pitched it into the pot with the mixture.

What kind of ritual was I being witness to, thought I. What could possible be next?

After a brief questioning period with Zookie, I learned that they put a penny in each batch because “our Grannies” did. I decided I had learned more than I really needed to, so I sat back and watched.

That didn’t work. I wondered what happened to the penny?

Back to Zookie. (She must have thought I was a real dumbbell.)

I asked if anyone had ever bitten into the penny after the apple butter had been served.

She said that in all her years of making apple butter, no one had ever even found a penny. She claimed the penny just added to the color and flavor.

I suppose they needed a flavor enhancement after cooking apple butter in the same vat as bed laundry.

I’ll never look at a jar of apple butter without wondering from hence it came, and too, what in the world happened to the penny?

RW

2/12/10


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