The all-night drive was necessary so that we could spend Friday afternoon peeling, coring, slicing 4 bushels of apples. For those not familiar with a bushel anymore, that's A LOT of apples. It took hours, even with our super-duper peeler/slicer. The NC crew left after school Friday and drove long hours to arrive that night. But Scott and Steve were up at dawn on Saturday to clean the massive copper kettle and start a wood fire. The first apples went into the kettle with a gallon of cider at 7:25 a.m., and the last apples were added by about 9:30 a.m. The entire day someone has to be stirring, scraping the bottom of the kettle with a large wooden paddle so the sauce does not burn, carefully looking for any peels or seeds that rise to the surface, scraping down the sides with a wooden spoon, stoking the fire to just the right heat. Rocking back and forth, turning in a circle, tending the cauldron.
Meanwhile the rest of the crew went from game to game, blind man's bluff, basketball, speed scrabble, soccer, shooting cans off the railroad track, all Julia's favorites. The craziest moment of the day was the polar bear run to the river and swim . . all cousins went into the frigid water (one had to be pushed by Julia, but he was a good sport), and me. I love that river, even though I have no tolerance for the cold.
By 6 the sugar was in, the oil-of-cinnamon flavoring, and the apple butter was pronounced ready. The day ends with an assembly line of sterilized jars and lids, pouring the hot apple butter into the jars, screwing down the tops. We canned 11 1/2 gallons of the sweet brown spread, enough for a winter's luxury on corn bread and toast and rolls and muffins.
Julia's day ended with a reading of the poetry we had encouraged everyone to compose throughout the day as tributes to her, and the list of 18 characteristics as an acronym to her name (such as helpful, enduring, endearing, unforgettable, indispensable, etc. ). We had an apple cake (a la Mrs. Elwood, Nathan's favorite which he brought to our team) to keep in theme, with fun candles. Julia glowed.
Apple butter is sweet, nourishing, a product of many hours of labor, beautiful to behold, satisfying to all. And so is Julia. Her very first birthday was also celebrated in West Virginia at my parents' "Camp", when we had evacuated from rebels and just before we returned to Africa to work at Kijabe until things calmed down in Bundibugyo. So this was another circle completed, celebrating amidst the turning maple leaves and cooling mountain breezes once again. And that baby who was carried uncomplaining to safety through gunfire is now a beautiful young woman, sensitive and loving, sharp and organized, silly and appreciative. She loves life, food, family, soccer, books, crocheting, friends, dogs . . . and apple butter. And we love her.