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The Golden Delicious apples are being picked on farms in Clay County, sending housewives for their cookers, pans and paring knives. This particular apple is a native of Clay County, West Virginia, being discovered on the Mullins farm at Bomont. The fame of this delicious apple has spread world-wide, and is being grown anywhere that the soil is suitable.

This crunchy, flavorful apple is versatile—eaten raw, used in many recipes, made into preserves and butters, and can be juiced or dried. Other varieties of apples are also being harvested, and making apple butter is the order of the day. The old-time way of making apple butter was once a social event, with neighbors pitching in to make the finished product and socializing at the same time. Some families still make apple butter the time honored way.

It takes a huge copper kettle, a supply of firewood, several stirrers (both wooden and human) a large supply of sugar and lots of strong arms. Actually, the operation begins the day before, when several volunteers gather to peel apples. It is a warm time of fellowship and lively conversation as the apples are prepared. “Paring bees” were held in older times, which was a source of enjoyment to the younger folks. The aim was to peel an apple in one long strip, which was then swung around the shoulder three times and flung onto the floor. The resulting “initial” was supposed to signify the first letter of their “true love’s name.”

Activities began very early the next morning (usually 5 o’clock) when the fire would be kindled, apples poured into the copper kettle along with some apple cider and a quantity of sugar. As soon as the cooking began, the apple stirrers were utilized to keep the contents from scorching, and continued until the product was pronounced, “done.” Some folks put a silver dollar in the kettle to keep the apples from scorching, but it was an all day, tiresome job. The fire had to be kept burning, and the apple butter stirred continuously. As the apples cooked down, more could be added and cooked until it reached the rich, brown shade of desirable apple butter.

We never made apple butter by that method, as Mom used a heavy aluminum roaster in the oven of her gas range. It had to be stirred every 20 minutes or so to keep from burning. She made quart after quart of this delicious spread, flavored with oil of cinnamon or clove, and sometimes vanilla. With homemade cow butter and hot biscuits, it made breakfast worth getting up for!

Many modern housewives now make apple butter in their crock pot, but I favor the electric roaster. This can be turned down low after it begins cooking, doesn’t require a lot of care and yields several pints of lovely apple butter. We like it quite spicy, so I use a liberal amount of oil of cinnamon. Grandma used to make pumpkin butter, but I have never tried that. Apple butter is an old-fashioned food that has never gone out of style.

Speaking of old times, we received a letter from 84 year old Norman Nottingham of Duck, recalling his school days. He attended a one room grade school, called the Villa Nova Grade School (probably named after the B & O depot located in Duck.) He and his two older sisters trudged the half mile up the hill from their house, either by the dirt road or through the cow pasture. (I digress here, but have you ever stepped barefoot in a warm cow pile?—you never forget it!)

They carried their lunch in a little lard bucket, which they hung on the wall just inside the door. Just as we did, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, and then sang “The West Virginia Hills.” His teacher was Jada Bragg Sears, whom he thought was a great teacher. Winter was a bad time for a little boy to walk through the snow, and his hands would get so cold. He remembers his teacher rubbing them near the big Burnside stove and gradually warming them.

His mother, Darlie, made him wear long brown stockings that came up to his knees, and he hated them because he thought they were “girl’s stockings.” After the sixth grade, they moved to Servia where it was BIG time—a two room school, school buses, and a bell in the steeple. There was also a hot food program. As he reminisced, I thought of the old timers who attended school in this manner, and have great memories of their school days.

We just attended the annual reunion of the Hagar Grade School, and it was bittersweet and heart-warming. It was the 28th reunion of our old school, and the older members are getting to be few and far between. Some of us attended eight years with the same students, and then went on together to high school for four years. This creates a bond that lasts through the years, and is still in force today. A few of us are still living in the same community, and we are like “family.” Thank God for small schools that forge lasting bonds of love and friendship.

By John Greenleaf Whittier

Still sits the school-house by the road,
A ragged beggar sunning;
Around it still the sumachs grow,
And blackberry-vines are running.

Within, the master’s desk is seen,
Deep scarred by raps official;
The warping floor, the battered seats,
The jack-knife’s carved initial;

The charcoal frescoes on its wall;
It’s door’s worn sill, betraying
The feet that, creeping slow to school,
Went storming out to playing!

Long years ago a winter sun
Shone over it at setting;
Lit up its western window-panes,
And low eaves’ icy fretting.

It touched the tangled golden curls,
And brown eyes full of grieving,
Of one who still her steps delay
When all the school were leaving.

For near her stood the little boy
Her childish favor singled;
His cap pulled low upon his face
Where pride and shame were mingled.

Pushing with restless feet the snow
To right and left, he lingered—
As restlessly her tiny hands
The blue-checked apron fingered.

He saw her lift her eyes; he felt
The soft hand’s light caressing,
And heard the tremble of her voice,
As if a fault confessing.

“I’m sorry that I spelt the word:
I hate to go above you,
“Because,”—the brown eyes lower fell—
“Because, you see, I love you!”

Still memory to that gray-haired man
That sweet child-face is showing.
Dear girl! The grasses on her grave
Have forty years been growing!

He lives to learn, in life’s hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her, –because they love him.

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Alyce Faye Bragg

She writes the "News From the Hills" column. Born and raised in the country, and still lives on the same farm where she was raised. Has a sincere love for nature and the beauty of the hills. Began writing in 1981 & currently has three books published. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer