Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Easy Old Fashioned Apple Butter

Old-Fashioned Apple Butter

     The apple on the teacher’s desk symbolizes the beginning of lessons for the school year in rural America.

     This was my thought when I walked by an old apple tree that has stood beside a one-room schoolhouse in Landis Valley for, I wonder, how long. Recently, Dean bought us a year pass so we can walk among the nostalgic village of Landis Valley whenever we are up that way.
     Some of today’s photographs were taken there. I hope the pictures bring you the same moments of peaceful repose that come to me when I look at them. 

     I’m sitting in the attic office/sewing room eating a juicy sweet-tart Pennsylvania apple and getting the keys of my lap-top sticky. This is one consequence of writing a post in September. It brings Little Women to mind, when Meg goes looking for Jo, who is sitting in the quiet attic reading and eating a good supply of apples  – one of Jo’s favorite pastimes. When she turns the pages of her book does she make any applely thumbprints?


     During the months of the slow and steady writing of my story, Lessons at Blackberry Inn, I had purchased a set of blue and white plates - off a remainders’ shelf – “Charles Wysocki Americana” by Nikko. One chilly evening, with supper roasting in the oven and the table set, I sat down at the table to get off my feet. In that idle moment of rest I stared down at a dinner plate. Its idyllic scene started me daydreaming – about the quaint but perpetually hardworking country life. 

     An orchard laden with apples, peers out from the background. In the foreground – almost too tiny to see with glasses - is a semi-circle of ladies in aprons probably peeling apples. Dominating the scene is a wooden barn with a sign boasting “Delicious Homemade Apple Butter.”

     In early America homemakers were busy preserving apples, drying and canning them. For pioneers living far from any general store, apples were often the only way to sweeten a meal – all winter – as table sugar was dear. When a little sugar is added to the apple – flavor is enhanced – as in the making of applesauce, apple pie, apple fritters, Dutch-oven apple bread, and apple dumplings - all a common occurrence in domestic productively.

Pennsylvania Vegetable Garden at the End of Summer

     Apple cider and apple butter were made in community. These social gatherings gave the participants more than food storage. They kept up friendships and helped reduce loneliness. A stay-at-home mom with young children can relate to a similar feeling of isolation. I remember well.   
Ripening On the Garden Fence

     The painting “Apple Butter Making” by Grandma Moses also warmed up my imagination. It helped me write the chapter where my characters take part in the apple butter festival in the village square of the little town of Appleton. If you think Blackberry Inn sounds corny – it is – but I hope you will also find the story encouraging to a lifestyle of home learning. In Grandma Moses’ painting we get a glimpse of one of a variety of activities from her 19th century childhood when work was accompanied by play. In her autobiography, My Life’s History she wrote, “The apple butter was considered a necessity.”  

Purple Asters 
      I provide a traditional recipe for making apple butter at the back of Blackberry Inn. Other recipes enable you to cook the same food my character Carol serves in the story. I’m typing out the short-cut version for apple butter for you here.

Karen A’s 
Old Fashioned Apple Butter

4 cups of unsweetened applesauce
1 cup of apple cider
2/3 of a cup of root beer

Added to the finish: 
A pinch of ground cloves, nutmeg and allspice
Two pinches of cinnamon

     The root beer flavors and sweetens the recipe sufficiently so that no sugar is needed. This recipe makes one and a half cups.

     To speed up the process you could boil the apple cider rapidly for 30 minutes on the stove, to reduce it before adding it to the Crock-Pot. I combined all the ingredients in the Crock-Pot at once the day I was expecting overnight company, because I wanted to make a good start on the other cooking I had to do that morning. I simmered the first 3 ingredients most of the day on low heat, stirring now and again.

Rosy Cheeked Apples  

     The way to tell when the apple butter is ready is to drop a spoonful on the center of a saucer and tilt. If the butter is runny, it needs more cooking time. When done, it should be thick and have taken on a rich dark color.

     Twenty minutes before I remove the apple butter from the Crock-Pot, I add my spices. I use all of the pumpkin pie spices but ginger. The root beer I use is Virgil’s micro-brewed. It is flavored with anise and wintergreen. 
     Keep your jar of homemade apple butter in the refrigerator.

Until next time,
Karen Andreola 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Horse Sense

Horse Sense
“Are you going out?” I asked my husband Dean, as I cleared away the breakfast dishes.
“Yes. Do you need anything?

“Horses,” I said. A couple, married as long as we have, tends to talk in abbreviations but this word stumped him. He was expecting, “peaches, tomatoes” or some such thing as he regularly stops at farm stands. 
“Horses?” he queried.
“Would you get some horses for me . . . on camera? It’s for a blog post.”

Living anywhere else would have made this request a problem. Living in Lancaster, he just said, “Sure.”

Dean came home with peppers, peaches, tomatoes and a camera with horses in it.  A few photographs were taken on a day when an Amish man did some work for us. While the carthorse rested in the shade his master worked in the hot summer sun.

Amish cart horse resting in the shade

Horses have helped man to farm, to cross prairies, deserts and mountains, and to defend the homeland.  And they have provided companionship. Eyeing our neighbors' horses gives a small picture of how valuable the horse has been in man’s story. 

During the years I reviewed home school materials I was attracted to the concisely written 32-page guide, History of the Horse by Hilary Severson. It probably attracted my attention because my daughters, in their teens, were enchanted by horses. For three summers they and their brother took English riding lessons. Their brother wasn’t keen but his sisters were. They energetically cleaned stalls for barn-bucks that they traded in for a trail ride. Dean took the trail with them. I shy away from the saddle, generally.

 All our children read horse stories. But it was the girls who drew horses. Magazine pages of horses, they collected, ran along the top of their bedroom wall in a frieze. “Better horses than insufficiently dressed male pop stars,” I remember thinking. And yet such an idea would never have crossed their minds. Our children were exposed to so little television and it was the days before internet and computer entertainments. I was thankful that youth-culture had hardly any influence over them. On Friday evenings we watched odd and old movies that Dean picked out for us. Therefore, horses, it was. 

Amish man cutting his front lawn with a horse drawn mower
Amish man mowing his front lawn by one-horse-power 
When we heard that the Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna would be performing in our area we drove into the city to see them. It is one breed spotlighted in this course.

A sober reality is in store for those who admire horses. The day I sat down to write this piece I heard about another horrible road accident in the local news. A spirited buggy horse had run away from an Amish gathering in the dark and was hit head-on by a car on the highway. The driver is in critical condition. The horse did not survive. Incidental dangers – in the earliest chapters of Black Beauty – and those that follow - are a reflection of reality. But there is also tenderness, respect, good will, hope and humor in the realistic fiction Hilary Severson has chosen in her History of the Horse.

Amish buggy horse resting in a parking lot

Today I’m drawn to use the pronoun “she” for “student.”

 History of the Horse is for elementary up to junior high grades. It recommends reading aloud. I think some silent reading would be fine - as the older student could follow the guide independently - but reading aloud is always a pleasure and allows the teacher to be personable and share in the study. This is the togetherness-parent-child part of home educating that is unsurpassed. Speaking as a home teacher with adult children I can tell you that the years we share with our children are more fleeting than we can possibly recognize in the busy day-to-day.

a wagon full of hay pulled by a team of horses

But before I get too mushy . . .  

The guide has an intelligent plan of reading, reasoning, relating and recording. Discussion questions stimulate reasoning. The method of narration (relating) takes place when the student tells back the reading (or a portion of it) in her own words, orally or in writing. She keeps a notebook for recording written narrations. All rough draft work is done outside the notebook with the final draft recorded inside it.

The notebook will be individual and varied because narration and drawing are individual. Notebook entries bring a sense of ongoing accomplishment to a student as she watches the notebook grow. At the end of the course, her work becomes a keepsake.

 Rather than work-pages there are a few key questions. How refreshing. With narration the student takes responsibility for learning, extinguishing the need for work-pages. Vocabulary to define comes in threes and fours rather than long lists.

Weekly Bible memory is recommended and relates to the ideas and pertinent ethics brought forth in the stories. This is where horse sense comes in. The student thinks about what she is reading, forms an opinion (no matter how small) and slowly and steadily acquires the wisdom of discernment.     

With History of the Horse the student gains knowledge in so many different (naturally occurring and connected) areas: English composition, geography, biography, zoology, ethics, drawing, etc. For example, throughout the lessons the student studies the anatomy of the horse and does classification and identification of breeds. While reading King of the Wind she looks at an atlas of the Strait of Gibraltar, colors and pastes a map of Morocco in her notebook, traces and draws one of England and France.

Justin Morgan Had a Horse has biographical relevance. Further study is encouraged in this time period of early America. A website for The Morgan Horse Farm in Vermont is provided.

     At least one website, youtube or film is supplied for each story. 

Sample - Lesson 28
Read chapter 36-37 of Black Beauty.
Discuss the issue of working on the Sabbath brought out in these chapters. Contrast the difference between what Jerry does in chapter 36 to that of chapter 37. What is his reasoning?
In Horses (Smithsonian Handbook) read page 26 about the walk and the trot.
Copy [Jerry’s] little poems . . . into notebook. Memorize.

Black Beauty, hardcover book, resting on tweed vest
Our hardcover resting on a tweed vest from our son's winter wardrobe 
Two to three lessons per week will cover one school year.
You could count all the reading and notebook work toward an English credit if you prefer to do an additional history for the year.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is one of the first books read. Stories by Margaret Henry are the primary source:

Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West
Album of Horses (non-fiction) 

Black Stallion by Walter Farley is the final story.

Draw 50 Horses by Lee J. Ames teaches how to draw horses in motion while also drawing - not a generic horse - but specific breeds.

Full of 250 color photographs, Horses (Smithsonian Handbook) by Elwyn H. Edwards is an aid in examining and identifying species by sight and by the informative descriptions.

Our books pictured here were purchased some years ago. That's why the covers are different than those you'll find on my links to Amazon. 

In the 1990s we owned, on video, the British film “Black Beauty” directed by Caroline Thompson. We watched it repeatedly; Mom with a tissue box nearby. I should say listened to it repeatedly, as well, because the sound track is a stunning arrangement of strings and flute. One of our daughters was so fond of the theme song composed by Danny Elfman that she had the pianist play it during her wedding service. (This is the kind of tid-bit you pick up when reading a blog.)  

Justin Morgan Had a Horse   Directed by Hollingsworth Morse

Misty   Directed by James B. Clark

The Black Stallion   Directed by Carroll Ballard

A horse in Lancaster County, PA

 Horse Sense is a good thing for anyone to have. And with History of the Horse your student may not find a more delightful way of acquiring a measure of it. 

Happy to have you stopping by for a visit,
Karen Andreola