Church continues 44-year tradition of making apple butter

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 5 October 2021 at 7:47 am

Bushels of apples turned into tasty treat in labor of love

Photos by Ginny Kropf: From left, Tracie Wilson, Amber Castrechino and Raychelle Clayton stir the apple butter during their three-hour shift at the Knowlesville Fellowship Hall.

KNOWLESVILLE – Making apple butter for the United Methodist Church of the Abundant Harvest, formerly known as the Knowlesville United Methodist Church, has been a tradition for more than 44 years and one which several dedicated church members are not about to let die.

Last weekend, a crew of volunteers, for whom the task is a labor of love, began the tedious job of making apple butter.

The first step is peeling the apples – eight bushels of them for this year’s one 35-gallon kettle of apple butter. Sylvia Armer was one of the eight volunteers who said they began peeling at 8 a.m. and didn’t finish until 4 p.m.

Tracie Wilson dumps apples into the kettle while Amber Castrechino stirs the mixture, which became apple butter after nearly two days of cooking. Making apple butter is a 44-year tradition for the former Knowlesville United Methodist Church, now Abundant Harvest. It will be sold Oct. 16 during the Apple Festival from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Then a fire is built and the kettle filled with 30 gallons of cider to start the process. It is brought to a boil, after adding some margarine to keep it from boiling over. Then it’s time to start adding apples by a pre-measured bag at a time.

Every year since they’ve been making apple butter, Haylett Farms has donated every apple, even when they cooked five kettles full and needed 40 bushel of apples. They use three varieties – MacIntosh, Cortland and 20 Ounce.

Making apple butter is a science and one which can’t be learned from a recipe book. The idea to first make apple butter came from members Roy and Sarah Walter, whose family lived in Pennsylvania, along with relatives of Dawn Seitzer-Parker.

Sarah said one year, “Let’s make some apple butter, and I’ll bring my family from Pennsylvania to help.”

Dawn, a daughter of the late Butch and Charlene Seitzer, began helping when she was a little girl, and now her son Joshua is the next generation to help, along with his dad Chuck Parker.

Dawn said her grandparents in Williamsport, Pa. went to a church that made 20 kettles a year.

The Knowlesville church used to make five, using two kettles owned by church members and others they borrowed. When they made the apple butter at their church, most of it was sold out of Bessie Pritchard’s garage. She was a hairdresser who lived just down the street from the church.

When the church bought the former Ridgeway Firemen’s Recreation Hall in 1998, they decided to have an Apple Festival, which evolved into a pie sale and craft vendors.

Dawn’s grandma had become the official taste tester for the apple butter, and as years went by, she began teaching Dawn how to judge when the apple butter was ready.

It takes nearly two days to cook the apples down, during which time it has to be stirred continuously so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Volunteers, three at a time, take three-hour turns stirring the kettle. Dawn said her grandma told her early on not to depend upon a recipe.

“A recipe can’t teach you the correct way to make apple butter,” she said. “Some year the apples may be tarter and other years they might be sweeter. The weather also determines how much water is in the apples. If it is wet and damp, it takes longer to cook the apples down.”

“Some days we have been done at 1:30 on the second day and other years it might be 5:30,” Dawn said.

After the apples have cooked for nearly two days, a spoonful would be put on a plate and taken in to Dawn’s grandma, who would draw a spoon through it. If juice ran into the middle, it was not done. Her grandma called it “crying,” Dawn said.

Dawn Seitzer-Parker takes a break during preparations for the 45th year of making apple butter at the Knowlesville Fellowship Hall.

Then Dawn became the designated taster, and it is now her job to draw the spoon through the apple butter to see if it “cries.”

Dawn’s husband Chuck shared the importance of keeping the fire just right. Someone has to keep throwing logs on the fire, to make sure the apple mixture keeps boiling.

“It should be steaming all the time,” Chuck said. “That means the water is cooking out. But you have to be careful the fire doesn’t get too hot and burn the apples.”

Among the volunteers who stepped up to stir the pot in three-hour shifts were Tracie Wilson, Matthew and Raychelle Clayton, Amber Castrechino, the Seitzer-Parkers and sisters Pat and Rocky Andrews.

The apple butter this year was made in memory of Wilson’s daughter, who was killed in an accident last year.

This year’s Apple Festival is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Knowlesville Fellowship Hall on Knowlesville Road. In addition to apple butter, there will be Kutter’s cheese, homemade pies from the Fellowship kitchen and 21 vendors.

Food available for purchase will be beef on weck, salt potatoes, macaroni salad, Waldorf salad and pie. Free coffee, tea and hot chocolate will be available.

In addition to the festival, the apple butter will be sold in the Downtown Browsery and in the Autumn Harvest Pie Shop, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Friday and Saturday.