Apple butter tradition moves South
Longtime friends, Joe Jonas and Jimmy Shoaf, meet for breakfast five days out of seven, around 6:30 a.m. at a local restaurant – and they’ve been doing so for 10 years or more.
Joe lives near Highways 601 and 801, known as Greasy Corner, and Jimmy lives on down the road, not too far past the Davie County line.
The day Joe learned that Jimmy had a cider mill and made apple cider, an old food and fellowship tradition that’s been passed down in a family for generations was born again.
Born in Hillsville, Va., Joe moved with his family to a farm when he was 9. His daddy was a sharecropper, and as a young boy, Joe grew up working on the farm. His mom and dad made apple butter, and he helped. The family had an orchard on the farm, and they would handpick the apples to make butter.
Joe told Jimmy that the same apple, the Golden Delicious, used to make cider, could be used to make apple butter. So the men bought a crate of apples in the mountains and made the first couple of batches in an 8-10 gallon pot.
The men jarred it up in pints and gave it away. Family and friends asked for more, so they decided to do it again the next year – but they made much more.
And that’s when all the fun began.
Back in the day, Joe made apple butter over a wood fire, but now it’s made over a gas burner. The men make it outside Jimmy’s shop in a large, 30 gallon, stainless steel pot they got from a friend at the flea market.
Joe made a heavy-duty, wooden paddle with a long handle because the apple butter pops out if the pot’s full. You have to stir it from the first time it boils until it’s finished – about eight hours or longer.
The men get 20-25 of their friends involved in the stirring process, so there’s no shortage of help – everyone’s ready to take a turn. They’re all sitting in a circle around the bubbling, apple butter pot, talking and telling stories, and socializing while drinking Coca Colas and sweet tea.
“My wife makes the best tea,” said Jimmy, referring to his sweetie, Jean, who he’s been married to for 53 years.
The day before, about 10-12 people get together and peel 15 bushels of apples, which takes four hours or better. It’s a time-consuming job, so they make the butter the next day.
It takes a day to set up and get everything washed up and ready for cooking. They start at 9 a.m. on peeling day and finish about 1 p.m.
“When I lived in Hillsville, there was a tree with Golden Delicious apples, and we’d pick the apples. Then we’d peel them one day and make apple butter the next day. That’s what we do now,” said Joe.
On cooking day, the men get started at about 6 a.m. While the apple butter is cooking, their friend John Smith is frying country ham, fatback, homemade sausage, and bacon in electric skillets. Hot biscuits are coming out of the oven. Pinto beans are in several crockpots and have cooked all night.
At the same time, the wives get together, six to eight women, and make homemade fried apple pies. The women are rolling and cutting dough, filling it with apples, and frying them in a skillet, which is a process. They make 50 or more pies.
Joe gets his country ham from Ed Kivett, whose father took over Joe’s ham business in October of 1989. Joe started working in the ham business in 1971. After his company sold out and downsized, Joe started his own country ham business in 1981, and for the next eight years, he bought country hams from ham plants in North Carolina and sold them in Virginia. Ed still works with the same customers that Joe worked with years ago.
At about noon, everyone sits down for dinner. The women bring more side dishes and cakes for desserts. Jimmy’s wife, Jean, brings more sides, and her sister brings homemade potato soup.
“It’s a nice little spread here,” said Jimmy. “The table is about 20 feet long, and friends are fellowshipping on both sides.” Everybody sits down to eat together except the one person who’s outside stirring all by himself. He’s outside in the covered shed, so the production goes down even if it rains.
“Anyone who comes to stir knows they’re going to work and get a good meal. You can’t ever go wrong with pinto beans,” said Jimmy.
And Joe stands guard of the spoon.
“I guard it really close. If I see someone not stirring it fast enough, I’ll say speed it up, or I’ll take it over,” he said.
If you scorch the apple butter, it’s over. You’ll have to throw 30 gallons of apple butter away. And it takes 30-35 pounds of sugar just to make it.
“I have a special taste I’m looking for. I add enough sugar to it until I find that taste,” Joe said.
He adds a little oil of cinnamon and oil of cloves. The only place they can find it is at Foster Drugs in Mocksville.
“We used to use that for toothache medicine, and it’s sometimes used for making candy. It doesn’t take much, but just a few drops will change the taste,” said Joe.
Now the men travel to Virginia to get the apples. On the way, they stop at the Hungry Farmer in Cana and stop there again for lunch on their way back. They meet for breakfast beforehand like they always do.
They buy the apples from Joe’s youngest sister, Dora McFall, who, along with her husband’s son, own McMillan’s Apple Orchard in Cana. Joe and Jimmy, along with a couple more men, ride up there in Jimmy’s king cab truck and trailer to get them.
“We buy 25 bushels of apples – that’s called a combo – a 4 ft square box x 4 ft deep is called a combo,” said Jimmy. They have all kinds of apples, Rome, Golden Delicious, and Winesap.
“You can’t make it with eating apples like a red delicious. They won’t cook up. You got to have a tart apple, so it cooks up,” Joe said.
The apple butter is jarred in quarts now because it took too many pints. It costs the same to buy quarts as it does to buy pints, so it’s more cost-efficient.
The men believe there’s good fellowship and harmony when friends get together. It slows life down a little bit.
Joe considers the fellowship to be a ministry. They build bonds with one another and say grace before eating. They even talk about the Bible sometimes.
After retiring as manager of a Christian campground where he worked for 18 years in High Point, Joe and his wife of 56 years, Sheila, moved to Mocksville to be near their daughter. Joe’s been the pastor of the Church of God of Prophesy since January of 2011 after the former pastor retired in 2010.
Jimmy often hosts fish fries at his shop. The men get together again in November to make sausage. It’s a one day process. They buy Boston butts, bone them out, and cut them into pieces. They weigh out 25 pounds, put seasoning in it, and grind it. Joe learned that from his dad growing up. They used hand-crank grinders back then but use electric grinders now.
“I’ve always liked to have a lot of people around to eat. My daddy was like that – to be around good people. Daddy always said to socialize with good people,” said Jimmy.
Jimmy runs a dance hall known as Shoaf’s Wagon Wheel, where dances are held once a month with a live band. His mother and daddy started it, and they’ve been there for 56 years. Spread by word of mouth in the area, people come from everywhere to dance.
Joe, too, loves people and sees the apple butter making as a type of ministry that’s pulling good people together where warm friendship is anticipated, and good memories are made each year – and while honoring cooking and fellowship traditions that have been handed down through many generations.
“We don’t eat til we say grace over the food and thank the Lord for the blessed day he’s given us.” The disciple, John, wrote about having fellowship with other believers. True fellowship combines social and spiritual interaction, and it is made possible only through a living relationship with Christ.
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1:3-4) NIV
With apple butter still simmering, friends sat down together to enjoy dinner at noon – a feast the Father had provided. All enjoyed a plentiful buffet of country ham, bacon and homemade sausage, biscuits, fresh potato soup, coleslaw, sliced tomatoes, jalapeno cornbread, and tomato relish. The persimmon pudding and fried apple pies were big hits – several folks going back for seconds.
I was witness to wide smiles, authentic laughter, and true friendship – and our Father was pleased.
CROCKPOT APPLE BUTTER
5 ½ lb. apples, peeled and finely chopped
4 cups sugar
2-3 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. salt
You can use 3-4 different types of cooking apples. Place apples in a large bowl. Combine sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Pour over apples and mix well. Place in the pot, cover, and cook on high for one hour. Decrease the heat to low, cover, and cook 9-11 hours until thickened and dark. (Recipe from Judy Anderson)
FRIED APPLE PIES
8 large, cored, sliced, Golden Delicious apples
4 Tbsp. salted butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
In a skillet, place apples, cover them, and cook over medium heat while occasionally stirring until soft but still retain their shape. When done, remove from heat and let stand. Makes 18.
Pastry for Fried Apples
1 cups Red Band plain flour
2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. Crisco solid shortening
1 cup whole milk
Crisco vegetable oil
Mix dry ingredients. Cut in Crisco until crumbly. Stir in milk. Knead until smooth. Add more flour if needed. Roll out on a floured surface and cut in 5-inch circles. Place 2 Tbsp. of cooked apples (fruit of your choice) on one half of the circle. Moisten edge with water. Fold over the remaining circle, press edges together, and crimp edges with a fork. Prick top with a fork. In an electric skillet, fry in hot oil at about 300-degrees until golden on both sides. Makes 18. (Recipe from Jean Shoaf’s family cookbook, Barger Family Recipes)
EASY APPLE BUTTER
1 peck Golden Delicious apples (12 lb.)
1-gallon water or cider
6 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
Wash, drain, and slice apples. Cook until soft. Mash or press through a sieve. Boil until thick enough to heap in a spoon. Add sugar and spices. Boil until thick. Stir constantly. Pour in hot jars and seal. (Barger Family Recipes)
2 cups persimmon pulp
3 eggs, beaten
1 ¾ cup whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp vanilla
1 ¾ cup sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
1 stick butter, melted
½ tsp cinnamon
Mix all ingredients. Pour in well-greased 9 x 13 pan. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 1 hour until set. Cool and cut into squares. (Recipe from Barger Family Recipes)
½ lb. pinto beans
1 Tbsp. peanut butter
Pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
Soak beans overnight. In the morning, strain the water off the beans and discard it. Put beans in a crockpot and cover with 2 inches of fresh water. Set crockpot on low, add ingredients and cook for 8-10 hours or until beans are tender. You can add a bit of liquid smoke, or sautéed garlic or onion if preferred. (Barger Family Recipes)
NO COOK, NO SEAL RELISH
8 quarts chopped red tomatoes
6 chopped onions
6 chopped green peppers
1-2 chopped hot peppers
2 cups chopped celery
1 cup salt
Mix all together and let sit for 2 hours. Put all ingredients in a thin cloth bag. Hang up and let drip overnight. Next day, add 6 cups sugar, 1 quart of vinegar, and 2 oz. mustard seed. Let sit for 4 hours, stirring frequently. Put in glass jars. Will keep in the refrigerator for 6 months. Serve with pinto beans. (Recipe from John Smith for Mildred Simpson of Woodleaf, as printed in the Salisbury Post on July 25, 1984)