It is October in Georgia, and the morning air has that hint of crispness that means it is apple-picking time in the North Georgia Mountains. This is one of my family’s favorite fall activities, and if we can tack it on to the end of a camping trip like we do most years, that is even better.
This year’s trip to the orchards around Ellijay, Georgia was a bit of a spur of the moment excursion. We found ourselves with a beautiful weekend in late September, so we called up a couple of friends, loaded them into the car, and headed north on a sunny Sunday afternoon. We typically like to go to the B. J. Reece Orchard on Highway 52 because they allow dogs in the orchards, and when we stop by on our way home from our favorite camping spot nearby, we always have our dog with us. This year, however, we left Dixie at home since the four kids already in the backseats were enough to handle.
Over the years, the local orchards have expanded their entertainment options to keep apple pickers and their money on the farm longer. There are pig races and petting zoos. You can milk a real, live cow. The apple cannons at B. J. Reece are cool as is the zip line over the orchard, if you are into that sort of thing. (It would be my own special version of torture to go flying over the treetops, but to each his own.) The 10-year-old boys in our crew enjoyed the jumping pillow for quite a long time. Hillcrest Orchard down the road has putt-putt, and each of the orchards in the area put their own special stamp on orchard and farm activities. They all have websites to help you plan your visit.
One of the surprising things about apple picking is how quickly the bags fill up. It feels like you have just started working your way through the orchard when, before you know it, you have convinced yourself that a family of four can eat a whole bushel of apples before they go bad. Seriously, it happens to everybody.
Enter Commissioner Nellie Duke to the rescue. We talked about Miss Nellie and her Nellie’s Jellies back in May during strawberry season. In addition to yummy strawberry preserves, Miss Nellie makes a fantastic apple butter too. She has graciously agreed to share her recipe with us so we can take advantage of the bountiful apple goodness of our state.
If you have never been apple picking before, the Georgia Apple Festival in Ellijay, Georgia is a great place to start. This year the festival is October 10th-11th and October 17th-18th. They have apples, apple products, local crafts, an antique car show, and a parade. While you are there, get a bushel or two of apples, and turn them into Miss Nellie’s Apple Butter.
Nellie’s Apple Butter Recipe
1 Bucket Fresh Apples (approximately 10 lbs.)
3 lbs. granulated sugar
2 lbs. dark brown sugar
3/4 cup powdered cinnamon
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons apple pie spice
2 teaspoons nutmeg
Wash and peel apples. Cut into small pieces, removing cores and seed. Place in pot with small amount of water. Bring to boil, cook slowly until tender, stirring occasionally. When apple pieces fall apart, remove from heat. If there is liquid left, drain, then use potato masher or other instrument to crush into applesauce. Add sugars, the spices and vinegar. Bring to a slow boil, stirring constantly. You can tell by color, aroma, consistency and TASTE, when it has cooked enough. ( usually 15-20 minutes, slow boil) If it is too spicy, add more applesauce. If not spicy enough, add more cinnamon or apple pie spice to taste.
Pour into sterilized, dried, jars. Place sterilized lids on top of jar. Screw on top until very tight. Turn upside-down (invert), let stand for 15-30 minutes, then turn right-side up! Allow to cool, and you are done!
YIELD: 1 to 1 1/2 gallons apple butter.
NOTE: If fresh apples are not available, you may use unsweetened applesauce. Also, if you like “chunky” apple butter, reserve a few apples cut into very small pieces, and add a few minutes before cooking is finished, just boiling long enough to soften a little. That will add some “chunkiness” to your apple butter recipe!
Karla Jacobs is a member of the Georgia Commission on Women. She lives in Marietta with her husband, two kids, a dog, and some fish. Her favorite Georgia apples are Mutsu, Arkansas Black, and Stayman Winesap.