Muddy Waters and Johnny Cash took turns on my dad’s playlist while he prepped the canning tools and I peeled apples. “There is nothin’ like the taste of a Winesap,” he said with his deep, Southern Mountain accent. I smiled through my tired eyes and cleared my scratchy throat. I waited all month to make apple butter with dad on Christmas day. It was the only gift I wanted -- to share a memory with my dad that would hang in the closet of my heart forever.
I watched as the juicy, red peels spiraled off the apples, one-by-one, into the sink. The soft-crunch sound the peels made as they detached from the fruit transported me back to summers spent on the mountain top in West Virginia with my grandparents. My mawmaw (as I called her) would fry apple pies, using homemade dough and apples she fetched from the tree that was roughly 30 steps from their back porch. She always used a small knife with a wooden handle to peel the apples, and that soft-crunch always signaled that I was so close to eating the scraps of her homemade, raw dough.
My dad’s booming voice brought me back down the mountain of my thoughts, “How many more do you have?” “I can see the bottom of the box,” I responded with the feeling of triumph. The smell of cooked Winesaps and the joy in my dad's hum filled the canning shed. He may not admit it to me, but I knew he was tickled pink to share the process of making his grandmother’s apple butter.
After what seemed like an eternity, the apples began to soften in the boiling water. Mashing the apples down to a pulp was not a joke and took serious arm strength that I didn’t have, but I was willing to put in the work. With dad’s help, I managed to turn the apples into what looked like apple sauce. It was time to add everything that makes apple butter, well, apple butter: brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and maple syrup.
As dad dumped each ingredient into the pots, I stirred. We both tasted. “More brown sugar,” I would say. “Ah, just a little more cinnamon,” he would reply. In that moment I realized that the measurement for taste is when you find yourself back on the mountain top taking the first bite of your grandmother’s fried apple pie. That’s when you know it’s right.
When dad and I finally agreed on the taste, we covered the pots to let the flavors meet. They needed to mesh in order to create the apple butter we anticipated. I grabbed my book, pulled up a seat and nestled in. We had a while to wait, but it was Christmas and the world had come to a screeching halt.
From time to time, I would look up from my book to watch as my dad organized the shed. Dad’s music played in the background, and the dogs slept at my feet. This was the definition of slow-living, and I breathed in every second of it. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. While people were opening their material gifts, I was creating my gift. In that moment, I knew that no one else on the planet shared this memory with me besides my dad. This was our mountain top and together we were sharing our adoration for a fruit that defined our respective childhoods. And, this was the only gift I wanted.