|Little Mill Creek||
It wasn’t long before the snow began to fly and it was time to cross country ski again. Cliff took me to Love’s Canoe and bought me a brand new pair of cross country skis. His friend Dave Love who owned the outfitter store, made sure they were the right fit and length. The new skis were much more comfortable than the borrowed pair I had used the year before. This year we skied on trails that were groomed for skiing, rather than hiking trails. We enjoyed each other’s company and realized that we wanted to spend our lives together so began making plans where we would live.
About a year before we had met, Cliff had bought an old house that needed renovated. He asked me if I would like to live there with him. Without hesitation I agreed. The house was a fixer upper, but at 45 I had enough energy to start a new life. Although Cliff was 14 years my senior he had a lot of ambition and energy. When spring arrived I would drive up from Emporium to spend the weekend with him cleaning up remnants of carpet, rotted wood old toys and other debris that the previous owners had strewn around the four acres of land that borders route 948, six miles north of Ridgway. We built a fire outside to burn some of the debris and in the evening we would cook a meal over the coals.
On Sundays we would travel to antique stores and the flea market in Leeper to forage for items we might need for our homestead. At the White Swan antique shop near Corry, Pa. we found a hundred year old green porcelain wood cooking stove for our kitchen with a price tag of six hundred dollars. I told Cliff the stove would make a good engagement gift. A diamond ring didn’t appeal to me, as I never again wanted to feel a man owned me because of the ring on my finger. At the flea market we found a wood crate to contain our someday chickens, a hand operated bread machine and a kraut cutter that was in need of repair. As we were carrying our finds to the truck, a fifteen gallon copper apple butter kettle caught Cliff’s eye. He said “This is what we need to make apple butter at Sizerville this year.” I looked at the price tag of three hundred dollars and went into sticker shock. I only paid one hundred dollars for a good used electric stove at my house in Emporium and couldn’t imagine paying three hundred dollars for an apple butter kettle that we would use only once a year. Cliff assured me that buying it would be an investment.
After I agreed to the purchase Cliff walked over to the large man sitting behind a glass counter cases full of knives, old watches and other artifacts. Non chalantly Cliff said “Hi Bill, what’s the least you can take for that copper apple butter kettle?”
“That kettle is dove-tailed and it’s a pretty good one. What’s the price on it?”
“Three hundred.” Cliff said
“I’ll take two fifty.” Bill replied.
Cliff reached in his back pocket and pulled out his black and white calf hide leather wallet and handed him the needed bills.
I tucked the bread machine under might right arm as Cliff handed me the chicken crate he was carrying. He set the kraut cutter in the kettle and lifted it off the ground to carry it to the truck. On the ride home Cliff talked about building a tri-pod out of a twenty one foot joint of one inch black iron pipe that he would get from St. Mary’s Steel. “It won’t fit in my truck, so I’ll have to lay it across the back bumper and cut it three seven foot pieces with my hacksaw to get it home.”
“We will need a lot more apples than we had last year to fill that huge kettle.” I said.
“We’ll also need some fifty cent pieces to keep the apple butter from sticking to the bottom.” Cliff added.
That was a new to me, but I figured if Cliff knew about apple butter paddles and apple butter kettles he must know about the fifty cent pieces. Sensing my skepticism, when we got back to his house on Clarion Road in Johnsonburg, he showed me his Eric Sloane’s books that illustrated in detail how to make apple butter.
Summer came and went with us hauling out the musty, dank wall board that was wet from the broken water pipes, tearing out the seventy style kitchen cupboards lined with gold, forest green and orange wall paper, and removing old carpet that covered a beautiful oak floor underneath of the house. When apples began to fall from the old apple tree in the back of the house, I was reminded to call the Sizerville State Park office to ask for permission to make apple butter and biscuits at the upcoming Autumn festival.
When I dialed the state parks phone number, which I now knew by heart, the secretary at the park office was excited to tell me that they had a site set aside for us with a pavilion, running water, and a little stone fireplace. I thought we were set for a great year.
The bruised drop apples from the apple tree would be perfect for for apple butter. Eric Sloane wrote in his book Season’s of America’s Past that the bruised apples are more flavorful for apple butter. Knowing we would need more apples than the tree produced to fill the kettle, Cliff contacted his buddy Dave Redmond who has an orchard and gave us six five gallon buckets of drop apples. The day before the festival we cooked the down the apples in a large kettle over a wood fire in the backyard. After they were soft and mushy we processed the hot cooked apples through a Victorio strainer attached to a picnic table. We had ten gallons of applesauce that would fill the apple butter kettle two thirds of the way.
Early the next morning when the sun was rising and turning the frost to dew, we loaded the apple butter kettle, apple sauce, a picnic basket full of spices, five pounds of biscuit mix in a pottery crock, Cliff’s shaving horse, his carving tools, and some chunks of green apple wood for carving spoons into the back of the pick-up truck. We stopped at the Cabin Kitchen Restaurant in Emporium for a breakfast of sausage biscuits and gravy and then to Olivett’s Market for a couple gallons of fresh apple cider to add to the applesauce.
When we drove up to the park office and told the parking attendant who we were, they recognized both Cliff and I. We were directed to a site past a small creek that ran through the center of the park. As we pulled into the parking space I told Cliff “We’ll have to get the fire started right away to have enough hot coals to cook down all that applesauce into apple butter.” Before we unloaded the truck he started chopping kindling with his wood ax. I gathered dead tree branches and pine cones to fuel the tender flames in the stone fire place to cook the biscuits. Cliff set up the tripod and built a fire where the apple butter kettle would hang.
When both fires were burning nicely we began unloading the truck. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the drill sergeant walking urgently toward us. Knowing trouble when I see it, I thought ‘what did we do now?’ Before the question was formed in my mind I heard “What are you doing starting a fire in an uncontained area. That’s illegal to do in a state park.” I pulled out my forgiveness card and apologized. Cliff explained that we needed to get the fire started to have enough coals to cook down the apple butter that she thought was such a great idea. “It isn’t our fault that you didn’t have a fire ring here for us.” She argued that we were supposed to cook the apple butter and biscuits in the little stone fireplace made for grilling hamburgers and hot dogs. We agreed that we failed to communicate that we were going to make apple butter in a huge apple butter kettle rather than a little cast iron kettle.
She pulled her hand radio off of her belt and directed her employees to get a fire ring to site number 21 ASAP as there was an uncontained fire burning in the park. While we were waiting for the fire ring to arrive a park employee arrived with a power blower and started blowing the leaves away from the site. The ambiance of the day with people walking through rustling fall leaves was nearly in ruin. Within a few minutes some friendly park employees pulled up in a white government truck with a cast iron black fire ring and some nice dry firewood. After the fire was contained we again apologized and asked her to have her employee stop blowing the leaves away from our sight, after all this is a fall festival. The fire was burning nicely as was the drill sergeant’s ire at us. Unreluctantly she directed the employee to another task.
The fog was lifting and the sun began to shine through the partly cloudy sky. Cliff filled his six quart white enamel coffee pot with spring water, a cupful of Eight O Clock coffee and some eggshells that would settle the coffee grounds when he poured it and balanced the pot on the grates over the hot burning coals. The aroma of percolating coffee began drawing other vendors and staff employees alike to our site for a morning cup of coffee. My daughter Brandi and my grandson William who was now big enough to roll and cut out biscuits came down to help out.
By noon time the spices and brown sugar in the apple butter were wafting through the park. We were on schedule serving samples of nicely browned biscuits and a taste of apple butter to the hundreds of people that were strolling through the park enjoying the fall activities. Cliff carved out five spoons that sold and had orders for three more. In anticipation of having leftover apple butter I had packed up some plastic containers with lids. People started asking if the apple butter was for sale. I hadn’t thought of selling the it, but gave the few containers I had to the folks who wanted to take some home. We took the remaining apple butter home to process and ended up with three dozen pint jars.
After the festival we joined the other vendors and park staff at the nature center for the potluck meal. The drill sergeant was there and seemed to have calmed down quite a bit. Dana was smiling and commending everyone for all their efforts in making the autumn festival a success.
On June 23rd of 2001, Cliff and I joined together in marriage at Faircroft’s Bed and Breakfast in Ridgway. Together we now had six adult children and five grandchildren with one on the way. We moved into our renovated home and began our new life together where we celebrate the holidays, birthdays and each day together. Cliff frequently says “Every day is holiday and ever meal is a banquet.”
Each fall, weather and apple permitting, the two of us head down to Sizerville State Park’s annual Autumn to set up at site twenty one. There’s always a nice pile of dried wood, a fire ring and now a fire extinguisher at the site. We started jarring up the freshly cooked apple butter in pint jars to sell. Brandi, Justin and his wife Jess, Caleb and Cherey are all adults now and give us a hand making the apple butter and selling canned hot pepper jelly, hot pepper mustard, triple chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and wood spoons. The five grandchildren, William, Jeremy, Emily, Paige and Ariana set up a cider stand and sell hot dogs, smores and cookies. Perhaps one day I’ll teach them how to make hard tack candy over a campfire, after I ask for permission.