Without fail, every October I fall in love with autumn all over again. And that’s easy to do at Conner Prairie. Being surrounded by the beautiful changing leaves is enough to win over even the staunchest enemy of dropping temperatures. Being out on the grounds, I love the sound of crunching leaves, the smell of the fires coming from the houses in Prairietown, and watching kids help harvest corn from the field in Liberty Corner. I love wearing hooded sweatshirts, drinking warm cider, and watching football (the one thing here that Conner Prairie can’t provide). Since I’ve been working here, two more things have been added to my autumn rituals: James Whitcomb Riley and making my own apple butter. I’m not usually one for poetry, but the more I learned about agriculture and Indiana’s rural history, the more the Hoosier poets words made sense and resonated deep within. This past weekend, we saw our first overnight frost, which immediately brought to mind the opening stanza of a Riley classic:
WHEN the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin' turkey-cock,
And the clackin' of the guineys, and the cluckin' of the hens,
And the rooster's hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;
O, it's then the time a feller is a-feelin' at his best,
With the risin' sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,
As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder's in the shock
So much of that poem makes sense known that I’ve lived through a planting-to-harvest season on the farm. Stop by and I can explain it to you, line by line.
As for apple butter, I came across this historic recipe from the Amish. Known for their apple butter, they would cook it in a large copper pot or cauldron over an open fire or hearth.
Ingredients (makes 25 gallons):
40 gallons apple cider
40 bushels apples
40 lbs. sugar
At 5:30am, heat cider to boiling.
Peel, core, and slice apples. At 2:30pm, add 1/3 of apples. Must be stirred constantly now.
At 3:30pm, add another 1/3 of the apples. Add sugar gradually.
At 4:30pm, add the remaining apples.
Continue stirring until about 8:00pm, until apple butter is thickened. Pour into clean jars and seal.
That's the hardcore way. If you want to make your own or don’t have 14 1/2 hours to stir 40 bushels of apples, try making some in a crockpot.
- Peel, core, and chop 3-4 lbs. of apples. Place in crockpot. Add spices.
- 2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp. allspice
- 1/2 tsp. cloves
- Sugar is optional – you don’t have to add any, but it may be wise depending on what variety of apple you have chosen or what your taste buds love. Most recipes call for anywhere from 2 – 5 cups of sugar.
- Set the crockpot on high, stirring every hour or so, for 5 hours
- Turn heat down to low for 3 more hours.
- Once the butter is thickened, use a hand mixer to make is smooth and beautiful
- Eat it on biscuits or can it for later.
And if you don't want to make your own, head over to the Apple Store and get some before it closes November 1.
Any other Tuesday morning, I would have hip-hopped in to work around 8:30, filled my mug with coffee (not without flavored creamer) while my computer was warming up, then sorted through a variety of urgent and not-so-urgent requests amid a mass of Google Alerts in my inbox.
But this Tuesday wasn’t just any Tuesday.
First: I remembered to wake up early for our Conner Prairie all-staff meeting at 8:00 a.m. This is critical, as I’ve been known to overlook these meetings altogether from time to time. Second: Apple cider and pumpkin donuts from the Apple Store were present at said meeting. Need I say more? Third: I encountered the opportunity of a lifetime.
In case it’s been unclear, the part of my job description that dictates “other duties as assigned” often leads me in the direction of fascinating, fun and nonsensical at times. Last winter, I “auditioned” to be the Gingerbread Man, which you can watch here. More recently, I spent time with the crew that created History Rising, a documentary chronicling the development of 1859 Balloon Voyage.
And this very special Tuesday, I donned the costume, carried the (plastic) sword and became, for one short staff meeting … the Headless Horseman!
While “Kimberly, I’ll buy you lunch if you’ll do me this favor…” may not sound like I’m in for anything good, the opportunity to gallivant around a staff meeting as the Headless Horseman is, naturally, too remarkable to pass up.
I may be the only Headless Horseman in Conner Prairie history to wear a pearl necklace and peep-toe, patent leather heels, but I gained substantial new respect for the folks who wear this costume for hours. And ride horses wearing it! In the dark! For a peek behind the mask of one of the real Headless Horseman riders, check out this short Prairie Pod: Under the Mask.
Want to learn more about the Headless Horseman? I have just the quiz for you … How much does the costume weigh? How many riders take on the role throughout Conner Prairie’s Headless Horseman event? Test your knowledge with this hair-raising Headless Horseman quiz.
And if you’re ready for some real spooks and scares, come out to Conner Prairie for Headless Horseman, which starts this Friday night. For all the frightfully fun details and spine-chilling specifics (and more alarming alliteration...), visit connerprairie.org.