PINEY FLATS — T.J. DeWitt made countless laps around the kettle of apple butter that had been simmering for hours. While turning the paddle in all different directions to ensure the apple mixture wouldn’t stick, he answered questions from Rocky Mount State Historic Site visitors.
“This is one of our best-tasting events,” DeWitt said with a laugh as people tasted samples of fresh apple cider and apple butter.
In addition to the living history interpreters who welcome guests to the Cobb family home on a regular basis, Saturday’s Spirit of the Harvest included some of the annual fall activities that would’ve taken place in the late 1700s.
DeWitt’s kettle of apple butter will produce about 12 gallons from 6½ bushels of apples. It cooks for at least eight hours before the finishing touches of sugar and cinnamon oil are added.
This lengthy process is a reminder of a simpler time, which is what drew Cynthia Erdei to the special event. She recently moved to Johnson City from Dallas and was enjoying the surrounding fall colors while dipping a wick into a kettle of hot wax.
“I’ve never made a candle before,” she said as Interpreter Todd Bennett helped her trim the excess wax off the bottom of her candle. “It takes patience and a good shoulder.”
The smell of smoke was still strong from the garden below where Don Davis talked to Spirit of the Harvest attendees about the Cobb family garden, which had marigolds for Mrs. Cobb and fall favorites like beets, lettuce and turnips. Davis said that gardens were once a way to show off wealth as was growing cotton. He showed people a few of the bolls sprouting from the plant along the fence row.
Just across the Rocky Mount grounds, blacksmith Aaron Franklin and his young apprentice Miles Bennett played a game of graces by tossing a wooden ring between them using sticks. Later, a crowd gathered to watch Franklin heat and hammer a piece of iron until it formed a small hook.
Candle, apple butter and hook making are unforgettable experiences at Rocky Mount, especially since it’s so hands-on.
“You can read about this in books, but there’s just something about experiencing it for yourself,” DeWitt said. “Getting a chance to stir the apple butter on your own or dip a candle, that it really explains how things were.”
Adults weren’t the only ones enjoying themselves Saturday. Many children were especially thrilled about the pumpkin painting portion of their Rocky Mount tour.
“I like seeing all the kids learn new things,” said Rheann Bennett, a 10-year-old interpreter at Rocky Mount who helped paint pumpkins. “Even if they’re little, they still have fun.”
Jeremy Lynch of Atlanta said he was glad that his two young sons could experience Spirit of the Harvest because it showed them a lifestyle similar to their great-great-grandmother’s who raised cotton in Mississippi. Lynch’s mother lives in Boones Creek and a Rocky Mount visit was a part of their weekend to-do list.
“They got to see cotton and eat a cherry tomato out of the garden,” he said. “It’s getting them back to their roots and introducing them to the way things used to be.”
Rocky Mount is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. until the middle of December and will reopen on March 1.