The Rim country is enjoying one of the biggest harvests of apples seen in years. A mild spring and no late frost resulted in bumper crops.
Flowing Springs residents Arnie and Dotty Sutter, and their generous neighbors, are putting this year's bounty of apples to good use -- they are hosting a series of old-fashioned apple butter cook-offs each weekend at their home.
The project is for the benefit of the youth group at the Sutters' Phoenix Church, the Adventist Worship Center.
"We're up to our eyeballs in apples," Arnie said.
Making apple butter is a lengthy process the way the Sutters and their guests do it.
The youngsters arrive from Phoenix on Saturday afternoon. Everyone pitches right in to gather, sort, wash and prepare the apples. When those tasks are done, everyone gathers around a campfire to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.
Early the next morning, in the wee, cold hours, an oaken fire is lit under a huge, heavy copper kettle. For the next eight hours, everyone takes turns keeping the fire going and constantly stirring the kettle.
Meanwhile, an old, hand-cranked apple press is put into full swing, producing gallons of nectar-sweet, freshly pressed cider.
When the apple butter is finished and the stirring is finally done, sanitized jars are filled and placed into a bath of boiling water to sterilize and seal the lids.
Labels are then attached and a charming, gingham jar cap is placed over the lid and held in place by the screw ring top.
When only the last few inches of warm apple butter is left in the kettle, home-baked bread is passed around for everyone to dip in and sample the sweet fruits of their labors. The fresh apple cider accompanies the bread and apple butter.
The youngsters return to Phoenix Sunday evening, with jugs of the freshly pressed cider.
The funds from the sale of the apple butter provide much needed help with tuition and other expenses, and the project provides a welcome weekend escape for "city kids" to enjoy the Payson country atmosphere. It is also a rare opportunity for them to experience this traditional rural, early American community effort.
The apple butter is made from organic apples, free from insecticide spray. Only small amounts of sugar and cinnamon are added to enhance to apple flavor.
The attractively decorated jars make unique gifts and are being offered for sale to individuals and businesses for $5 each. A customized label is provided at no additional cost.
"We have been doing the project for four weeks and have six to seven more weeks to go," Arnie said.
To place an order, call Arnie Sutter at (928) 474-2557.