Monday, August 23, 2010

It is Apple Butter Time!

     If you grew up in rural Pennsylvania then you know that October is apple butter time. Apple butter is an American invention and attributed to the Pennsylvania German settlers, dating as far back as the mid 1700s. Before they could rely on refrigeration, the local farmers had to sugar cure then smoke meat, pickle vegetables and dry fruit. The Pennsylvania Germans noted that applesauce became rancid before the end of winter. They found with a longer cooking process of the apples and cider they could produce a tasty condiment that could get them through the winter and longer. In the Pennsylvania German dialect, apple butter was called “lattwarick.” Some people claim that apple butter can last several years. The higher concentration of sugar gives apple butter a much longer shelf life than applesauce.
     Every farm had at least a small orchard of apple trees, which yielded apples from July to November. Apples were essential to the survival of the farmers and were eaten at every meal for most of the year. Harvesting and preparing the apples was labor intensive. The local farmers and their families would work together to make cider, dried apples, vinegar, applesauce and apple butter. Because making apple butter was an all day affair, a community would often celebrate with a dance when the chore was done.
     The first step in making apple butter was to press cider from sweet apples. The cider was then poured in a large copper kettle and heated with a hot wood fire. The cooking was usually done outdoors. The cider was boiled until half of the quantity was left. Then large amounts of pared, cored and sliced apple, called “schnitz,” were gradually added to the cider. These apples could be all the sweet variety or half sweet and half tart. It takes five pounds of apples to make a pound of apple butter. The mixture was constantly stirred with a long wooden paddle to prevent the apple butter from sticking to the pot and burning. The paddle was long enough to allow the stirrer to be several feet away from the smoke and heat. The stirring job was tiresome and went on for twelve hours. Children and young adults would team up to stir the pot with the teams taking turns. It became a social event and acceptable for a young man and woman to converse as they stirred. Eventually the heat causes the apples’ natural sugars to caramelize, giving the apple butter its distinctive deep brown color. Spices such as nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and sassafras root were added to give the apple butter its spicy flavor. The mixture became harder to stir as it thickened. The apple butter would be pored into clay crocks and stored in a cool place like a root cellar or a hole dug in the ground.
     The apple originated in the eastern Mediterranean region but was carried by traders and soldiers through out Europe and Asia. The only variety of apple native to American was the sour crabapple. The colonists brought new varieties of apples with them in the form of seeds, called pips. They grew specific types of apples for different uses such as baking, deserts or cider. Back then, the apples were small and stored in cellars or barns for months at a time. With the multitude of orchards soon there were thousands of different varieties of apples. Many of these heritage, antique, or heirloom apples have all but disappeared. In the 20th century, professional nurseries improved apple production with more heavy bearing varieties, cold storage and faster transportation. Consumers only wanted those varieties that looked good. Taste became a lower priority. Researchers are now rediscovering some of heritage varieties and preservation orchards have been planted. Some heritage varieties have been lost forever as urban sprawl has destroyed old apple orchards.
     Fortunately, farms such as the Burnside Plantation are growing heritage apples to preserve history. Their large apple orchard, which extends up the hill behind the farmhouse and past Martin Tower, is bursting with Newton Pippins, Roxbury Russets and Rhode Island Greenings. Other farms in the area specializing in heritage apples are the Glasbern County Inn in Fogelsville and Suyundalla Farms in Coplay. You can still find heritage apples at the Saucon Valley Farmers Market in Hellertown (Sundays 9am–2pm until November 18th), Emmaus Farmers Market (Sundays, 10-2, until November 25th) and Bethlehem Farmers' Market, New and Morton Streets (Thursdays, 12-5 until October).
You can go on a tour of apple butter production at Bauman’s Apple Butter Factory in Sassmansville, PA  The Baumans has been making apple butter since 1892 with the third generation at the helm now.
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Friday, August 13, 2010

Johann Sebastian Bach's music in America

Johann Sebastian Bach
     The earliest evidence of Johann Sebastian Bach's music in America can be found in the Moravian Archives. In 1823, a Bethlehem musician made copies of one of Bach’s cantatas. It took another Moravian musician to make Bach’s music a part of the musical tradition of Bethlehem, PA. Dr. J. Fred Wolle was visiting Munich in the spring of 1885 and took the opportunity to hear a production of Bach’s St. John Passion. Wolle returned to Bethlehem, determined to bring Bach’s music to life in America. Under his supervision, the Bethlehem Choral Union sang the St. John Passion, on June 5, 1888. It was the first complete rendition of the work in this country. Wolle conducted the first complete performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor, at the Central Moravian Church in 1900. Due to the historical importance of these accomplishments, the Central Moravian Church earned recognition as a National Landmark of Music.
     The Bach Festival moved to the Packer Memorial Church of Lehigh University in 1912. A review in Outlook Magazine of the 1918 Bach Festival described the event. “Mr. Wolle leads without a baton, and his nervous arms and fingers seemed not only to be charged with electricity, but to electrify the whole body of people there, those in the choir seats and those in the pews alike. He made those people not only sing, but think the words as they sang them.”
     Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 31, 1685, in Eisenach, Germany. He lived his entire life in Germany. He was born as the youngest and eighth child of Johan Ambrosius Bach and Elisabeth Lammerhirt. Johann Sebastian came from a long line of musicians and composers. He lost both his parents, within the same year, at the age of nine. Johann Sebastian and his brother Johann Jacob went to live with their eldest brother, Johann Christoph, who was organist in Ohrdruf.
     At age eighteen, Bach was appointed organist of the Neue Kirche in Arnstadt. His first known compositions were written during the early 1700s. At that time he was courting his second cousin and future wife, Maria Barbara Bach. A new job as organist of the Blasiuskirche in Mühlhausen and a small inheritance allowed them to marry in 1707. In Mühlhausen, Bach began to write cantatas. The cantatas that survived from this period are regarded as masterpieces. The Blasiuskirche suffered a great fire and Bach sought employment 40 miles north in the city of Weimar as organist in the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst.
     While in Weimar, he continued to write cantatas along with compositions for the organ, harpsichord, choral preludes and fugues. Duke Wilhelm Ernst was in a contentious power struggle with another Duke in Weimar, Ernst August. Ignoring politics, Bach wrote compositions for both Dukes, which angered his employer. Duke Wilhelm Ernst had Bach jailed for a month.
     Upon leaving jail in 1717, Bach moved his family to Köthen and began his new job as Kapellmeister (director of music) to Prince Leopold von Anhalt-Köthen. During his stay in Köthen, Bach wrote the six Brandenburg Concertos, violin concertos in A Minor, E Major, and the double concert in D Minor, Invention, the French Suites and the English Suites. Bach’s wife, Maria Barbara, died in 1720 after a short illness. Bach married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, a talented soprano, in 1721.
     In 1723, Bach became Kapellmeister in the St Thomas School in Leipzig. Beginning in March 1729, Bach assumed the direction of the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. Bach was always looking for ways to increase his income.  He sold books, music and Silbermann fortepianos. Bach finished his great B Minor Mass in 1749. Bach was practically blind due to cataracts at the end of his life. In 1750, he suffered a stroke. He died on July 28, 1750, probably from diabetes mellitus. During his lifetime, Bach was famous for his organ and harpsichord playing. The high regard for his compositions didn’t occur the 19th century.
     During the first two weekends of May, thousands of Bach lovers from across the country arrive in Bethlehem, PA to hear the Bach Choir and Bach Festival Orchestra.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

History of Boy Scouts of America

     Chicago publisher William Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America on February 8, 1910. Boyce was inspired by the British organization of Scouting begun in 1907 by General Robert Baden-Powell. Baden-Powell was a hero in the Boer War and wrote a book about military scouting called Aids to Scouting. The book was a hit with British boys who used the book as a guide to outdoor activities. Baden-Powell rewrote the book as Scouting for Boys, galvanizing scout troops to organize all over England.
     Boyce employed as many as 30,000 boy-agents to sell his weeklies. Through working with these young men he came to understand the importance of providing for the needs of America's youth.
     Although there were several small scouting groups in America in 1910, William Boyce organized the Boy Scouts like one of his businesses. He incorporated the organization, hired experienced staff to design and operate the program, and he provided the funding to insure its success.
     The Boy scouts program was designed to have three divisions: Cub Scouting (for boys in 1st through 5th Grades); Boy Scouting (for boys and young men aged 11 through 17) and Venturing (formerly Exploring; for young men and young women aged 14 through 20.)
     In the Semi-Centennial Souvenir History of South Bethlehem, written in 1915, Henry Topfer is mentioned as scout master of Boy Scouts Troop One. Topfer was a printer for Bethlehem Steel and lived with his wife, Isabel, and their three sons in their home on Center Street. Topfer was raised in South Bethlehem on Vine Street. His father, Nicholas Topfer, was a talented florist and maintained five greenhouses at 813 Seneca Street. The number of Topfer’s troop suggests that it was the first Boy Scout troop in Bethlehem.
     The Bethlehem Area Council of Boy Scouts evolved from early troops such as Topfer’s. The Council opened a sleep away camp in the Delaware Water Gap area, in 1919. The Army donated land to the Council in Tobyhanna Township and the camp was moved there in 1928. Then in 1949, Samuel Rubel, largest Pennsylvanian ice and coal distributor, bequeathed to the Bethlehem Boy Scouts of America, 1,100 acres of camping grounds in the Pocono Mountains. Rubel, as a child, was a boy scout in Brooklyn, N.Y. He left the gift to express his appreciation. In the 1950’s Bethlehem Steel donated funds to rebuild the camp buildings. The camp re-opened in 1958 and has remained in operation at that location ever since. The camp, known as Camp Minsi today, is surrounded by beautiful woodlands with over 20 miles of hiking trails.
     In 1969, the Bethlehem Area Council joined Delaware Valley Area Council, and Lehigh Council to form the Minsi Trails Council. Today the council consists of six districts and maintains two camps (Camp Minsi and Trexler Scout Reservation). Its headquarters is located on Postal Road in Allentown. The R. Tait McKenzie sculpture “The Ideal Scout” stands outside the center. The Mini Trails Council scouting program continues to be very popular with local boys.
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