Well. I'm about to get on with making apple butter, and there's also my favorite apple cake, which I am baking for Mr. K. this afternoon. He's fasting for Yom Kippur today. That cake will make a lovely dessert for breaking his fast, while making my home smell wonderful!
Anywho ... I was buzzing around the internet and found an interesting tidbit about Johnny Appleseed. It just so happens that today is his birthday.
In 1948 The Walt Disney company released a series of shorts as the movie Melody Time. The most well known of those shorts tells the tale of Johnny Appleseed, assuring his place in the pantheon of North American Folklore. I have mixed feelings about the Disney short. In some ways it captures Johnny’s love of the natural world, and in most other ways it, predictably, paints a completely romanticized and cleaned up picture of the man John Chapman.
Chapman was born in Massachusetts in 1774, and by the time he was twenty had already moved “West.” West in 1794 meant Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, where he began his carrer as a somewhat successful nurseryman and unsuccessful land speculator. Disney portrayed Chapman as someone who picks apples, but what Chapman really did was grow apple trees. Chapman’s business model was simple: go where you think the next wave of settlers will be, and set up a small apple orchard near by, usually just a few acres surrounded by a fence to keep livestock out. As the Frontier moved westward, Appleseed moved with it, living most of his long life (he died at age 70) in Ohio, before making it as far as Illinois.
Apple trees were not quite currency in the frontier lands of Ohio, but they were necessary for most homesteaders. The U.S Government required settlers to plant (apple and pear) trees on their property to prove they weren’t land speculators. That requirement is how Chapman made his living. While most of us think of apples as edible, Johnny Appleseed’s apples were often just the opposite.
All of Chapman’s trees were grown from seeds, making the fruit they produced more like crab apples than the Golden Delicious and Macintosh varieties we eat today.
If the fruit from Chapman’s trees was inedible, what were they good for? The easy answer is booze, most specifically hard cider and apple jack (which is a super concentrated cider).
You can read the entire blog post, which is very interesting, by clicking the link above It is worth reading. It seems old Johnny was rather what we might call a mountain man today - unkempt, barefoot, and homeless. I thought this was pretty interesting, because I grew up in upstate New York and we went to a nearby orchard every year to pick apples - bushels of them. They were kept in our cellar through the winter. My mom spent days preparing many apple pies, only one or two went into the oven, then she froze the rest so she could just pull one out and bake it up fresh whenever we wanted one. She also made plenty of apple sauce. We, my brother and sisters, ate our way through those bushels, we just loved apples. I am still overly fond of them and will choose apple desserts over chocolate every time. Of course, there's nothing like a fresh, crisp apple, and sometimes I'm lucky enough to receive a box of fresh apples from home.
Even those apples I grew up on were unlike what I find in the grocery store today. They weren't perfectly shaped, but they sure weren't crab apples either. We had plenty of crab apple trees around our neighborhood, but the apple trees were wonderfully gnarly and great for climbing. We ate as many apples as we picked - no nasty pesticides, thank goodness. I have really fond memories of those times and the apple scent that filled our basement. Nothing makes me feel more homesick and nostalgic than the scent of fresh apples; add the scent of cinnamon and clove and I just want to go home. I must be honest here and say that I've lived longer in South Florida than I did in New York, but once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. I have discovered, in my visits to North Carolina, that they have some pretty good apples too, so I like to bring home a bushel when we get up there each autumn.
Oh well, it seems to be a day of memories. I better get that cake into the oven, but first I'll have a nice cup of apple spice tea! Have a lovely day!