It's Fall and my favorite time of year. You might ask what epitomizes Fall. Well, for me, it is a colorful leaf laying on emerald grass, trees blazing with color under a warm sun with cool breezes blowing. It's orange pumpkins laying under leaves and vines that have taken over the garden, it's the fruits of the season hanging on vine, tree and shrub, the bright red berries of honeysuckle and spicebush, the orange of bittersweet, the red hips of wild roses, the odd seed pods of the wild yam. It's all these things and more.
It's apple cider time and time to gather the apples into the cellar. Red, green, striped, glossy, sweet, tart, tangy, you name it and the many varieties will answer what you want. Apple pie, apple dumplings, apple crisp, baked apples, apple cakes and breads, applesauce, apple butter, you name it and every dish can make you hungry for that taste of apple.
My grandfather had two orchards with many, many variety of apples. Picked and put down cellar they formed a basis for meals all winter. Cider was made and put in wooden barrels to keep, some made into vinegar for next year's needs. Snacks during winter were a crisp apple brought out of the cold cellar to enjoy before a wood stove.
Orchards were a mecca for birds and other small wildlife, but were play areas, as well. My mother remembered a tree with a leaning trunk that was easily climbed. To be one with the birds by climbing a tree was a special time. Small rabbits were found in the grass, even snakes. But all made the orchard an interesting place to play.
My parents also had two orchards, one on the north side of the house and one on the south. Cider was made each fall and kept in a cellar, some was put in a wooden barrel for cider. The orchards were used for pasturing chickens, but also were play areas for us. Apple varieties begin ripening in late July, and we had enough varieties planted that one could have apples right off the tree throughout the late summer and fall. It was a commonplace pastime to grab a nice, shiny apple off the tree and bite into its crisp interior while walking down the lane or out through the pasture. The core could be fed to the sheep or the cows. What fun it was to have that freedom.
Back then it was Lodi, older varieties of Red and Yellow Delicious, McIntosh, Jonathan, Cortland, Winesap, Granny Smith, Orange Pippin and others. Some of those old varieties have been lost . Too bad. I remember a small, red striped, conical apple that had the sweetest taste of any apple I have ever had. It was back along the fencerow near a old well, signifying that once there had been a homestead located there. The buildings were long gone, but the well and apple trees told the story.
Many of these old varieties have been replaced by new. Think of Gala, or Fuji. Other varieties have been bred to combine characteristics of two, often losing the best of what each variety held. Look in a nursery catalog today and you won't recognize many of the names.
Apples and fruits have been long part of man's history. Think of the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve's temptation to eat forbidden fruit. Remnants of apples have been found in sites that link them to 6,500 B.C. Homer's Odyssey talks of pear trees, while Sir Isaac Newton watched an apple fall from a tree to discover the laws of gravity.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" was spoken by J.T. Stinson during the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904. He was a fruit specialist and was the director of the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station. In 1945 Purdue and the University of Illinois started an apple breeding program. Antioxidants were discovered in apples in 2000 and make apples a good choice for our diets.
Johnny Appleseed is a name of legend, but was a real person who roamed the area planting nurseries of apple trees then leaving them in the care of a nearby settler. In a recent article I noted that Johnny had planted a apple nursery on the Daniel M. Beard farm. The nursery was fenced with log and brush. Beard supplied neighbors with trees. An orchard was planted on the Samuel S. Brown farm from that nursery. Another nursery was planted on the Evers farm, west of the city.
Thankfully we still have apple orchards nearby, but they are becoming fewer and farther in-between. And with this year's drought, some varieties are hard to find. Many orchards had fewer or no apples due to the weather.
Apples are a wonderful fruit and contain a lot of good vitamins and minerals including Vitamin A, C, calcium, iron, potassium, folate and phosphorus. To get the best of its nutrition, you should eat it unpeeled.
My mother often picked small crab apples and made them into a spicy treat that used cinnamon, cloves, sugar and vinegar. This recipe comes from a very old cookbook and combines bread and apples to make a pudding: 2 cups bread crumbs, 3 cups sliced apples, 3 T. butter, ½ tsp nutmeg or cinnamon, ½ c. water. In dish, place layer of bread crumbs, then a layer of apples, dot with butter, repeat layers; sprinkle top with nutmeg or cinnamon; pour the water carefully over the top, bake in moderate oven 1 hour; serve hot or cold with cream.
Enjoy the wonders of Fall and the wonders of apples this season.
Jeannine Roediger has lived on a family farm all her life, first as a farmer's daughter and now as a farmer's wife. She writes weekly for the Times Bulletin and enjoys gardening, quilting, cooking, bird watching and writing.