Wild Apples

September 7, 2017 lawanda Magazine Columns

Do you remember the story of Johnny Appleseed from grade school?  It is more than just a story; Johnny Appleseed was a real person named John Chapman, born in 1774.  Legend has it that he spent years walking throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada randomly dropping apple seeds along the way.  The truth is that he was a knowledgeable nurseryman and a noted conservationist.

Johnny Appleseed didn’t go around tossing apple seeds everywhere, he went around planting deliberate orchards.  In the early 1800s, frontier law allowed people to claim land by developing a permanent homestead.  One way to make a claim was by planting 50 apple trees.  John Chapman did just that, planting apple seeds in orchards.  Once planted, he put fences around the orchard and left a neighbor to care for it.  He would return every couple years to check each orchard’s progress and when they were producing sufficiently, he sold the land.  By the time of his death at age 70, he had covered 100,000 square miles and owned more than 1,200 acres of land.

The apples Johnny Appleseed planted were not the sweet eat-out-of-hand apples we look for today.  They were small and tart, called “spitters” because that’s probably what you’d do if you took a bite of one.  The apples he cultivated were mostly pressed to make hard cider and applejack.  Unfortunately, when Prohibition came along in the 1920s, FBI agents took the ax to the majority of Johnny Appleseed’s apple trees.  The last known apple tree to be planted by Johnny is 176 years old and still stands in Nova, Ohio.  However, there are trees that have been grafted from his trees still growing throughout the area of his travels.

The apples we buy today in the grocery store and the apple tree saplings we obtain from nurseries are not grown from seed.  They are the result of careful grafting of existing apple trees, forming clones that are genetically identical.  Often, they’ve been grafted onto the roots of other types of apple trees to control how large they will grow.

There are still “wild” apple trees to be found in Wisconsin, along country roads, beside farm fields, at forest edges, along abandoned railroad tracks and in cemeteries.  These apple trees may have grown on their own from seed and the size, flavor, ripening time and color are purely left to chance.  Sometimes these apples aren’t the best tasting, but sometimes they rival the sweetest apples in the produce aisle.  If you come across a wild apple tree, sample the fruit.  If it’s awful, wait a few weeks and try again.  Even though the apples appear ripe at first taste, they may not have been ready for harvest.

Since wild apple trees haven’t been doused with poison to control for insect pests and diseases, the apples may be wormy or misshapen.  On the other hand, you may come upon a tree that is naturally resistant to insects and diseases and find a tree full of perfect, beautiful apples.  You can always cut the bad parts out of less than perfect apples and use the good parts.  You can’t beat free!

Wild apples can be used in all the same ways as commercial apples are used.  Pies, cakes, apple slice, apple crisp, apple cake, apple Betty, applesauce, apple jelly, apple chutney, apple cider, apple wine . . . a truly versatile fruit.  Like commercial apples, they can be frozen, canned or dried for long term storage.

APPLE CIDER     

10 apples, quartered

3/4 c. white sugar

1 T. ground cinnamon

1 T. ground allspice

Place apples in a large stockpot and add enough water cover by at least 2 inches.  Stir in sugar, cinnamon, and allspice. Bring to a boil.  Boil, uncovered, for 1 hour.  Cover pot, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 hours.  Strain apple mixture though a fine mesh sieve.  Discard solids.  Drain cider again though a cheesecloth-lined sieve.  Refrigerate until cold.

APPLE PIE

Double-crust pastry

1/3 to 1/2 c. sugar

1/4 c. flour

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

1/2 t. ground nutmeg

1/8 t. salt

8 c. thinly sliced peeled tart apples (8 medium)

2 T. butter or margarine

Heat oven to 425ºF.  Prepare double-crust pastry using your favorite pie crust recipe or purchase ready-to-use crusts.

Mix sugar, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large bowl.  Stir in apples.  Turn into pastry-lined pie plate.  Dot with butter.  Trim overhanging edge of pastry 1/2 inch from rim of plate.

Lay top pastry over filling; trim overhanging edge 1 inch from rim of plate. Fold and roll top edge under lower edge, pressing on rim to seal; flute as desired. Use a fork to poke holes in the top crust so steam can escape.  Cover edge with 3-inch wide strip of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning.  Remove foil during last 15 minutes of baking.

Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juice begins to bubble through slits in crust.  Serve warm or cold.

For French Apple Pie:  Use just one crust on bottom.  Omit butter and top apple filling with crumb topping:  Mix 1 c. flour, ½ c. firm butter, ½ c. brown sugar (packed) until crumbly.  Bake 50 minutes.  Cover entire topping with foil the last 15 minutes of baking if top browns too quickly.

APPLE CHUTNEY

6 large apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced

1 c. chopped yellow onion

2 T. minced fresh ginger

1 c. freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)

3/4 c. apple cider vinegar

1 c. light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 t. whole dried mustard seeds

1/4 t. hot red pepper flakes

1 ½ t. kosher salt

3/4 c. raisins

Combine everything except the raisins in a large saucepan.  Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Remove from heat and add the raisins.  Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

APPLE CRISP

4 c. sliced pared tart apples

2/3 to ¾ c. brown sugar (packed)

½ c. flour

½ c. oats

¾ t. cinnamon

¼ t. nutmeg

1/3 c. butter or margarine, softened

Place apple slices in greased 8x8x2 inch pan.  Mix remaining ingredients thoroughly and sprinkle over apples.  Bake at 375° until apples are tender and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.  Serve warm with ice cream.

Fruits and vegetables


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