Apple season is here
They say “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and I am in total concurrence with this old adage. However, I also have to admit that for a period of time in my life, apples were more than a flavorful, nutritionally packed food. They actually helped me fund my college education after a man hired me to assist him plant, and tend, a huge apple orchard through several summers of my college career.
The year he hired me, we started in early spring and planted apple trees right up until the beginning of July. This guy was on a budget, and so my job was to dig the holes–no augers were to be had. For a spell I felt like I had been sentenced to weeks of hard labor on a chain gang, but once those trees were in the ground, I looked over the swell of a hill we had planted them on with pride. In fact, they became “my babies,” and I tended them as diligently as any hovering mother hen.
When the planting was finished, my job switched to mowing the orchard. Again, monetary restrictions prevented any fancy equipment here, and I was put in charge of a small and ancient John Deere riding lawnmower. It puffed clouds of black smoke upon ignition, and chugged around those tiny specimens at minimum speeds, yet it did the job. It also taught me enough about lawn mower repair to qualify as a small engine mechanic, but I came to relish my time circling around the orchard on this contraption. We became one in the quest to grow the best apples ever.
Those trees flourished under my vigilance, and by their third year they were producing enough apples to fill several bushel baskets. And in their fourth year, and beyond, they were ablaze with fruits of every hue throughout the autumn months.
Working in this orchard taught me many things. For instance, I always took pride in the fact that I could list off certain apple varieties for specific purposes. Want a good apple pie? Mix the tart Jonathon with the semi-sweet Connell Red. The best apple for sauce? Try a combination of Honeycrisp, Haralson and Idared. Looking for good eater? Wolf River can’t be beat (and they’re huge) or my favorite, the beautiful Paula Red. I didn’t know it at the time, but I became somewhat of an apple guru, and that knowledge has stuck with me to this day.
But all good things must come to an end, and I’m sad to say that’s what happened to “my” orchard. The man who owned the land eventually died, and the people who purchased it next let the trees go. I still drive by it when I visit relatives in southern Wisconsin, and I feel sadness. In its hey-day, this orchard looked tended, and the apple trees were a living, producing testimony of years of hard work and vigilant TLC. Today they are scraggly, and appear beaten and defeated; as if the tall grass around them has sucked all the life from their gnarly branches.
But I’m so thankful I got a chance to learn firsthand, at a young age, about the care and culture of apple growing. This is one fruit I eat a lot of, and practically every month I make a treat which features apples. I’ve included some of those recipes for this week.
I have to admit, though, there have been many times in my life when I longed to be back on that rusty, yet trusty, John Deere, tending my trees. It was simple work, but I got a lot of satisfaction from it. And I’ve come to realize something else too. That old “apple a day keeping the doctor away” adage has turned out to be more true than I ever thought possible.
Mainly because, as I have come to learn, those apple trees I planted so long ago did way more for me than I ever did for them.
Apple Hermit Cookies
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup softened butter
11/2 cups packed brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped apples
1 cup raisins
2/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tbs. milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheet pans. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until light and fluffy. Mix in sugar and egg. Stir in flour mixture, and mix thoroughly. Fold in nuts, apples, and raisins. Drop by rounded teaspoon onto prepared cookie sheets about 11/2 inches apart. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on wire rack. In a small bowl, mix confectioners’ sugar with milk to make a thin glaze. Drizzle over cooled cookies.
Maple Crunch Apple Crumble
5 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 pinch salt
3/4 cup rolled oats
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the apples in an 8×8-inch baking dish. Pour the maple syrup over the apples. In a bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar. Stir in the flour, salt and oats. Sprinkle the oat mixture over the apples. Bake in preheated oven 35 minutes, until golden and bubbly and apples are tender.
4 very tart green apples
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 Tbs. butter
2 tsps. ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Scoop out the core from top of the apple, leaving a well. Do not cut all the way through. Stuff each apple with 2 Tbs. brown sugar and 1 Tbs. butter. Place in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes, until sugar begins to caramelize and apples are tender.
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