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American as Apple Pie

October 5, 2011

We have been quite busy at the 1900 farm during this harvest season!

Central Iowa has celebrated some absolutely beautiful days these past couple of weeks, and while we’ve been busy in the fields, we’ve also been busy in the kitchen making some great recipes with the apples from our orchard here at the 1900 Farm like Apple Gingerbread, and Apples & Onions. We’ve also been canning applesauce and apple butter!

The cider press that’s also been in operation these past few weeks has provided us a great warm drink for some of the cooler mornings we’ve had and is a great start for the process of making vinegar for preserving next year.

I thought I would take some time to share some of the apple harvest with you. Pick up some apples at your local orchard (or off your tree) and try your hand at any of these recipes.

Did you know that apples can be tracked back all the way to 6,500 BCE?  The modern fruit is a descendant of wild trees in Kazakhstan.  There are tons of different varieties now, and people make arguments about what apples make the best cider/sauce/pie.  While there are some that will do better than others because of consistency, most varieties sold (such as Jonathon) are versatile.  If you are just starting out I would go with one of the common varieties, but don’t forget to experiment.

Popular culture in modern times has ingrained in us that nothing is more “American” as Apple Pie.  There are many different ways to make apple pie.  You could add a crumb topping instead of a top crust or put cranberries with it for different, more holiday-like, flavor.  When I make apple pie at home I use my dad’s “secret” tip – I squeeze about 2 tablespoons of ketchup into the filling. (Don’t laugh until you try it, adds nice tang and color!)  For a recipe for pie crust and apple pie, check this previous post.

One thing I didn’t talk about when demonstrating how to make a fruit pie, is that not all fruit pie is sweet.  Take for instance this 1847 recipe from The New England Economical Housewife.

Pork Apple Pie

Make your crust in the usual manner, spread it over a large deep plate, cut some slices of fat pork very thin, also some slices of apple; place a layer of apples, and then of pork, with a very little allspice, and pepper, and sugar, between – three or four layers of each, with crust over the top.  Bake one hour.

Some ideas for spicing this up a bit: use a half to one teaspoon of pepper, thyme, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice.  Use brown sugar (not more than half a cup) instead of white sugar, and bake in a hot oven (400).  You could also cut some onions into the pie if you wish, as it adds a different flavor.

This is only one example of apples being used in a more savory manner.  There is one other savory recipe that we really like here at the 1900 farm that has two variations:

Apples and Onions

3 large onions, sliced lengthwise

3 tablespoons butter

6-7 cups apples (about 6 apples)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

Sauté onions in butter.  Add the rest of the ingredients and cook until tender. (Just be careful not to cook too long, you will make the apples mush).

Kraut, Apples, and Onions

1 can sauerkraut (drained)

2 apples, peeled and sliced

1 onion sliced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

dash of pepper

Mix and heat through. (again, be careful)

Both of these recipes are a great accompanying dish for pork chops or roasted pork loin.

Savory apple dishes are delicious, but to me, apples will always be sweet.  Find out how to make apple fritters in a different post here, or try this cake.  The flavor is very reminiscent of the season, and keeps fairly well.  Try it for those great fall cookouts and hay rack rides.

Apple Gingerbread

1 pint molasses (1 pint = 2 cups)

1 quart raw sweet apples, pared and cut in long thin slips (1 quart = 2 pints)

2 teaspoons soda

2 eggs

½ teaspoons salt

2/3 cup shortening (butter, lard, and Crisco will all work)

1 pint rich buttermilk

1 teaspoon ginger and same of cassia (a variety of Chinese cinnamon)

Flour to make a smooth stiff batter

This will make 3 loaves of good cake.  The sweet apple resembling slices of citron and adding much to the taste of the cake.

-From Three Meals a Day, 1889

Keep in mind the yield of this recipe!  We usually use half the recipe for a regular cake pan.  The apples are sliced and put on the bottom of the cake pan (like a pineapple upside down cake) and the batter is poured over them.  When you get to the flour, you are looking for a batter a little bit thicker than a regular box cake – you are using molasses after all.  I didn’t think to count how much flour we used, I think it was close to 2 cups for half a recipe (meaning 4 total for the recipe).  Next time we make it I will be sure to pay attention.  This cake takes a couple of ingredients that aren’t always on hand in modern kitchen, but be sure to pick them up at the market, because it is worth it.  Plus, it makes the house smell awesome!

Applesauce and apple butter recipes are usually unique to the person making them.  Like I said, we have been canning quite a bit of applesauce recently, in a later post I will try and show you some pictures.  Some people like sweet applesauce and cinnamon.  Others prefer it more raw.  The Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping (1877) shares the following recipe and tips for applesauce, and I’ve included the Living History Farms recipe for apple butter.

Apple Sauce

Pare, core and cut in quarters apples that do not cook to pieces easily, and put on to stew in cold water with plenty of sugar.  Cover close and stew an hour or more.  The addition of the sugar at first preserves the pieces whole.  If they are preferred finely mashed, add sugar after they are done.

– From Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, 1877

Apple Butter

8 cups unsweetened Applesauce

4 cups Sugar                  2 Tbls. Cinnamon

1 tsp. Allspice                1 tsp. Ground cloves

1 tsp. Ginger

Simmer in heavy pot, uncovered, until thick.

So many great things to do with apples!  Still one of my favorite has to be the taste of warm cider, mulled with a cinnamon stick.  Here are a couple of videos of us using the cider press.  This day we pressed pears, but the press works the same with apples.


Whole apples (or pears!) go into the top where they are crushed into pulp (step 1).  The pulp is then pressed and cider comes out of the bottom (step 2).

Of course, you can drink cider straight out of the press as well.

Cider, when you let it sit unfrozen or unsealed will begin to ferment (which is where strong cider comes in).  If you allow the process to continue, eventually the cider turns into vinegar, very useful in pickling the next season.  We have a large crock in the cellar of the 1900 house that is used for vinegar, and that is where the majority of our cider goes.

Last but not least, Mrs. Hill, in Mrs. Hill’s New Cookbook (1867) recommends the following in the chapter entitled “Cooking for Invalids.”


Take dried apples; pour boiling water over them; let them set until cold.  Or, bake green apples, and pour boiling water over.  A pleasant drink in fevers.  Sweeten if liked.

It seems that some home remedies are as simple as that.  Though keeping in mind that the best treatment for fevers in 1900 or today is rest and fluids, it seems like this is one more way to help a person get better on their own.

With the diverse amount of things you can do with apples (we didn’t even touch on preserves, jelly, dried apples, etc.) it is no wonder they are considered very American.  Apples are grown in most of the country, with Washington State being the highest producer at around 60% of the crop.  An interesting story that I was unable to confirm was that an Iowan, Henderson Luelling, carried soil and apple trees west in a covered wagon in the mid-1800s.  He met William Meek and together they planted the first orchards in Washington State.

The University of Illinois Extension office has a really great website on apples, including activities for kids.  Check it out here.  Next time you bite into a piece of warm apple pie a la mode or a crisp golden delicious think about Iowa farmers 100 years ago that were doing the same thing.

Read more posts on the LHF Blog


1900 Farm   From Field to Table   In the Kitchen   Recipes   Then and Now

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