Apples: Baking and Bravery

apples

Both farms that I have lived on here in Minnesota had their own apple orchards. The “home place”, where I was born, was homesteaded by my Swedish immigrant great-grandparents in the 1880’s. One of their several sons, Alfred, owned the farm that we later moved to and my parents still live on today.

When I was young, food on the farm was usually produced or canned right on the place. Very little was ever purchased in town at the store. Apple products were no exception. The gals on the farm peeled, sliced thin and put up the apples for sauce, winter pies and cakes.

I found it fascinating to watch my grandmother Esther peel apples. She used a very old small paring knife that seem to fit exactly into her very old crooked fingers. It was very sharp, because grandpa had the sharpening stone in the junk drawer and would sharpen it right at the table. He usually put water on the stone, but sometimes would spit on it to get it wet, which irritated grandma. With her sharp little knife, Grandma Esther could peel the apples faster and thinner than I could with my apple peeler. Her peelings were rarely broken and taken off the apple all in one long piece. She beat me every time we raced.

Making apple jelly was also a skill-based operation than demanded excellence. Homemade jellies and preserves were oftentimes donated to the Church’s autumn fundraising sale. At this function, in addition to evaluating all the quilting seams for straightness, crocheting for tightness and knitting for evenness and complexity of pattern, the church ladies would hold up the apple jelly jars to the light to make sure that they were completely clear–free of any apple pulp.

There were high standards among the Swede Grove Township church ladies and many a youthful bride’s culinary skills rapidly improved after having their jelly jar held aloft and hearing the click of tongues and the seeing the sad slow shaking of the disappointed gray haired pin curled old heads as they felt compelled by honesty to mark it at lower price than the clear jellies.

The young gentlemen on the farm had much different uses for apples than did the gals. Apples were for ammunition and tests of bravery.

One would think that Swede Grove township in the middle of Minnesota during the 1960’s would have avoided some of the social turmoil of that decade. Not so. Many a summer saw skirmishes between the Johnsons and the Larsons. Battle plans were created and trenches dug. The weapons of choice were usually a good throwing arm or a sling shot. Hard green apples were exceptional ammunition and you were a lot less likely to get spanked for using apples than dirt clogs with a stone in the center. After all, the church ladies had always stressed in Sunday School that it was a stone and a slingshot that David used to slay the giant.

If a hail of green apples sailing at you through the air at high velocities was not a test of a fellow’s bravery, a “real man” competition usually settled the question. For this “real man” competition you needed lots of green apples, usually unwashed, and an outhouse supplied with lots of old retail catalogs or corn cobs for post explosion sanitary purposes. The goal was to see who would eat the most green apples before succumbing to the inevitable gastronomical consequences. This challenge of bravery, not intellect, usually took a quite a while.

Bravery has been on my mind a lot this week. Every generation that has gone before us has had to bravely defend their liberty. It is now our turn. May God bless the families of military personnel.  May he give wisdom to our world and national leaders as they develop policies to protect the innocent and defend freedom. Let us all be brave together.

This recipe is probably as old as some of my stories and has been a favorite for generations. Fresh Apple Cake is super moist, spicy and filled with apple goodness. It is best made with a tart apple. My favorite baking apple is the Haralson.

Fresh Apple Cake

Cake Batter:
½ cup softened butter
½ cup brown sugar (packed)
1 cup of white sugar
2 beaten eggs
1 cup buttermilk (to sour a cup of regular milk add a teaspoon of white vinegar, then let it sit for ten minutes)
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 ½ cups of finely diced raw apples. (peeled and cored)
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg

In a large mixing bowl cream together butter and sugars. Dissolve baking soda in buttermilk, then add to butter and sugar mixture. Beat in eggs. In a medium-sized bowl mix dry ingredients together. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the batter. When completely combined, fold in apples.
Spread into a greased 9 X13 pan. Sprinkle topping over the batter.

Topping:
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup white sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Mix together in small bowl and sprinkle over cake batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

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