Historic Uses of Apples

In order to have food to see her family through the winter, the farm wife preserved the farm’s produce in various ways.  Meat, primarily pork, was smoked, dried, or salted. Some women also chose to can sausage in glass jars. Vegetables were pickled and canned.  Fruit was also canned and dried.  Milk was made into cheese, for cows do not give much milk in wintertime, nor do the hens lay.  Fresh food during the long months of winter was at a premium.

Some foods were kept fresh through careful storage: In the late fall, before the first frost was expected, cabbage and sweet potatoes were buried in beds of earth.  Irish potatoes, apples, carrots, and onions were stored in large bins.  Late-ripening apples, wrapped individually in half sheets of newspaper, could last until spring if properly stored.  Laura Ingalls Wilder provides an account in her book Farmer Boy of cleaning out the apple bins during the annual spring cleaning.  “[Almonzo] helped Royal empty the vegetable-bins.  They sorted out every spoiled apple and carrot and turnip, and put the good ones into a few bins that Mother had scrubbed.”  A fresh apple to eat was mighty appealing in the midst of a long winter.

In 1880 four out of ten farms in Shoals Township had an apple orchard.  An average Shoals orchard had three dozen trees.5 The Hauser family had twelve trees (on a half acre of land), including Royal Limbertwigs, Red June, and Virginia Beauty varieties.  Their neighbors, the African-American Sawyer family, had the largest orchard in the township, consisting of one hundred trees.

Different varieties of apples ripened at different times.  From late June through early November the farmer of 1900 would have apples ripening for harvest.  On some farms, those with an orchard of several acres, the farm wife kept a map of her orchard showing the location of each variety, with notes on its harvest time and what it was most suited for in terms of its use..

There are well over a thousand varieties of apples, broadly organized into three classes: cider, cooking, and dessert varieties.  (Dessert apples are those eaten fresh.)  The early twentieth century farm family grew and used apples in each category. In the South, there was once eighteen hundred named southern apple varieties.

A plump, fragrant apple, whether plucked from the tree in August or taken from the storage bin in January, was a healthy treat.  Apples provide Vitamins A and C, as well as folate, iron, and potassium.  They are rich in carbohydrates and fiber, have no sodium or fat, and are relatively low in sugar and calories.