It begins with the blossoms, heavenly-scented and lovely in the landscape or in flower arrangements. With the coming of summer the Lodi summer apples ripen and are ready to puree into tangy sauce. Apple cake, apple pie, apple cookies, apple bars, and apple candy are just a few of the sweet treats to be made with apples. They can be made into dumplings or added to pancakes. They can be jellied, jammed, candied, sauced, sliced, dried, fried, baked and broiled. Apples add flavor to stuffing, tartness to pork dishes, a sweet topping for chicken. I often make pickled crabapples, which are actually more candied than pickled, tasty and pretty as garnish on meats. Apples add crunch and flavor to salads and there is nothing quite as good as eating an apple straight from the tree.
Two of my favorite ways to use apples are old-time traditions—apple butter and apple cider. We get the cider press ready in September, gather jars and wash tubs and straining cloth and wait for a good day to get underway. Sometimes we put the cider in jugs and freeze it; if the freezer is full, I process the cider in jars and store it in the cellar. Both methods produce sweet, tangy juice that is as good with breakfast as orange juice, and a lot less expensive.
Apple butter requires a couple days’ work. My kettle is a 15-gallon one, so we only need about 3 or 4 bushels of apples to fill it. I cook the apples into sauce in the house first, as I was taught by my neighbor Belva. The next day we pour the sauce into the kettle and start the stirring down process, which usually takes about five hours. In the end we have thirty quarts of rich, spicy apple butter.
We all know an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but did you know that if you count the number of seeds in an apple you will know how many children you will have? Or that if you say the names of five or six people of the opposite sex as you twist an apple’s stem, the name you say as the stem breaks is the one you will marry? (None of these have been tested by me, so I can’t vouch for their accuracy!) You can also use the sprouts that you trim from the apple tree to make a pretty wreath. Hang it over your door for good luck.
If you have old apple trees on your property, consider this story before cutting them down:
There once was a farmer who had an apple tree in his field that had stopped bearing fruit. “Might as well cut it down,” the farmer said. “It’s only usefulness now is to heat our house this winter.”
“But it blooms so beautifully in the spring,” his wife protested. “And see how many birds nest in its branches? It makes a fine home for them. Just listen to their happy singing.”
“No, it only takes up space. I will cut it,” the farmer decided. He grabbed his axe and walked out to the tree. The birds continued to sing but the farmer paid no attention to them. He struck the tree with a mighty blow, then another. The axe bit into the center of the tree with the third swing, and out of the tree flowed golden honey, from a hive hidden in the tree’s hollow center.
“Why, this tree is full of bees and honey! I will not cut such a tree; it serves a worthy purpose.” From that day on, the farmer treated the old apple tree with respect, and took care of its health until the end of his days.
And then of course, there is the simplest use of apple trees of all--just climbing up them!