Raise your hand if a visit to your local cider mill is on your to-do list right now. (We thought it might be!) The promise of cooler days and falling leaves have many of us pining away for a glass of cold apple cider.
Almost 30 years ago the Firestone Orchard was planted in Greenfield Village. Having an apple orchard was an incredibly valuable asset to 19th century farmers like the Firestones, according to Firestone Farm Manager Ryan Spencer. Apples had a variety of uses beyond simple consumption. Not only might a farmer have his own orchard, but it wouldn’t be uncommon to see an apple tree right by the farm house’s kitchen window; it made for easier apple snacking!
From ciders to jams and jellies, apples were an important staple on the farm. Apples were often dried or stored in cellars to be consumed when fresh fruit wasn’t available at certain times during the year. Dried apple pie was a regular option for the family diet during the winter, a fact that many farmers lamented over time.
The types of apple varieties available in the late 19th century were ever-changing as farmers heard about certain varieties doing well in one part of the country and wanting to try those out for themselves.
Between the 1870s and 1900, America lost a lot of great apple varieties. Why? Orchards began to dwindle in number due to concerns of disease and the temperance movement. (It’s safe to say that Carrie Nation was no fan of applejack.) While all of this was going on, Washington was actually planting more apple trees, soon making them one of the largest apple producers, thanks to the state’s good climate.
Today at Firestone Farm you can find our staff drying apples, pressing sweet apple cider, or making apple sauce and apple jelly during the early fall. During our Fall Flavor weekends we’ll not only be doing that, but we’ll be giving tours of our apple orchard, too. Right now our Baldwins and Belmonts are getting ready, our summer Rambo is looking good, and our Maiden’s Blush is, well, getting a bit rosier.
In the mood to bake something with apples now? Try a few recipes from our historic recipe bank as you get ready to embrace all-things apple this fall. Looking for something a bit more modern? Try this recipe for applesauce cake from the 1997 edition of The All New Joy of Cooking. Whichever recipe you try, make sure to tell us what you thought of the recipes by sharing your reactions with #THFOnLiving.
Boiled Cider Apple Sauce (from the 1877 edition of Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping)
Pare, quarter and core apples sufficient to fill a gallon porcelain kettle, put in it a half gallon cider, let it boil. Wash the apples and put in kettle, place a plate over them, and boil steadily but not rapidly until they are thoroughly cooked, testing by taking one from under the edge of the plate with a fork. Do not remove the plate until done, or the apples will sink to the bottom and burn. Mrs. W.W. W.
Beat together four eggs, one tea-cup apple-butter, one of sugar, one level table-spoon allspice, and one quart sweet milk and pinch of salt; bake in three pies with an under-crust; - and, by the way, never omit a pinch of salt in custard and lemon pie; and, in fact, many kinds of fruit pies, such as green-apple, currant, gooseberry, and pie-plant, are improved by it.
Pare some apples and cut them in thin slices – put them in a bowl, with a glass of brandy, some white wine, a quarter of a pound of pounded sugar, a little cinnamon finely powdered, and the rind of a lemon grated; let them stand for some time, turning over frequently; beat two eggs very light, add one quarter of a pound of flour, a table-spoonful of melted butter, and as much cold water as will make a thin batter; drip the apples on a sieve, mix them with the batter, take one slice with a spoonful of batter to each fritter – fry them quickly of light brown – drain them well, put them in a dish, sprinkling sugar over them, and glaze them nicely.
The Firestone Farm corn field is making some terrific progress, even though a flooded field in May forced us to replant. (The weather is something farmers struggle with, regardless of the year— whether it's 1885 or 2011!) In fact, it looks like most of our corn plants will still be "knee-high by the Fourth of July," despite all of our spring flooding - huzzah!
Last week, we cultivated our corn for the second time this year. Cultivating is when we loosen the soil and remove the weeds around each corn plant.
Because the Firestones did not use herbicides to kill weeds in their fields, they planted their corn three feet apart in each direction so that they had room to cultivate. And like the Firestones, we use a horse-drawn cultivator remove weeds in our cornfield.
We take our cultivator down each row from north to south, east to west, and then diagonally. This takes a great amount of patience and skill on the part of horse, driver and operator.
We used one of our newest horses, Henry, to cultivate. Although he is very young and new to this job, he handled the tight turns well and only stepped on a few corn plants. It looks like Henry and his partner Tom are turning out to be great additions to Greenfield Village!
Ryan Spencer is manager of Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Working at The Henry Ford was a childhood dream of his – although he did not realize then that it would involve so much manure.