Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Happy Apple Bread

Just back from a stay at a splendid city hotel where we enjoyed breakfast each morning under a substantial crystal chandelier surrounded by bucolic murals of gazebos, doves and vines. The breakfast buffet was on par with the decor, including cheeses of all matter of cloven hooved critters; hot and cold fish and fowl; and a mosaic of sliced seasonal fruits. Strawberries and melons, pineapple and citrus, blueberries and raspberries. Mmmmm. For three mornings, I luxuriated in a bowl of red raspberries with a dollop of whipped cream atop Red raspberries and cream for breakfast is a pretty fair distillation of the essence of a getaway.

Today, back to earth because earth, in the tactile, grainy, windy sense, is where I operate. Back to bringing in the sheaves, aka large scale mum deliveries, when we gather the fruits of our labors four by four and load them into the arks of the delivery trailers for their voyage to the cities. It concentrates the mind on the pressure points of finger tips and shoulders and knees. Back to harvesting another fruit, a humble fruit, not featured on the china plates at the Mayflower. Many of the apple trees on our farm are barren this year, victimized by chilly nights and unfriendly days for either bees or blossoms. But the quartet of trees with fruit bear heavy burdens on their branches. The apples are not perfect, but they are remarkably scab free and blush beautifully where the sun bathes them in the afternoon. These are apples I would not have to hide from my mother and father.

We had a Red Delicious and a Yellow Delicious in our side yard in Orland Park. These two seemed to grow with a cylindrical habit, without the muscular wide spread branches of the orchard at Granny and Grandpa's house. Somewhere along the line though, my folks learned how to grow fruit trees. They planted hundreds on the contour along the terraces of their farm in Moniteau county. They ran drip lines under the infant trees to forestall mortality during inevitable droughty summers and to promote fruit size and prevent fruit drop as the trees grew. They pruned and guyed, sprayed and raked up drops as the seasons demanded. One of the old buildings was refurbished into a market with an insulated, airconditioned room to keep the fruit in condition after it was picked. The last boxes of the best keepers were taken down to the fruit cellar in the pump house to be rationed deep into the winter until nothing was left of the apple but the sweetness.

Raising apples in mid Missouri is an art as much as a science. The glossy recommendations of New York catalogs bore little fruit, forgive the pun, in a climate with winter might rocket from minus 10 to 75 degrees like a pin ball machine. Trees would come and go, replaced with another more tolerant and tough. The window of opportunity for protective spraying could be but a sliver as well. Good spraying weather bears many similarities to good greenhouse covering weather, with the addition of a threat of rain. Meticulous growers that they were, they got those sprays in, because beautiful fruit was what they wanted to grow. Remember the lost Entwives of Tolkien's Middle Earth? In my father's judgement, my mom descended directly from the Entwives, so ordered and bountiful was their garden. In the summertime, we would all cool off in the shade of the market with statice and globe amaranth drying overhead, a few peaches ripening on the picnic table and the rows of tidy fruit trees marching on to the edge of the view like a vision of the Shire.

The apple season at Redbarn began in July with harvest of the immense flattened green Lodis. Lodi apples are thin skinned and don't store, but they peel easily and virtually sauce themselves. Lodis made thin applesauce that required liberal additions of sugar, but they came on early and were harbingers of good things to come, like the first robins in spring.

We weren't down there to catch every apple of the seasonal progression, but my folks kept boxes of their favorite keepers until we visited. Paula Reds were tasty handfuls for eating, but came on when the weather was warm enough, they didn't keep long either. McIntosh had to be watched like hawks; waiting one day too long for some color could mean the entire tree's fruit would be on the ground. And that would be such a shame! McIntosh applesauce is just about the best; the big apples left peels two foot long. They cooked down into a lovely pinkish hue with just enough fruity texture to have substance. A shelf of canned McIntosh will look completely different than a shelf of canned Delicious, or Ozark Golds, or Jonathans.

August brought in the Ozark Golds and the Galas. I don't know if my folks have any of these two trees remaining, though we have a couple at the farm. Galas are so beautiful, heart shaped fruit with a hint of blush on the side and so sweet and crisp! You can buy them in the store, but they won't originate in Missouri. The Ozark Golds were not as sweet, but they were a wonderful multi purpose apple and would tide a golden apple lover over until the fall apples were ready. You could munch an Ozark Gold out of hand, slice it for cinnamon sugar apples for a treat for the kids, or bake it into pies. The rootstock for the trees was just not sturdy enough for the repeated freezings and thawings of mid Missouri though and many of the Ozark Golds uprooted and blew over.

Finally the crown jewels of Missouri appledom would be ready, the wonderful main attraction in my opinion, the queen of fruity versatility, the Golden Delicious. Our family rejected the Red Delicious out of prejudice born of the thick skinned mealy fruits available year round at the stores in those days. My folks raised a few and no doubt they were tastier off the tree, but there was no getting around that thick skin. The Golden Delicious were not quite as pretty, bearing some rough cosmetic patches most years. But they stored well, made great pies, and could be canned into sauce or apple butter. We ate a dozen a day between snacks for school and harvest and lunches for all. These years of bountiful Golden Delicious were the years I started preserving my parents' apple harvest in the form of apple bread.

My mom made the apple bread first. The "old" Farm Bureau cookbook has the recipe which she would make for us when fruit was in season. When you have four boxes of apples and lots of friends and neighbors to bake for, it doesn't take long to connect the dots, head to the HyVee for sugar, eggs, flour and Crisco, and sharpen the paring knife. The apple bread recipe is just about fool proof in both construction and baking. It can be made successfully from a wide range of varieties, orchard fresh or store bought. It freezes just fine and actually slices more neatly after frozen.

I bet I've made hundreds of loaves in the big yellow Rubbermaid mixing bowl and worn out one set of loaf pans....for home, for family dinners, for holiday dinners, for funeral dinners, for breakfast, for birthday treats, for teachers, bus drivers, choir directors, piano teachers, Sunday school teachers and pastors. For gifts for friends. As giveaways for campaigns.
Just last week for Abbie's breakfast. Just today for a Farm Bureau supper.

Its a gift that keeps giving.....share the recipe, share the delight. I love it when someone walks up to the door and says, 'That smells WONDERFUL'. Its not rocket science and its no big secret.

It is a harbinger of cooler days, a pleasant reminder of fall at my parents' place, a 'remembrance of things past' that connects all the happy busy times spent with the oven warming, piles of peels in the sink, and family in the kitchen.

Happy Apple Bread.....

4 cups apples, peeled and diced
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups Crisco oil
2 eggs
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
3 cups flour

Mix sugar, oil and eggs. Add apples and stir. Add other ingredients and stir. Batter will be stiff.

Bake for 1 hour at 350 in 2 ungreased loaf pans. Let cool then tip out. Freezes well.

don't use off brand oil....for some reason, it doesn't work as well.

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