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Song of the Day – Don’t Sit under the Apple Tree – Glenn Miller Band – click here for music link
Like many people I don’t make apple pie, I make apple crisp, but once a year I will try, using store bought crust and apples from the local farmer’s market, so at least I can say I made a homemade pie….sort of. Pie crust is a lost art, drilled out of my generation by decades of warnings about saturated fat and heart disease. With apple crisp you use oatmeal which is supposed to be good for you. Now things have changed again and they say it’s sugar that’s bad not fat. Unfortunately, apple pie has both, but moderation is also the key, so I think the occasional piece of apple pie could be justified, in view of the newer guidelines. I am just trying to convince myself that anything made with lard could be good for you.
My attempts at pie crust have produced a rock-like substance, which is why I stick with the crisp, but my mother’s pie crust was light and flaky…. she used Crisco, but I prefer butter, at least you can get some omega-3’s. Unfortunately, my mother says she has lost her knack for pastry, (it’s an art form that needs to be practiced regularly), although every once in awhile she will make a crust for a turkey pie, which is still better than anything you can buy in the store. I remember when we were kids my mom would make three pies a week and a dozen butter tarts (I have used her recipe for butter tarts with great success but with store bought shells), and it would all disappear. My father was a prolific pie eater, but as he did a lot of physical work he never gained an ounce. I remember an old man dropping by the homeplace one day unannounced in search of his roots. I think his grandmother was a sister of my great grandmother Ellen, but as this was long before I had any interest in genealogy I didn’t pay much attention, although even then as a teenager I was interested in history and stories. My mother was in the middle of making her weekly pies, her board and rolling pin all in a flurry of flour. He stayed for supper and said it was the best apple pie he had ever eaten and it reminded him of his mother’s baking. (No one had the heart to tell him there was a picture of his relative upstairs in the attic, riddled with holes, from where my brother had used it as a dart board). Later we went to visit Ellen’s homeplace, a farm with a big old yellow brick farmhouse set high on a rolling hill just outside a city about eighty miles away (ie prime real estate). A doctor had bought it and was renovating it so his daughter would have a place to ride her horses. It was a beautiful spot. The only thing I know about Ellen is that she was a school teacher who had married a local farmer fifteen years older than her in 1870 and she raised nine children in our house. My great grandfather John was by the few accounts we have, a gruff old man, and when her mother was sick and dying he refused to take her to visit, so she decided to walk. Such is the family folklore, but I hope someone might have offered her a ride part of the way. This is an old picture of the homeplace and Ellen out front with two of her daughters and grandchildren. I still have the chairs they are sitting on, and the matching antique dining room table which folds out to seat twelve.
How many weekly pies you would have to make to feed nine children, as well as all the threshing crews. Like I said, it is a lost art form. I wonder what will happen when all those older women who make the turkey and fruit pies for the church bazaars are gone. Homemade pie will be a memory of the past. No one has time to make pie now, it’s easier just to buy one. Although I have never had much luck with store or bakery pies as they usually have corn starch as a thickener and I find it gives it a peculiar taste, but then I am comparing it to what I grew up on. Although in a pinch President’s Choice sells a perfectly acceptable frozen apple crisp, made with Northern Spy apples, and you still get the benefits of a lovely smelling house. I am sure all those cooking shows must have some instructions on the perfect pie crust, so one of these days I’ll have to tune in….and practice, practice, practice.
Scoop of the Day: The local farmer’s market sells crab apple jelly, from BayField Berry Farm, and last month when I was at a craft sale, amongst all the crocheted and quilted offerings, there were a couple of tables selling homemade jellies and jams, including crab apple, which is made from the pressed juice, so I would not even attempt it…..besides which I am all jammed out for this year – this jam session is over.
PS. The fruits of my labour…
Quote of the Day: Good apple pies are a considerable part of our domestic happiness.” (Jane Austen)
It’s apple picking time…. which means apple pie season, my favourite time of the year. I don’t actually pick apples, (I’m lazy), but instead buy them from the farmer’s market which is supplied by a local orchard. Although on a nice fall weekend we might drive down river on a leaf tour to a place where you can pick your own but which also sells to customers from a small stand. They always have spy apples there, which are the best for cooking, despite what people say about all those new varieties. (I once had a grocery store clerk tell me you could make a pie with Macintosh, and I suppose you could if you wanted applesauce). Spy apples are always later in the season, but well worth the wait, their tart taste cancels out some of the sweetness of the sugar.
When this farmland was first settled everyone grew apples, and stored them in root cellars for cold storage. From my genealogy records, according to the 1860 agricultural census, they had to record how many acres of orchards they had, so it was an important crop, and a symbol of prosperity at the time. It was also their main source of vitamin C over the winter, and I wonder if the expression, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” came from it’s prevention of scurvy. Both the homeplace and my grandparent’s farm had the remnants of the original apple orchards from over a hundred years ago. My dad’s farm had mostly crab apple trees, and a few eating apples, but the trees were so old the fruit was basically inedible, although the blossoms did have a heavenly aroma in the spring. The orchard was right beside the house and during my teenage years pity the poor sibling who would have to cut the grass in the orchard with a push mower and run over all those hard little things, which made for a very bumpy experience. (A riding lawn mower was the best thing ever invented). My grandmother’s orchard had better tasting snow apples, and on Thanksgiving my younger brother and I would climb the fence and brave the field full of large but rather dumb cows to pick some, and also to gather chestnuts, which my brother used as fences for his farm animal set. My grandmother lived to be 96 and every year she went apple picking with my uncle to the orchards down river. Her old farmhouse had a little unheated vestibule beside the kitchen where she would store the apples in bushel baskets, so when you entered her house you would always get a lovely whiff of the smell of ripe apples. Someday soon my house will smell marvelous from the cinnamony scent of warm apple pie, in the meantime I’ll just have to light some apple scented candles.
Artist of the Day: Helen McNicoll (from time to time I may feature a new artist I have discovered, unless otherwise specified all the other paintings are by my mother).
Last month I went to a talk on the Group of Seven at our regional art gallery. The speaker showed a slide of a painting by Helen McNicoll, called The Apple Gatherer which was painted in 1911. She was a contemporary of the Group of Seven, but being female, not considered part of the group. I think I much prefer Helen’s painting, as it is full of colour and light. Maybe next spring I will plant an apple tree…
Quote of the Day: “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony, grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves.”
Song of the Day: I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing – by the New Seekers – click here for music link
Book of the Day: Apples to Oysters by Margaret Webb has a chapter devoted to apple orchards.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An interesting read about Canadian farmers, starting with apple growers and moving across the provinces…..oysters, cheese, vineyards, wheat etc. I found the stories fascinating and being from a rural background could relate to the appeal of the farming lifestyle, as well as the uncertainty of the farming business as most of the stories involved smaller generations-old family farms. If you ate today, thank a farmer!