Gardens - Comfort Me With Apples
( Originally Published 1901 )
" What can your eye desire to see, your eares to heare, your mouth to taste, or your nose to smell, that is not to be had in an Orchard ? with Abundance and Variety ? What shall I say ? 1000 of Delights are in an Orchard ; and sooner shall I be weary than I can reckon the least part of that pleasure which one, that hath and loves an Orchard, may find therein."
-A New Orchard, WILLIAM LAWSON, 1618.
IN every old-time garden, save the revered front yard, the borders stretched into the domain of the Currant and Gooseberry bushes, and into the orchard. Often a row of Crabapple trees pressed up into the garden's precincts and shaded the Sweet Peas. Orchard and garden could scarcely be separated, so closely did they grow up together. Every old garden book had long chapters on orchards, written con amore, with a zest sometimes lacking on other pages. How they loved in the days of Queen Elizabeth and of Queen Anne to sit in an orchard, planted, as Sir Philip Sidney said, "cunningly with trees of taste-pleasing fruits." How charming were their orchard seats, " fachoned for meditacon ! " Sometimes these orchard seats were banks of the strongly scented Camomile, a favorite plant of Lord Bacon's day. Wordsworth wrote in jingling rhyme :
Beneath these fruit-tree boughs that shed
The incomparable beauty of the Apple tree in full bloom has ever been sung by the poets, but even their words cannot fitly nor fully tell the delight to the senses of the close view of those exquisite pink and white domes, with their lovely opalescent tints, their ethereal fragrance; their beauty infinitely surpasses that of the vaunted Cherry plantations of Japan. In the hand the flowers show a distinct ruddiness, a promise of future red cheeks ; but a long vista of trees in bloom displays no tint of pink, the flowers seem purest white. Looking last May across the orchard at Hillside, adown the valley of the Hudson with its succession of blossoming orchards, we could paraphrase the words of Long-fellow's Golden Legend : —
" The valley stretching below
In the darkest night flowering Apple trees shine with clear radiance, and an orchard of eight hundred acres, such as may be seen in Niagara County, New York, shows a white expanse like a lake of quacksilver. This county, and its neighbor, Orleans County, form an Apple paradise—with their or-chards of fifty and even a hundred thousand trees.
The largest Apple tree in New England is in Cheshire, Connecticut. Its trunk measures, one foot above all root enlargements, thirteen feet eight inches in circumference.
Its age is traced back a hundred and fifty years.
At White Hall, the old home of Bishop Berkeley in the island of Rhode Island, still stand the Apple trees of his day.
The sedate and comfortable motherliness of old Apple trees is felt by all Apple lovers. John Bur-roughs speaks of " maternal old Apple trees, regular old grandmothers, who have seen trouble." James Lane Allen, amid his apostrophes to the Hemp plant, has given us some beautiful glimpses of Apple trees and his love for them. He tells of " provident old tree mothers on the orchard slope, whose red-cheeked children are autumn Apples." It is this motherliness, this domesticity, this homeliness that makes the Apple tree so cherished, so beloved. No scene of life in the country ever seems to me homelike if it lacks an Apple orchard — this doubtless, because in my birthplace in New England they form a part of every farm scene, of every country home. Apple trees soften and humanize the wildest country scene. Even in a remote pasture, or on a mountain side, they convey a sentiment of home; and after being lost in the mazes of close-grown wood-roads Apple trees are inexpressibly welcome as giving promise of a sheltering roof-tree. Thoreau wrote of wild Apples, but to me no Apples ever look wild. They may be the veriest Crabs, growing in wild spots, unbidden, and savage and bitter in their tang, but even these seedling Pippins are domestic in aspect.
On the southern shores of Long Island, where meadow, pasture, and farm are in soil and crops like New England, the frequent absence of Apple orchards makes these farm scenes unsatisfying, not homelike. No other fruit trees can take their place. An Orange tree, with its rich glossy foliage, its perfumed ivory flowers and buds, and abundant golden fruit, is an exquisite creation of nature ; but an Orange grove has no ideality. All fruit trees have a beautiful inflorescence — few have sentiment. The tint of a blossoming Peach tree is perfect ; but I care not for a Peach orchard. Plantations of healthy Cherry trees are lovely in flower and fruit time, whether in Japan or Massachusetts, and a Cherry tree is full of happy child memories ; but their tree forms in America are often disfigured with that ugly fungous blight which is all the more disagreeable to us since we hear now of its close kin-ship to disease germs in the animal world.
I cannot see how they avoid having Apple trees on these Long Island farms, for the Apple is fully determined to stand beside every home and in every garden in the land. It does not have to be invited ; it will plant and maintain itself. Nearly all fruits and vegetables which we prize, depend on our planting and care, but the Apple is as independent as the New England farmer. In truth Apple trees would grow on these farms if they were loved or even tolerated, for I find them forced into Long Island hedge-rows as relentlessly as are forest trees.
The Indians called the Plantain the " white man's foot," for it sprung up wherever he trod ; the Apple tree might be called the white man's shadow. It is the Vine and Fig tree of the temperate zone, and might be chosen as the totem of the white settlers. Our love for the Apple is natural, for it was the characteristic fruit of Britain ; the clergy were its chief cultivators ; they grew Apples in their monastery gardens, prayed for them in special religious ceremonies, sheltered the fruit by laws, and even named the Apple when pronouncing the blessings of God upon their princes and rulers.
Thoreau described an era of luxury as one in which men cultivate the Apple and the amenities of the garden. He thought it indicated relaxed nerves to read gardening books, and he regarded gardening as a civil and social function, not a love of nature. He tells of his own love for freedom and savagery—and he found what he so deemed at Walden Pond. I am told his haunts are little changed since the years when he lived there ; and I had expected to find Walden Pond a scene of much wild beauty, but it was the mildest of wild woods ; it seemed to me as thoroughly civilized and social as an Apple orchard.
Thoreau christened the Apple trees of his acquaintance with appropriate names in the lingua vernacula: the Truant's Apple, the Saunterer's Apple, December Eating, Wine of New England, the Apple of the Dell in the Wood, the Apple of the Hollow in the Pasture, the Railroad Apple, the Cellar-hole Apple, the Frozen-thawed, and many more; these he loved for their fruit ; to them let me add the Playhouse Apple trees, loved solely for their ingeniously twisted branches, an Apple tree of the garden, often overhanging the flower borders. I recall their glorious whiteness in the spring, but I cannot remember that they bore any fruit save a group of serious little girls. I know there were no Apples on the Playhouse Apple trees in my garden, nor on the one in Nelly Gilbert's or Ella Partridge's gar-den. There is no play place for girls like an old Apple tree. The main limbs leave the trunk at exactly the right height for children to reach, and every branch and twig seems to grow and turn only to form delightful perches for children to climb among and cling to. Some Apple trees in our town had a copy of an Elizabethan garden furnishing; their branches enclosed tree platforms about twelve feet from the ground, reached by a narrow ladder or flight of steps. These were built by generous parents for their children's playhouses, but their approach of ladder was too unhazardous, their railings too safety-assuring, to prove anything but conventional and uninteresting. The natural Apple tree offered infinite variety, and a slight sense of daring to the climber. Its possibility of accident was fulfilled ; untold number of broken arms and ribs —juvenile — were resultant from falls from Apple trees.
One of Thoreau's Apples was the Green Apple (Malus viridis, or Cholera morbifera puerelis delectissima). I know not for how many centuries boys (and girls too) have eaten and suffered from green apples. A description was written in 1684 which might have happened any summer since; I quote it with reminiscent delight, for I have the same love for the spirited relation that I had in my early youth when I never, for a moment, in spite of the significant names, deemed the entire book anything but a real story ; the notion that Pilgrim's Progress was an allegory never entered my mind.
Now there was on the other side of the wall a Garden. And some of the Fruit-Trees that grew in the Garden shot their Branches over the Wall, and being mellow, they that found them did gather them up and oft eat of them to their hurt. So Christiana's Boys, as Boys are apt to do, being pleas'd with the Trees did Plash them and began to eat. Their Mother did also chide them for so doing, but still the Boys went on. Now Matthew the Eldest Son of Christiana fell sick. . . . There dwelt not far from thence one Mr. Skill an Antient and well approved Physician. So Christiana desired it and they sent for him and he came. And when he was entered the Room and a little observed the Boy he concluded that he was sick of the Gripes. Then he said to his Mother, What Diet has Matthew of late fed upon ? Diet, said Christiana, nothing but which is wholesome. The Physician answered, This Boy has been tampering with something that lies in his Maw undigested. . . . Then said Samuel, Mother, Mother, what was that which my brother did gather up and eat. You know there was an Orchard and my Brother did plash and eat. True, my child, said Christiana, naughty boy as he was. I did chide him and yet he would eat thereof."
The realistic treatment of Mr. Skill and Matthew's recovery thereby need not be quoted.
An historic Apple much esteemed in Connecticut and Rhode Island, and often planted at the edge of the flower garden, is called the Sapson, or Early Sapson, Sapson Sweet, Sapsyvine, and in Pennsylvania, Wine-sap. The name is a corruption of the old English Apple name, Sops-o'-wine. It is a charming little red-cheeked Apple of early autumn, slightly larger than a healthy Crab-apple. The clear red of its skin perfuses in coral-colored veins and beautiful shadings to its very core. It has a condensed, spicy, aromatic flavor, not sharp like a Crab-apple, but it makes a better jelly even than the Crab-apple—jelly of a ruby color with an almost wine-like flavor, a true Sops-of-wine. This fruit is deemed so choice that I have known the sale of a farm to halt for some weeks until it could be proved that certain Apple trees in the orchard bore the esteemed Sapsyvines.
Under New England and New York farm-houses was a cellar filled with bins for vegetables and apples. As the winter passed on there rose from these cellars a curious, earthy, appley smell, which always seemed most powerful in the best parlor, the room least used. Flow Schiller, who loved the scent of rotten apples, would have rejoiced ! The cellar also contained many barrels of cider ; for the beauty of the Apple trees, and the use of their fruit as food, were not the only factors which influenced the planting of the many Apple orchards of the new world; they afforded a universal drink —cider. I have written at length, in my books, Home Life in Colonial Days and Stage-Coach and Tavern Days, the history of the vogue and manufacture of cider in the new world. The cherished Apple orchards of Endicott, Blackstone, Wolcott, and Winthrop were so speedily multiplied that by 1670 cider was plentiful and cheap everywhere. By the opening of the eighteenth century it had wholly crowded out beer and metheglin ; and was the drink of old and young on all occasions.
At first, cider was made by pounding the Apples by hand in wooden mortars ; then simple mills were formed of a hollowed log and a spring board. Rude hand presses, such as are shown on pages 198 and Zoo, were known in 166o, and lingered to our own day. Kalm, the Swedish naturalist, saw ancient horse presses (like the one depicted on this page) in use in the Hudson River Valley in 1749. In autumn the whole country-side was scented with the sour, fruity smell from these cider mills ; and the gift of a draught of sweet cider to any passer-by was as ample and free as of water from the brook-side. The cider when barrelled and stored for winter was equally free to all comers, as well it might be, when many families stored a hundred barrels for winter use.
The Washingtonian or Temperance reform which swept over this country like a purifying wind in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, found many temporizers who tried to exclude cider from the list of intoxicating drinks which converts pledged them-selves to abandon. Some farmers who adopted this much-needed movement against the all-prevailing vice of drunkenness received it with fanatic zeal. It makes the heart of the Apple lover ache to read that in this spirit they cut down whole orchards of flourishing Apple trees, since they could conceive no adequate use for their apples save for cider. That any should have tried to exclude cider from the list of intoxicating beverages seems barefaced indeed to those who have tasted that most potent of all spirits—frozen cider. I once drank a small modicum of Jericho cider, as smooth as Benedictine and more persuasive, which made a raw day in April seem like sunny midsummer. I afterward learned from the ingenuous Long Island farmer whose hospitality gave me this liqueur that it had been frozen seven times. Each time he had thrust a red-hot poker into the bung-hole of the barrel, melted all the watery ice and poured it out; therefore the very essence of the cider was all that remained.
It is interesting to note the folk customs of Old England which have lingered here, such as domestic love divinations. The poet Gay wrote : —
" I pare this Pippin round and round again,
I have seen New England schoolgirls, scores of times, thus toss an " unbroken paring." An ancient trial of my youth was done with Apple seeds ; these were named for various swains, then slightly wetted and stuck on the cheek or forehead, while we chanted :—
" Pippin ! Pippin ! Paradise !
The seed that remained longest in place indicated the favored and favoring lover.
With the neglect in this country of Saints' Days and the Puritanical frowning down of all folk customs connected with them, we lost the delightful was-sailing of the Apple trees. This, like many another religious observance, was a relic of heathen sacrifice, in this case to Pomona. It was celebrated with slight variations in various parts of England ; and was called an Apple howling, a wassailing, a youling, and other terms. The farmer and his workmen carried to the orchard great jugs of cider or milk pans filled with cider and roasted apples. Encircling in turn the best bearing trees, they drank from "clayen-cups," and poured part of the contents on the ground under the trees. And while they wassailed the trees they sang:
" Here's to thee, old Apple tree !
Another Devonshire rhyme ran :
The wassailing of the trees gave place in America to a jovial autumnal gathering known as an Apple cut, an Apple paring, or an Apple bee. The cheerful kitchen of the farm-house was set out with its entire array of empty pans, pails, tubs, and baskets. Heaped-up barrels of apples stood in the centre of the room. The many skilful hands of willing neighbors emptied the barrels, and with sharp knives or an occasional Apple parer, filled the empty vessels with cleanly pared and quartered apples.
When the work was finished, divinations with Apple parings and Apple seeds were tried, simple country games were played; occasionally there was a fiddler and a dance. An autumnal supper was served from the three zones of the farm-house : nuts from the attic, Apples from the pantry, and cider from the cellar. The apple-quarters intended for drying were strung on homespun linen thread and hung out .of doors on clear drying days. A humble hillside home in New Hampshire thus quaintly festooned is shown in the illustration opposite page 208 — a characteristic New Hampshire landscape. When thoroughly dried in sun and wind, these sliced apples were stored for the winter by being hung from rafter to rafter of various living rooms, and remained thus for months (gathering vast accumulations of dust and germs for our bliss-fully ignorant and unsqueamish grandparents) until the early days of spring, when Apple sauce, Apple butter, and the stores of Apple bin and Apple pit were exhausted, and they then afforded, after proper baths and soakings, the wherewithal for that domes-tic comestible — dried Apple pie. The Swedish parson, Dr. Acrelius, writing home to Sweden in 1758 an account of the settlement of Delaware, said :
" Apple pie is used throughout the whole year, and when fresh Apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House pie, in country places, is made of Apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it."
I always had an undue estimation of Apple pie in my childhood, from an accidental cause : we were requested by the conscientious teacher in our Sunday-school to " take out " each week without fail from the " Select Library " of the school a " Sabbath-school Library Book." The colorless, albeit pious, contents of the books classed under that title are well known to those of my generation ; even such a child of the Puritans as I was could not read them. There were two anchors in that sea of despair, — but feeble holds would they seem to-day, — the first volumes of Queechy and The Wide, Wide World. With the disingenuousness of childhood I satisfied the rules of the school and my own con-science by carrying home these two books, and no others, on alternate Sundays for certainly two years. The only wonder in the matter was that the trans-action escaped my Mother's eye for so long a time. I read only isolated scenes ; of these the favorite was the one wherein Fleda carries to the woods for the hungry visitor, who was of the English nobility, several large and toothsome sections of green Apple pie and cheese. The prominence given to that Apple pie in that book and in my two years of reading idealized it. On a glorious day last October I drove to New Canaan, the town which was the prototype of Queechy. Hungry as ever in childhood from the clear autumnal air and the long drive from Lenox, we asked for luncheon at what was reported to be a village hostelry. The exact counterpart of Miss Cynthia Gall responded rather sourly that she wasn't "boarding or baiting" that year. Humble entreaties for provender of any kind elicited from her for each of us a slice of cheese and a large and truly noble section of Apple pie, the very pie of Fleda's tale, which we ate with a bewildered sense as of a previous existence. This was intensified as we strolled to the brook under the Queechy Sugar Maples, and gathered there the great-grandchildren of Fleda's Watercresses, and heard the sound of Hugh's sawmills.
Six hundred years ago English gentlewomen and goodwives were cooking Apples just as we cook them now — they even had Apple pie. A delightful recipe of the fourteenth century was for "Appeluns for a Lorde, in opyntide." Opyntide was springtime; this was, therefore, a spring dish fit for a lord.
Apple-moy and Apple-mos, Apple Tansy, and Pommys-morle were delightful dishes and very rich food as well. The word pomatum has now no association with pomum, but originally pomatum was made partly of Apples. In an old " Dialog between Soarness and Chirurgi," written by one Dr. Bulleyne in the days of Queen Elizabeth, is found this question and its answer : —
" Soarness. How make you pomatum ?
" Chirurgi. Take the fat of a yearly kyd one pound, temper it with the water of musk-roses by the space of foure dayes, then take five apples, and dresse them, and cut them in pieces, and lard them with cloves, then boyl them altogether in the same water of roses in one vessel of glasse set within another vessel, let it boyl on the fyre so long tyll it all be white, then wash them with the same water of muske-roses, this done kepe it in a glasse and if you will have it to smell better, then you must put in a little civet or musk, or both, or ambergrice. Gentil women doe use this to make theyr faces fayr and smooth, for it healeth cliftes in the lippes, or in any places of the hands and face."
With the omission of the civet or musk I am sure this would make to-day a delightful cream ; but there is one condition which the "gentil woman" of to-day could scarcely furnish — the infinite patience and leisure which accompanied and perfected all such domestic work three centuries ago. A pomander was made of " the maste of a sweet Apple tree being gathered betwixt two Lady days," mixed with various sweet-scented drugs and gums and Rose leaves, and shaped into a ball or bracelet.
The successor of the pomander was the Clove Apple, or " Comfort Apple," an Apple stuck solidly with cloves. In country communities, one was given as an expression of sympathy in trouble or sorrow. Visiting a country " poorhouse" recently, we were shown a "Comfort-apple " which had been sent to one of the inmates by a friend ; for even paupers have friends.
" Taffaty tarts " were of paste filled with Apples sweetened and seasoned with Lemon, Rose-water, and Fennel seed. Apple-sticklin', Apple-stucklin, Apple-twelin, Apple-hoglin, are old English provincial names of Apple pie; Apple-betty is a New England term. The Apple Slump of New England homes was not the "slump-pye " of old England, which was a rich mutton pie flavored with wine and jelly, and covered with a rich confection of nuts and fruit.
In Pennsylvania, among the people known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, the Apple frolic was universal.
Each neighbor brought his or her own Apple parer. This people make great use of Apples and cider in their food, and have many curious modes of cooking them. Dr. Heilman in his paper on "The Old Cider Mill " tells of their delicacy of "cider time" called cider soup, made of equal parts of cider and water, boiled and thickened with sweet cream and flour ; when ready to serve, bits of bread or toast are placed in it. " Mole cider" is made of boiling cider thickened to a syrup with beaten eggs and milk. But of greatest importance, both for home consumption and for the market, is the staple known as Apple butter. This is made from sweet cider boiled down to about one-third its original quantity. To this is added an equal weight of sliced Apples, about a third as much of molasses, and various spices, such as cloves, ginger, mace, cinnamon or even pepper, all boiled together for twelve or fifteen hours. Often the great kettle is filled with cider in the morning, and boiled and stirred constantly all day, then the sliced Apples are added at night, and the monotonous stirring continues till morning, when the butter can be packed in jars and kegs for winter use. This Apple butter is not at all like Apple sauce ; it has no granulated appearance, but is smooth and solid like cheese and dark red in color. Apple butter is stirred by a pole having upon one end a perforated blade or paddle set at right angles. Sometimes a bar was laid from rim to rim of the caldron, and worked by a crank that turned a similar paddle. A collection of ancient utensils used in making Apple butter is shown on page 211; these are from the collections of the Bucks County Historical Society. Opposite page 214 is shown an ancient open-air fireplace and an old couple making Apple butter just as they have done for over half a century.
In New England what the " hired man " on the farm called " biled cider Apple sass," took the place of Apple butter. Preferably this was made in the " summer kitchen," where three kettles, usually of graduated sizes, could be set over the fire; the three kettles could be hung from a crane, or trammels. All were filled with cider, and as the liquid boiled away in the largest kettle it was filled from the second and that from the third. The fresh cider was always poured into the third kettle, thus the large kettle was never checked in its boiling. This continued till the cider was as thick as molasses. Apples (preferably Pound Sweets or Pumpkin Sweets) had been chosen with care, pared, cored, and quartered, and heated in a small kettle. These were slowly added to the thickened cider, in small quantities, in order not to check the boiling. The rule was to cook them till so softened that a rye straw could be run into them, and yet they must retain their shape. This was truly a critical time ; the slightest scorched flavor would ruin the whole kettleful. A great wooden, long-handled, shovel-like ladle was used to stir the sauce fiercely until it was finished in triumph. Often a barrel of this was made by our grandmothers, and frozen solid for winter use. The farmer and "hired men" ate it clear as a relish with meats ; and it was suited to appetites and digestions which had been formed by a diet of salted meats, fried breads, many pickles, and the drinking of hot cider sprinkled with pepper.
Emerson well named the Apple the social fruit of New England. It ever has been and is still the grateful promoter and unfailing aid to informal social intercourse in the country-side ; but the Apple tree is something far nobler even than being the sign of cheerful and cordial acquaintance; it is the beautiful rural emblem of industrious and temperate home life. Hence, let us wassail with a will : —
" Here's to thee, old Apple tree !